Competency Based Interview Questions: 20 Questions You Must Be Able To Answer


  • You’ve studied our essential guide to COMPETENCY BASED INTERVIEW PREPARATION

  • You’ve researched the key competencies for the role

  • You’ve got a list of relevant examples from your experience to apply to each competency


Below we list some of the most frequently asked interview questions and answers for competency interviews. These have been collated from our extensive experience of Product Control interviews.
We’ll tell you why the question is being asked and what elements to include in your answer.


To get the most benefit from this article we recommend reading through the questions a number of times with your CV/resume in front of you.

What examples would you give for each question? Practice until the answer comes naturally.


1. Can you describe a time when you had multiple deadlines to meet and had to prioritise between tasks? What was the situation? How did you prioritise?

Reason: Product Control is a fast paced environment where you’ll regularly have to manage competing deadlines and priorities. The interviewer is looking for you to demonstrate that you’ve managed to do this successfully in the past.

How to answer: As well as looking for an example that demonstrates that you’ve displayed this competency in the past, this question is also about HOW you prioritised. What was your thought process? On what basis did you deem one task more important than the other? What was the outcome.

2. Can you describe a time where you have worked effectively as part of a team?

Reason: This one is self-explanatory and one of the most common competency based interview questions. You’re applying to be part of a Product Control Team and as much as anything else you are being assessed on your team fit as the interview progresses.

How to answer: Pick an example where your actions or input have contributed to a successful team outcome.  Situations where you’ve gone above and beyond to help the team succeed are perfect if you have relevant examples. Above all, when talking about the outcome, stress the importance of the success of the team and how being part of a successful team made you feel.

3. Do you prefer working in a team or individually?

Reason: A bit of a sneaky one this.  As mentioned, Product Control is a team game but the best Product Controllers are those who are pro-active, inquisitive and take the initiative.  The interviewer wants to know whether you are providing them with the best of both worlds.

How to answer: You enjoy both.  You appreciate the need for and power of teamwork (and can provide an appropriate example) but there have also been times in your past where you’ve had to take initiative and work effectively on your own (again with an example).

4. Can you describe a situation where you’ve faced a steep learning curve? What was the situation and how did you cope?

Reason: Product Control is an extremely steep learning curve. New products, new systems, new jargon – your first months in the role will be demanding. Can you handle it?

How to answer:  It should be reasonably easy to give an example here (and you must give one). It may be an example from your studies or, if you’re already a controller, when you first joined Finance.  Give a good example of when you were stretched, explain how you coped, the tools you used to learn more efficiently and what the outcome was.

5. Can you describe a situation where you have had to deal with a difficult customer/client?

Reason: Product Control can be a highly pressured environment but generally nothing compared to that found on a Trading Desk where, of course, sit your key stakeholders.  Managing relationships with the Trading Desk can be a challenging and delicate balance with difficult situations and conversations not uncommon.  Could you handle this and would the interviewer feel comfortable with you facing off to the desk and representing Product Control?

How to answer:  Give a good example and follow the STAR approach to make sure you set the scene.  A great answer to this questions illustrates that you were aware of WHY your client was being difficult and that you were able to see things from their perspective.  Doing this meant you didn’t take things personally and you were able to approach the problem/conversation from an angle that resulted in a satisfactory outcome.

6. Can you describe a time where you took the lead on a task to ensure a successful outcome?

Reason: A question designed to show that you have managed tasks successfully in the past.

How to answer: A great question which gives you the opportunity to sell yourself and use some effective adjectives to describe the situation and outcome.  Emphasise the decisions you took and why you took them.

7. Can you describe a time where you have gone above and beyond to ensure a successful outcome to a task?

Reason: The interviewer is testing your commitment and dedication.  Are you prepared to go the extra mile to ensure a task is completed successfully?

How to answer: This can be a difficult one to answer but hopefully you’ve got some examples where, in order to get something done, you’ve made a personal sacrifice, worked late or taken on extra responsibility.  Be sure to explain why it was important to you that the task was completed successfully and make it clear that you’re willing to do the same in the future!

8. Can you describe a time where you’ve had to work under extreme pressure or stress?

Reason: Product Control can, at times, be a stressful place to work; particularly at month-end where there are a number of extra deliverables in addition to normal daily tasks.  The interviewer wants to know how you cope with that stress.

How to answer:  You’ll no doubt have a number of examples here from either your personal life, previous employment or your studies.  Pick a credible example and use the STAR technique to build your answer.  Everyone gets stressed and this question requires you to focus on how YOU deal with it so your answer will obviously be tailored to your personality.  Do you exercise, talk to peers, keep the bigger in mind?

9. What motivates you?

Reason: What makes you tick? What are your passions? Are they aligned with the role in question?

How to answer: A fairly standard question but again, one that lets you sell your qualities and align them with the role.  Your answer could include things like, challenges, a steep learning curve, building relationships, mentoring others…The list goes on. It doesn’t include ‘money’.

10. Can you describe a time where you have had to make a difficult or unpopular decision?

Reason:  This question is designed to show whether you have the courage of your convictions.  Are you able to stand up for your opinion even when it goes against that of the majority?  This is particularly relevant when dealing with Trading Desks where you have to be able to stand up for your viewpoint and take decisions which are aligned with Product Control objectives.  These are often very different to Front Office objectives!

How to answer: You may have an example from when you’ve lead teams in the past where you’ve had an opinion on a course of action which was unpopular but which you went with.  Use STAR and give reasons for your decision and how making the decision made you feel.  What was the outcome? If this was ultimately the wrong decision, what did you learn?

11. Have you ever worked in a team where a team member wasn’t pulling their weight? What did you do and what was the outcome?

Reason: This question tests your leadership qualities and the interviewer wants to know that you’re proactive and don’t sit back waiting for others to solve a problem for you.  That you take personal responsibility for the success of the team.

How to answer: This is a question that is ideal for the STAR model.  Demonstrate that you took the initiative to solve the problem. How did you approach the issue; did you take the person aside or lead by example? What was the outcome and what would you do differently next time?

12. What are your strengths?

Reason: Self-explanatory. Another of the more common competency based interview questions where the interviewer is giving you a great opportunity to sell yourself and your skillset. Take it!

How to answer:  Always be prepared with at least 3 good ‘strengths’ which align with the competencies required for the role.  Have a solid example for each strength and refer to the examples in your answer.  It’s perfectly fine to refer back to situations you’ve already spoken about if they’re relevant.

There’s nothing wrong with starting your answer with a list of your key strengths, giving a quick example for each then recapping your strengths at the end of the answer.

“I’d say my key strengths are Teamwork, Problem Solving and Relationship Building.  Examples of great teamwork was when I ……..’’

13. Where do you see yourself in 2/5/10 years?

Reason: The interviewer is looking to see that you have given due consideration to your chosen career path, that you’re committed (at least for the short term) to the role but have also given though to career progression and where you want to get to.

How to answer:  This is a difficult question to answer especially if you’re moving into Product Control for the first time and don’t have a great idea of how careers can progress! The key point to get across is that you’re committed to a role in Product Control and aren’t using it as a stepping stone for a move into a different area (i.e. Front Office).

In 2 years you would expect to have risen in seniority within the team, taken on additional responsibility and perhaps be coaching or managing more junior team members.  Your technical knowledge would have improved and you may be looking to get exposure to additional products. If the organisation has a policy of rotation then you may be considering getting experience in another asset class.

Your answer to the 5 year goal will vary. If you’re fully committed to a long-term career in Product Control then say as much. You may want to get exposure to Projects or you may enjoy managing staff and developing talent. You may have a keen interest in the technical side of things and be looking to move into a role that offers you the opportunity to develop in that area.

The interviewer isn’t looking for you to describe exactly where you’ll be but giving an answer that shows you’ve thought about the type of role you want to be in shows maturity.  And let’s face it – we all have to have a plan.

14. What are your weaknesses?

Reason: A question that’s asked to determine what your development points are and gauge how self-reflective the candidate can be.  Given that candidates are always prepared for this question it’s amazing it’s asked as regularly as it is.

How to answer:  You should always give a couple of examples.  Saying you don’t have any weaknesses is likely to come across as arrogant and won’t go down well with the interviewer.  No-one’s perfect.

The most common strategy is to pick a weakness that can also be viewed as a strength i.e. ‘I’m a perfectionist.’ (a groan-inducing, unimaginative answer which the interviewer will have heard many times before).

The key is to pick a weaknesses that isn’t a fundamental flaw in terms of performance of the role and is one that can be worked on. You could say:

‘I’ve been told I don’t promote my achievements enough – I need to get better at self-promotion’

which highlights that you’re an achiever, isn’t a fatal flaw and is something you’ll have ample opportunity to work on in the role.

15. How would your team members/friends/manager describe you?

Reason: The interviewer is looking to get more insight into what makes you tick and what you’re like to work with.  If your peers speak highly of you now then it’s likely that your peers in Product Control will feel the same.

How to answer:  Focus on qualities that align with the role; reliable, helpful, hard-working, diligent, ambitious. Don’t say things like laid-back, easy-going, relaxed as they suggest a lack of drive and energy.

This is a very difficult question to answer badly and is another great opportunity to sell yourself and highlight the qualities you could bring to the team and the organisation.

16. Can you describe a time where a decision you made lead to an unsuccessful outcome?

Reason: An usual question but one where the interviewer wants you to be honest and speak about a time where things didn’t go quite so well.  How did you cope with it and what did you learn?

How to answer:  You may find it difficult to find an example here but you should be able to think of a situation where the outcome wasn’t quite as successful as it could have been.  Don’t pick anything too disastrous but bear in mind the focus of the question is more about you showing you’re able to reflect on failure, identify what could have been done better and how you’ve learned going forward. Closing with an example where you implemented what you learned from the experience to ensure a successful outcome in a future task is a great answer.

17. What is your greatest achievement?

Reason: Another chance for the interviewer to learn more about you and what makes you tick. What are you most proud of?

How to answer: This type of question lends itself to many different scenarios. You could talk about an academic achievement, a team success or overcoming personal adversity.  This is your chance to talk passionately about the thing in your life you’re most proud of so make sure your personality shines through.

18. Can you describe an example of where you’ve taken an existing process and improved it?

Reason: Product Controllers are expected to perform as efficiently as possible and improving process and systems is a key part of the role. Often those with no prior experience are best placed to look at a process objectively and question why things are done the way they are.  Has the candidate done this before?

How to answer: Hopefully you have a great example of where you’ve improved something in the past. Remember the STAR Framework in your answer and focus on the efficiency / cost saving you were able to generate.

19. What makes a good Product Controller?

Reason: Simple. Do you understand the role? What qualities are required to succeed?

How to answer: We’ve already covered this off in our Essential Product Control Guide. See PRODUCT CONTROL EXPLAINED for everything you need to know.

Learn Finance Now!

20. What differentiates you from the other candidates?

Reason: A common question where there are a number of candidates for a role or where there may be many candidates for a graduate program who all have similar academics.

How to answer: Pick something that actually does set you apart and is unique. Steer clear of academics unless you’ve achieved something truly outstanding but even then always back that up with another example.


So there you have it! Some of the most common competency based interview questions and how to answer them.

This is by no means a comprehensive list but it does cover most of the types of questions you’ll be asked.  Using the tools we’ve provided you now have the right mindset to beat any competency based interview. If you’ve not yet read it, go to ‘How to write a CV that lets YOU control the interview’ to find out how you can steer the interviewer to ask the questions you want to be asked.

No time to rest on your laurels – your interview may also include a technical element so click though to SURVIVING A TECHNICAL FINANCE INTERVIEW to continue your definitive guide to the Product Control Interview.

Do you have interview stories and questions to share? We’d love to hear from you.  Contact us HERE!

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