You may have impressive qualifications and excellent marks for on on-the-spot translation test, but if you are applying for work at a top translation company, chances are, you will also have to pass a competency-based interview with flying colors. A competency- or skills-based interview differs vastly from standard interviews.

Rather than asking general questions such as “Why do you think you are a good communicator with foreign clients?” the questions might be, “Can you tell me about a time that you were translating for foreign clients and you were unable to translate a word or phrase?”.

Research has shown that competency-based interviews are significantly more effective at resulting in a successful hire, which is why Fortune 500 (and indeed all forward-thinking) companies are using this technique. Its aim is to elicit the extent to which the competencies of a candidate are a match for the competencies required by the target job.

Focusing your resume on your skills

One of the best ways to perform well at a competency-based interview is to be clear-headed and relaxed, knowing you are well prepared. Reduce insecurity and anxiety by providing the recruiters with a clear idea of your abilities. Draft a professional skills-based resume, being as specific as space allows. For instance, instead of saying you are responsible, mention a specific project you completed that reveals the scale and depth of your knowledge.

For instance, instead of simply listing down ‘simultaneous interpretation’ as a skill, state: “Worked as simultaneous interpreter at the recent Small Business Conference, interpreting from English to Spanish for entrepreneurs for four hours daily.” You can then draft questions around the skills you stated. The more questions you practice for, the less likely you will be taken off guard.

Preparatory steps

If the translation company you are applying to will be relying on a competency-based interview, then the job description will list key competencies or skills. For translators, these may include language and textual competence, cultural knowledge, and communication transfer competence.

A question for one of these competencies might be: “Tell me about a time that you were not able to competently transfer a message.” You can easily see how tricky this type of question can be to answer.

On the one hand, you cannot say you never experienced such an obstacle; on the other hand, you need to frame this obstacle positively, showing how you got over it and what you learned from the experience. You additionally need to state the steps you took to ensure you were able to deliver the next time you encountered a similar challenge.

Answering tough questions well

Interviewers normally recommend that interviewees try to think of three examples for each competency. When asked a competency-based question, used the SHARE model (almost identical to the STAR model) to answer it. SHARE stands for: Situation (describe the situation in which you were challenged to show your skill; Hindrance (what was the challenge you were called upon to solve?); Action (what action did you take); Result (what was the result of your decisions and actions?); and Evaluation (what did you learn from the experience?).

Interestingly, the latter (Evaluation) is actually the most important part of your answer for recruiters. What they ultimately want is an employee who can learn their values and methods; one who is positive enough to see challenges as opportunities for refining process and providing clients with better service.

Doing well at a skills-based interview involves keeping a step ahead of your interviewers, practicing potential questions. If you have a mentor or trusted colleague, discuss potential questions with them and ask them to help you out with role-playing.

Finally, remember to keep calm, and don’t be disheartened if you are asked a question you have not prepared for. Simply be honest and think back to your own genuine experiences. The latter is truly what your interviewer is interested in discovering.