How to approach your ‘competency-based interview’?

A central part of the Conservative Party candidate assessment is the competency-based interview. But just what is this and why does it form such an important part of the process of becoming a Conservative MP?

The Conservative Party completely remodelled its approach to approving people to contest for seats in the early ‘00s, under the leadership of Sir Iain Duncan Smith. He organised a professional analysis of the things an MP does and the skills they need to do the various parts of the job. Those are the competencies which the assessors are looking for in the competency-based interview. 

Arguably, this laid the foundations for more women and people from ethnic minorities coming forward to stand as Conservative candidates and become Conservative MPs. Though outreach and promotion by groups like Women2Win and the Conservative Women’s Organisation certainly helped push that along, together with David Cameron’s “A List”.

What competencies does a prospective MP needs to demonstrate to get on the approved list of candidates?

At the heart of this is the ability to demonstrate that you are a Conservative with a big ‘C’. That means showing a commitment to the values of the Party and that you have done things to show that. Questions might well be asked about decisions made against competing priorities, or about times when you had to stand up for your beliefs, or when you felt you had to act over something

The Party then wants to know that you have good judgement. You may be asked about dilemmas, or times when you made a mistake – and importantly, what you learnt from that. You need to demonstrate your integrity and probably talk about a time when this was questioned and how you responded. 

Questions will be rather indistinct, ‘open’ questions, many starting with, “Tell us about a time when…”. You will need to draw on all aspects of your life, not just what you have done while wearing a blue rosette, to demonstrate that you have relevant life experience that the Party is looking for.

So how can you prepare for this important part of the Conservative Party candidate assessment? You should consider it like any other job interview and think about what MPs do. How does your own knowledge and experience relate to the Government agenda? What experience do you have of helping people battle through tricky problems an MP gets asked by their constituents to help with? What particular thing would you do to make peoples’ lives better?

The competency-based interview is your chance to show the best of you to the assessors and just like any athlete, you need practice and everyone can benefit from coaching. The best performers in the media are not naturals. Very few people are. They have had training and they know how to structure an answer. Set the context, explain what needed to be done, say what you did and how and what was achieved. Then stop. 

Understanding the technique of answering a question helps you both give a solid answer to show off your competencies. But it also helps you to stop and not waffle on. Think of your answer as a helium balloon. You want to inflate it and leave it hanging all bright and shiny in the corner of the ceiling, not have it slowly deflating and sinking to the floor unseen behind the sofa!

At College Green Group we have been helping candidates pass the assessment – and then get selected and elected – over four General Elections. We are a team, but the programme is led by John Moss, who has been a parliamentary candidate himself, as well as a senior volunteer in the Conservative Party, involved in the approving and choosing of candidates for several elections.

To speak about how College Green Group can help you, please call John for a confidential chat on 07970 731 826, or fill out the form below.