The Competency Based Selection Interview

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With the growing use of psychometric assessments in selection, maybe before we talk about the competency based interview we can acknowledge the practice of some employers to subject all shortlisted candidates for the psychometric assessment, so that, at the interview, the panel is able to view candidate profiles and probe for clarity in whichever areas are identified.

However, this option is seen as expensive by the majority of psychometric-assessment-using employers, who then prefer to conduct assessments on the final three candidates identified at the competency based interview.

And with that we are back to this animal. The competency based interview. What is it and how does it differ from the interview that we all grew up engaging in? And why is it a big deal? The traditional interviews we had previously, with questions that required subjective, opinion-based responses, asked questions like, what are your weaknesses, what are you most proud of, how you’re your qualifications contribute to this company, why are you applying for the job, why do you want to leave your current employer, are you a team player, what would your colleagues say about you, and so on. As you can tell from the questions, the candidate most likely to get the job would be that one most able to express himself (or herself) most persuasively both verbally and otherwise. We already know the kinds of evaluator risks associated with this kind of interview, but apart from that, can you immediately see how we could be in interviews all day and not once mention that specific competencies required for the job we are recruiting for?! Because we would have been depending on the skill of the interviewee in answering, and on the gut feel of the interviewer on ‘recognising’ the right person for the role. After that we would then just validate our observations with the reference check, which was also a series of subjective questions like ‘what did you think of him/her, would you employ him/her again, and similar.

With the competency based interview, the recruiter needs to know what specific competencies he is looking for and these competencies will be reflected in the structure of the questions asked.

‘What types of reports do you write and who uses them?’ ‘Tell us about a decision you made that affected the business’, ‘How have you successfully led your team to complete a project within budget?’. You see with these types of questions, the focus is not on how persuasive my language is. Instead, the focus is solely on whether or not I have that skill. Have I written reports, do I make decisions at a level that impacts the business, have I led a team, have I delivered projects within budget. A competency based interview basically cuts out the flak, and lets the recruiter extract the competency, measure the extent to which you have developed and used it, and on that basis, determine your fitness for the role in question.

These are a great help for interviewers interested in finding out exactly who a candidate is in terms of capability, and how they may act if employed. While jobs differ across the organisational landscape, there are probably a handful of key competencies which interviewers often focus on:

Communication. Regardless of the position or industry, the way we interact with others is crucial and you need to be able to build and maintain excellent relationships with clients and colleagues.

Decision making. Good decision making helps us solve problems, devise solutions and make efficiencies.

Leadership. This is important to show we can coordinate, motivate and lead successful teams to deliver projects on schedule. 

Results orientation. Being focused on results is a skill that keeps us moving towards goals even against open resistance.

Teamwork. Businesses don’t work properly without good teamwork. Collaborative working can achieve results, improve productivity and boost performance.

Trustworthiness. Good employees can be trusted to get things done without a monitor over their shoulder.

Responsibility. Employees who take responsibility for and pride in their work are highly valued. 

Commercial Awareness. A skill that illustrates business intelligence, professionalism and commitment to the firm.

Professional Development. Being open to enhancing professional and personal skills will always help staff succeed at work.

Technical/Digital Skills. Ever more important, technical (and particularly digital) skills are highly sought after because so many businesses are using them to grow.

The list of competencies is by no means exhaustive, and it is up to the recruiter in your business to ensure that the competencies identified for the particular recruitment activity are truly what is required to meet business needs.

With the right competency profiling, and therefore the correct question structuring, we can confidently approach an interview using competency based systems because they eliminate bias, they help predict future performance and, the provide employee/candidate feedback. Further, with competency based systems, we select employees who represent the best fit, which results in a lower rate of employee turnover. Happy interviewing.

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