While organizations invest significant time and energy in hiring and training their staff, traditional interviews oftentimes fall short in assessing a candidate’s true capabilities to be successful in the role—meaning you could end up hiring the wrong person for the job. Competency-based interviewing is a hiring tool that can help you identify the best person for an open position at your organization, leading to strong, high-performing teams.
What Is Competency-Based Interviewing?
Competency-based interviewing focuses on assessing specific skills, behaviors, and qualities that are essential for success in a particular role. Rather than relying solely on qualifications, this approach delves into a candidate’s past experiences and actions to predict future performance.
For example, let’s say a core competency for a role is “situational adaptability.” You might ask, “Tell me about a time you faced something unexpected at work. What did you do?” This open-ended question shows you how the candidate reacts to and manages a situation like this. You are now able to understand how they have demonstrated the competencies and skills essential for the role.
Why Use Competency-Based Interviewing?
- Reduce Biases and Improve Equity: Focusing on competencies helps to reduce bias in the hiring process by allowing a hiring manager or committee to assess candidates against the core competencies for the role, leaving less room for our own biases to come into the process. Competency-based interviewing also helps assess candidates against the requirements for the role, rather than compare candidates to each other. For example, it helps to prevent thinking like “X candidate is more strategic than Y candidate.” Instead, competency-based interviewing allows for an approach like “X candidate strongly demonstrated the ability to think and work strategically, which is in line with one of our key priorities for this position.”
- Identify Outside-the-Box Candidates: Competency-based interviewing goes beyond surface-level qualifications and what’s on a candidate’s resume and allows us to consider candidates with more diverse backgrounds. It enables us to discover candidates with transferable skills who may not be an obvious choice at first glance. These may be candidates who took a different career path or are looking to make a shift in their career but possess the competencies and skills necessary to be successful in the position.
- Ensure Long-Term Success: Using competency-based interviewing helps to find the right candidate for the role, increasing the likelihood of long-term success and reducing turnover. It aligns the candidate’s capabilities with the demands of the position, leading to improved performance and job satisfaction.
How to Conduct Competency-Based Interviews
- Identify Your Top Core Competencies for the Position: When recruiting, we always have a long list of competencies that are important for the role, but we know that no candidate will be 100% in all priority areas. Before you start your search, identify a short list of the most important competencies—at DRG, we recommend six. If there is a committee or more than one person involved in the decision-making process, make sure that all participants have reached alignment around these competencies before launching your search.
- Use Behavioral Questions: Craft behavioral interview questions that prompt candidates to share specific examples of how they have demonstrated relevant competencies in the past. Behavioral interview questions oftentimes appear in the format of “Explain a time when you…” or “Tell me about a time when.” These types of interview questions help us to understand a candidate’s soft skills, such as managing complexity, organizational savvy, or resourcefulness. This type of questioning helps us understand not only if candidates can do the job, but how they will do the job.
- Prioritize Diverse Perspectives by Interviewing in Teams: Incorporating a diverse range of perspectives in the interview process is essential. This allows you to reduce participants’ biases and ensure a fair and objective assessment by bringing together multiple perspectives.
- Ensure Consistency Between Interviews: Using an established set of core competencies, develop standardized interview questions to use with all candidates to ensure consistency across interviews. Consistency across interviewing is key to running an equitable process and making informed hiring decisions.
Competency-based interviewing is valuable in the world of hiring, helping you to identify less-obvious candidates who have related experience applicable to the role you are hiring for and the skills to do the work. By focusing on specific competencies, you’ll create an inclusive and fair hiring process that aligns candidates’ skills with the priorities and expectations of the role.
Remember: use behavioral questions, interview in diverse teams, and maintain consistency to maximize the effectiveness of this approach. By embracing competency-based interviewing, you can unveil the full potential of your candidates and support the success of your organization.
Jessica Black, Senior Talent Consultant