Make More Confident Hiring Decisions With a Competency-Based Interview Process

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Everyone wants more certainty in the hiring process. HR pros, recruiters, and hiring managers want to be confident the people they hire are going to thrive in their companies. However, many organizations — especially small and mid-size organizations that are flying by the seats of their pants — don’t know where to start.

At the most basic level, gaining more confidence in your hiring process begins with improving the job descriptions you use to attract candidates and the questions you ask in interviews.

If you’ve been in the recruiting industry for a while, you’ve seen the incredible tech-driven changes to the hiring process in just the last 5-10 years. Compare today’s recruiting industry to that of 30 years ago, and it’s almost an entirely different field. So why are your interviews still carried out the same way they were three decades ago?

If you’ve put in the work to find great candidates and get them excited about the role, it seems unfair to put them through unstructured, subjectively judged conversations. If it’s certainty you want, you’re better off using an objective process designed to identify the best of the best according to established criteria.

Structured interviews, which rely on standardized questions and processes, are how many companies introduce objectivity to hiring. When all candidates go through the same interviews, the experience is more professional and the results are more reliable.

Here’s a practical look at how to build a structured interview process that brings more confidence to your hiring decision:

Competencies Form the Foundation of Structured Interviews

Competencies are the key to unlocking the benefits of a structured interview process that gives hiring managers real insight into candidates.

Competencies are the defined skills and behaviors required to be successful in a given role. Typically, each role involves a mixture of competences from three different categories:

  1. Role-specific soft skills and behaviors, called “behavioral competencies” or “general competencies”
  2. Role-specific technical skills, called “technical competencies”
  3. Behaviors and values shared by everyone in an organization, called “core competencies”

In a fully structured interview, all the questions a candidate is asked are based directly on a competency related to the role. This not only keeps the interview focused on relevant information, but it also allows candidates to share real-world situations that demonstrate their specific competencies instead of answering hypothetical questions about a job they don’t have yet. Interviewers can then score candidates’ answers to each question in a systematic manner. Because the questions are designed to measure the same competencies for each candidate, the scores between candidates are comparable. Moreover, every candidate faces the same questions in the same order, which grants an extra layer of validity and reliability to the results of the interview process.

Competency-Based Interviews Start With the Job Description

Key to competency-based interviews is that often overlooked item you use to attract candidates in the first place: the job description. The competencies mapped to a job description will determine the kinds of questions used in your structured interview process.

A typical job description, used to create a job ad and not much else, contains things like role responsibilities, required education, preferred experience, and the like. However, smarter organizations have begun mapping competencies onto their job descriptions. This changes the descriptions from transactional documents into dynamic tools that give candidates an accurate picture of the skills and behaviors they need to succeed in the role.

Integrating competencies into job descriptions involves a collaborative effort between HR and the rest of the company. The process usually starts with adopting a competency library or developing your own library internally. The competency library, as its name suggests, should be a list of competencies from all three competency categories, covering the various competencies candidates may need depending on their roles in the organization.

Competencies come in many forms, but most competencies can be broken down into different “levels” demonstrating how adept a person is at that competency. For example, a person with level 1 competency in “client focus” will behave differently from a person with level 5 competency.

Once you have a competency library in place, you’ll want to collect expert input as to which competencies are necessary for a given job. This input should come from managers, colleagues, and other people who know the role in question well. Using this expert input, you’ll come to a consensus on the number of competencies mapped to each job description. Generally, this will be anywhere from 3 to 10 competencies, usually consisting of a mix of soft behavioral competencies and skill-based technical competencies. The exact mix will depend on many factors, but most often it will be a reflection of the nature of the job and your company’s industry as a whole.

The traditional process of creating a competency library and mapping competencies to each role can be time-consuming and resource-intensive, but it’s an investment that stretches beyond HR and into your most critical business processes. To help speed things up, you may want to leverage competency-driven job description software that can map relevant skills and behaviors to your job descriptions easily.

When competencies form the basis of your job descriptions, you set the stage for a more objective, professional, and repeatable interview process. Most importantly, a hiring process based on competencies enables your managers to make the best hiring decisions with more confidence. Who doesn’t want that added layer of certainty in their recruiting process?

Jon Spratt is a manager at HRSG (Human Resource Systems Group).

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Jon Spratt is a manager at HRSG (Human Resource Systems Group).