Have you ever hired a candidate who seems like a great fit based on their resume and who performs well in an interview, only to find that when they start their role they fail to live up to your expectations? Have you ever wondered if a candidate is able to manage your company’s unique challenges, or if they align with your company’s culture and way of doing things? Or have you hired for a graduate role where candidates generally don’t have years of experience to set them apart from one another?

These scenarios, along with many more, are why competency-based interviews are important considerations in the recruitment process.

What are competency-based interviews?

Competency-based interviews incorporate a certain style of questioning potential candidates in order to evaluate their ability to perform under various scenarios and demonstrate the key qualities your organisation is looking for. They test the candidate’s competence, and are supplementary to the technical and educational skills you are hiring for.

Competencies you may be looking for could include: highly organized, a strategic thinker, team player/teamwork, decision making, problem solving, strong communication, a focus on customer service or sales, working well under pressure, attention to detail, analytical, adaptability and/or resilience, integrity, creativity, stakeholder or project management, time management, motivated, an influencer, a leader, and more.

Who uses competency-based interviews?

An increasing number of recruitment firms and hiring managers are utilizing this interview style in order to assist in choosing the right person. This is due to competency-based interviews leading to improved hiring decisions, more targeted training, increased productivity and performance for your team and organization, and decreased employee turnover.

Why use competency-based interviews?

These interviews branch away from questions you can find the answers to on a resume - the education, work history, and demonstrated years of experience in the industry. They can take the uncertainty out of hiring the wrong person and can help get a sense of how the candidate will perform once on the job, and also help identify areas of strength, weakness, and improvement for the candidate. They’re also a useful way to choose between multiple candidates who are similarly positioned and you have to make a decision on.

This means they can make your interviews more effective because you are able to eliminate candidates who do not have the skills, attitude, behaviors, judgment, or management styles required to be successful in the role. They are about real-life examples and experiences your potential new hire has gone through in the past, so you have the comfort of knowing they can deal with your company’s challenges and requirements in the future.

What do competency-based interviews involve?

These interview questions are not technical questions or specific to an industry or role. A competency is a quality in an applicant or worker which is desirable for the person to possess. Think of it as an applicant’s strength. They are focused on probing the candidate and having them demonstrate that they have adequate experience and satisfactory ability to deliver on specific skill sets and competencies.

What types of questions should you ask?

Competency-based interviews are generally structured around the same style of questioning:

  • Can you share an example of when…
  • Describe a situation when you…
  • Explain how you managed...

Here is a sample list of competency-based interview questions you could use:

  • Highly Organized/Time Management: Tell me about a time when you had multiple tasks with conflicting deadlines and how you managed your workload.
  • Strategic Thinker: Explain how you have managed a new challenge or roadblock in a past role.
  • Team Player/Teamwork: Have you ever worked in a team with someone who was difficult to work with or who was struggling? How did you manage that?
  • Decision Making: Describe a situation where you had to make a difficult decision.
  • Problem Solving: Give an example of when you’ve had to solve a problem.
  • Strong Communication: Describe a time when you failed to communicate effectively, how you realized the problem, and what you did in order to improve the situation.
  • A Focus on Customer Service or Sales: Can you share an example of a time when you’ve had to deal with a very upset or very demanding customer?
  • Works Well Under Pressure: How do you cope with stress? Tell me about a time that was particularly stressful and how you managed it.
  • Attention to Detail: Tell me of a time when you had to pay close attention to details and be meticulous in your work.
  • Analytical: Can you share an example of when you had to analyze a problem and how you identified new ways of doing things?
  • Adaptability: How do you manage with change? Can you describe a situation when your company or team has changed direction or priorities and you have had to adapt?
  • Integrity: Describe a situation where you demonstrated exceptional integrity, or managed a situation when you didn’t agree with what was happening.
  • Creativity: Explain something new that you have implemented or trialled.
  • Stakeholder or project management: Explain how you have managed multiple stakeholders/multiple projects with conflicting and differing priorities and timelines in the past.
  • Motivated: How do you keep motivated?
  • An influencer or leader: Share a time when you showed exceptional leadership skills, or a time where you led a team to success.

How do you effectively incorporate this style into your own interviews?

If you think competency-based interviews are something you would like to use, or improve on, follow these steps to discover what types of competencies you would like to explore and the framework to base your interview on:

  1. Look at the role you are hiring for. What certain skills and personality traits does the “right person” need for this role? What expectations do your company place on the role, and what values, guidelines or cultural traits does your company place importance on? Are there ways to improve the role now that the previous employee is leaving? Do you want to improve on the role with new skills?
  2. Prepare your competency-based interview questions around the above areas, or “competencies”. For example, if you require your candidate to manage multiple projects ask questions such as “describe a time where you had multiple deadlines, employees and tasks to manage. How did you deal with the situation or project to ensure everything went smoothly?”. Or if teamwork is currently lacking and you would like the applicant to fill that void, ask questions such as “describe a time where you were faced with dysfunctional team members and needed to get everyone re-aligned to the vision and tasks at hand”.
  3. Do the interview itself. Structure your interview to ensure you include the questions you need answering, and listen to the candidate’s answers to see if there are any areas in their experience you want to explore more or need to build on. Take notes and reflect on their answer after.
  4. Review the applicant and their answers. Did they adequately demonstrate they are able to meet the core competencies of the job?

If you would like further assistance in competency-based interviews or would like advice on how to effectively incorporate this into your recruitment process, please contact us today.