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Competency-based interviews

As an employer, you will need to be able to assess certain competencies of your candidates during the recruitment process. This can be done through a competency-based interview, which you can designate as one stage of the process. This kind of interview question gives you the chance to see what transferable skills your candidate has, alongside any awards or accomplishments they have achieved.

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What is a competency-based interview?

Competency interviews are different to interviews where you focus mainly on a candidate’s experience. The aim of a competency-based interview is to make sure that your candidate has the right skills and personality to handle the role, as well as being the right fit for your team. They are especially useful when hiring graduates or candidates who have little experience but a strong personality or raw talent. They may not have past experience in the position that you are advertising, such as a graduate scheme. However, they can show how they would use their transferable skills to solve problems related to the role.

A competency-based interview can help you gain insights into the following areas of your candidate’s abilities:

  • Whether they are good at responding to difficult situations;
  • Their ability to be resilient in the face of difficult situations;
  • Their conflict resolution approach;
  • Their flexibility;
  • Which transferable skills they can bring to the role;
  • Organisational and time management skills;
  • Their performance and ability to hit targets;
  • Their ability to create effective strategies;
  • Independence;
  • Commercial awareness;
  • Their personality and how they might fit into your team;
  • Any other relevant soft skills related to competency, such as strong work ethics, leadership and good teamwork skills.

Ideally, you will want to posit these questions so that you get the most out of your interviewee. Design them to be challenging, but ultimately you will want them to more deeply reveal your candidate’s capabilities; you should watch out for candidates who try too hard to answer questions correctly. Make sure that your candidate is relaxed, and feels comfortable with opening up about key anecdotes related to their workplace performance, including any personal achievements or attributes.

At the end of the day, these competency-based interview questions are here to find out more about how their skills will relate to your job specification. You will also need to assess whether they would be a good match with the rest of your team. It could be that your candidate meets the job specification well, but that they fail to manage workloads, delegate appropriate tasks to subordinates, or they lack the soft skills to work effectively with a bigger team.

Other ways to test competency

Your competency interview process does not have to be limited to an oral interview with a candidate. You can also create written exercises as part of the interview process, which allows candidates a more direct opportunity to show how they would respond to a task.

What makes a good competency-based interview?

You can give some instructions to candidates on how they can prepare for your interview. Make sure that your candidate brings a portfolio with them if required for the role. Strong candidates will be able to raise examples of past work, through which they will be able to demonstrate their ability to handle difficult situations and prioritise workloads, as well as show how they would use these skills in the new role.

You will also need to prepare competency interview questions for your candidate to answer. Make sure that they are aligned with the person specification that you have advertised. It is a good idea to provide examples that relate to the role that they are applying for; these should be real-world scenarios that have a strong likelihood of arising during their time working for you.

They can be based around the following sample questions:

  • What is your approach to handling conflict resolution with a colleague?
  • Tell me about a time when you had to handle a stressful, time-sensitive situation. How did you resolve it?
  • Tell me about a time when you successfully overcame a challenge despite the odds.
  • How do you reward hard work from your team members?
  • As a manager, how would you handle a difficult conversation with a team member?
  • How would you handle firing a team member?
  • How do you lead a team?

How to prepare for a competency-based interview as an interviewer

In order to make a competency-based interview fair to your candidates, it is a good idea to assess the criteria through a points-based system (graded 0-5) that corresponds to each question you ask relating to competency criteria. Each candidate should be asked the exact same questions and the same number of questions to ensure a fair screening process.

Having a points-based system means that you can make a quick, effective record of your candidate’s competencies, which you can refer to post-interview. You may set one criteria as “leadership skills” and judge that based on a question related to how that candidate would lead a team.

When you have a method for judging candidates, you can more accurately compare candidates’ capabilities post-interview. It also helps you and any other interviewers to remain impartial; instead of judging candidates on their appearance or experience, you are predominantly judging their abilities and personality. This also helps to ensure that your final recruitment decision is based less on the personal opinions or prejudices of the interview panel.

The STAR technique for responding to competency-based interview questions

Candidates may respond to your questions using the STAR technique. Candidates using this technique can effectively provide evidence of how they have used their skills in practical situations. It is a good technique to look out for, and it shows that candidates are competent at retrospectively judging their competencies based on past situations, and learning from them.

The STAR technique has four stages:

  • Situation: The candidate describes a situation;
  • Task: They then describe the task they were faced with in that situation;
  • Action: They explain the action they took to complete the task, including how and their reasons why;
  • Result: The result of the action, whether it was effective and how, and whether they learned anything from the experience.

Candidates using the STAR technique will give you a thorough look at their thinking, and how they might go about solving future issues in your workplace. Through this, you can decide whether their approach is right for you and your company.

Pros and cons of competency-based interview questions

You will need to decide whether a competency-based interview process is right for the kind of role you are interviewing for. It is worth remembering that they are one of the most fair and effective ways of assessing candidate problem-solving and personality.

The pros of a competency-based interview are:

  • All candidates are assessed through the same criteria, using a scoring system, which makes evaluation of candidates fairer overall;
  • It gives candidates the chance to refer to personal experience;
  • It gives all candidates a fair opportunity to show that they have the required capabilities for the role.

The cons of a competency-based interview are:

  • Some candidates will over-prepare for competency questions; their real personality may not shine through, conversation is less natural and may sound rehearsed in their answers;
  • Depending on their personality, some candidates may feel put on the spot and not know how to answer;
  • Due to the open-ended nature of competency questions, candidates may not give clear, constructive answers (unless they use the STAR format);
  • Competency questions limit the candidate’s opportunity to discuss their own reasons for and feelings about applying for the role.

You should decide whether competency interview questions are right for the kind of role that you are interviewing for. They are most relevant when recruiting entry-level candidates with little past experience related to the role, but with transferable skills.

Competency-based interview questions are a great way to find out more about how candidates respond to real-world situations with their skill set. They go beyond standard questions about experience, and provide you with the means to assess their personal and professional capabilities.

There are pros and cons to using competency interview questions; they provide a fair screening of a candidate’s skills and approach to problem-solving. However, you might find that some candidates over-prepare, or conversely freeze on the spot. You should make your interview process challenging, but at the end of the day you want your candidates to feel comfortable in talking about past problem-solving, and show their personality. See more: Best Interview Questions to Ask Candidates 4 Ways to Ask Cultural Interview Questions

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