The benefits of using competency-based interviews in your recruitment process

Pure is proud to be one of only a few recruitment agencies to use competency-based interviews to assess potential candidates as standard. We see it as best practice because it brings significant benefits to helping us make great matches for our clients and candidates.

Our senior recruitment consultant Claire Bush recently shared her expert insight on using competency-based techniques at a breakfast session for HR professionals. Here’s just some of the ways in which it can make employers feel more confident and informed when making hiring decisions and some top tips for putting this approach into practice.

What are competency-based interviews?

Competencies are the personal characteristics which can contribute to outstanding, rather than average, performance in a particular job. They are the soft skills and personality traits such as communication, enthusiasm, teamwork, decision making and resilience – all of which can be hard to identify or measure.

Competency-based interviews, also known as structured or behavioural interviews, are used to help discover these transferable skillsets within candidates and how their abilities, behaviours and mindset could impact on their effectiveness in the role. The interview is set out to include questions which specifically target a particular skill or competency relevant to the role and the candidate is asked to share an example of how they used or demonstrated that particular competency in the past.

Why use this interview approach?

Competency based interviewing helps you to see beyond the candidates who just talk or look the part and provides a specific set of answers which can form the basis of a profile to measure candidates against each other. Asking candidates to share past examples of where they have demonstrated a particular competency, such as teamwork or resilience, is a strong predictor of their future behaviour in similar situations. It is far more factual than asking candidates hypothetical questions about what they might do if they were faced with a possible scenario. 

This approach also helps to prevent unconscious bias by taking away some of the subjectivity of a more traditional, biographical interview. It supports interviewers to stay open-minded, listen throughout, and not to be overly influenced by initial first impressions. For example, some candidates can come across very confident in an interview setting, but this doesn’t mean they are confident overall. If confidence is a particular competency you are looking for, it is important to delve deeper. The person you may have perceived as being a little subdued could be the one who provides the best example of when they have confidently challenged authority to influence a positive outcome. Whereas someone who had struck you as being full of confidence may not be able to give any examples at all. 

Our top tips

If you are looking to include competency-based interviewing as part of your recruitment process, here are some of our top tips:

  • Don’t try and cover too much in one interview. Pick two or three competencies to ask about based on what is most relevant to the role and having read through the candidate’s CV.
  • Remember it is good practice to explain to the candidate how the interview will be structured, and to tell them that you will be including questions which will ask them for specific examples of when they have demonstrated the competencies required.
  • Do let the candidate know that you will be writing notes while they are giving their answers, so they know what to expect and don’t think that you are ignoring them.
  • When you ask a competency question, give the candidate space to think. Reassure them that it is fine if they need time to think of an example.
  • Make sure you give the candidate plenty of opportunity to talk. The purpose is to gain evidence from the candidate, so they should be doing most of the talking.
  • Continue to ask questions to help elicit the most relevant information. As well describing the situation and their actions, you want to entice from the candidate the final outcome or impact. Prompt them with questions such as what happened next? What did they say as a result? What feedback did you get from the team?
  • If a candidate really struggles to find an example, don’t leave them squirming. Move on to another question and come back to it later.

For more information about competency-based interviewing or support in finding the right candidate for a role, contact your local Pure office. 

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