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Competencies for an Evolving World

INTERVIEW EDGE • AUG 2013

Recently, the Chicago Sun-Times laid off every member of its photography staff, saying it now will rely on iPhone-wielding reporters for photos and video. Not having to provide salaries and benefits for 28 full-time employees no doubt means a lot to the beleaguered paper. But the point is that a new technology effectively eliminated an entire segment of the Sun-Times' workforce.

Job-cancelling technology isn't the only change in the brave new workplace. There has also been an important shift in the education-to-work model. Anyone who’s been looking for a job knows this. Graduates will no longer find jobs waiting for them just because they have a degree. As Harvard education expert Tony Wagner points out, the world doesn't care anymore what you know; it only cares "what you can do with what you know."

The result is that more employers are redefining talent and designing their own tests to measure applicants’ skills. And they increasingly don’t care how those skills were acquired: home schooling, an online university, or Yale. They just want to know one thing — how can workers add value?

However an organization defines value, it is not based on degrees but on competencies — innate skills, abilities and talents that people demonstrate early in life and develop over the course of their careers.

To make successful hires, organizations should be determining the competencies they need to move into the future. It's then up to the hiring manager and interviewing team to build consensus around the specific competencies required for high performance in each position.

When we work with companies, we provide a library of 48 competencies with clear definitions to illustrate what behavioral examples should sound like. This helps interviewers set clear competency benchmarks to measure each candidate against.

So what are the competencies that add value in today's jobs and the jobs of the future?

New York mayor Michael Bloomberg answered that question succinctly in his commencement address at Stanford when he said, "Work hard. Take risks. Follow your passion. Embrace innovation."

Those remarks, translated into competencies, would be filed in our library under "hardworking," "risk-taker," "enthusiastic," and "adaptable" — all important qualities for success. Depending on the essential functions of a particular job and the organizational culture, any number of other competencies might be equally important, such as being a good listener and continuous learner, articulate and self-motivated.

Although building a list of of job competencies may be straightforward, interviewing for competencies is not. It's not enough for candidates to declare, however earnestly, that they are "willing to work hard" or to repeatedly describe themselves as hardworking. Instead, they must be able to provide clear examples of actually having worked hard in the past, such as putting in long hours flipping burgers while going to school full-time.

When all is said and done, competencies are the one constant in a rapidly evolving world. Robots are taking the place of blue-collar workers; software is replacing clerks and even lawyers. And, as "The World is Flat" author Thomas Friedman recently noted, "A degree is no longer a proxy for the competency employers need."

The message for employers is clear — hire for the competencies that ensure success in today’s jobs as well as success in the rapidly emerging future. Clearly defining those competencies and using an Effective Interviewing!® process is the key to thriving in a culture that has probably already changed in the time it took you to read this article.