Newsletter volume 2 number 4
Everyone agrees that it makes good sense when selecting a candidate to define jobs in terms of required competencies. This gives a focus and consistency to selection interviewing. Unfortunately, some companies are now turning interviewing into a laser beam search for competencies and interviewers into mere cogs in a competency assessment process. In this role they just scrutinize each candidate for one or two competencies. The results are unfair to both companies and candidates.
In this kind of interviewing, each "interviewer" asks a candidate about one competency, such as, "Tell me about a time when you demonstrated analytical skills on the job." This is followed by a series of related inquiries about thoughts, feelings, behaviors and results. This in-depth probing is meant to reveal if the candidate is analytical (or whatever the target competency is).
Such a truncated procedure obviously saves busy managers a lot of time; it simplifies what they have to look for during an interview as well as what they need to report on later. And because the focus is so narrow, minimal training is required. But the lack of time and training is exactly the point. Most managers and professionals lack skill in selection interviewing anyway, and mere "competency chasing" only makes matters worse.
In addition to turning out untrained interviewers, this approach leads to superficial and misleading interviews. Savvy candidates can often figure out what competency is being sought and come up with convincing responses whether they have the competency or not. On the other hand, the fact that candidates can't think of a good example of a specific competency doesn't necessarily mean they don't have it. Furthermore, competencies need to be demonstrated repeatedly over time, not just once.
The competency chaser also assumes that a person can be adequately defined by restricting the interview to only a single or very limited set of competencies. By contrast, we believe in a method that draws out evidence of a large number of competencies plus the inevitable limitations - qualities such as indecisiveness, lack of integrity, or rigidity - that can effectively derail a promising career.
Finally, because no competency chaser fully assesses any one candidate, it is almost impossible to paint a full and accurate picture of a particular individual. Each interviewer has only a small part of the puzzle, and when the pieces are finally assembled, crucial segments are usually missing and no one gets the whole picture. It is like rotating reviewers through a theater to critique individual scenes in a play, versus expecting each one to critique the full performance. It is a distortion to assess the total play based merely on individual assessments of each scene because they all relate to each other.
We believe in interviewing the old-fashioned way. Each interviewer learns as much as possible about every candidate. All interviewers elicit a wide range of competencies that reveal strengths and limitations, and they look for repeated patterns of both. This demands more of each interviewer but doesn't have to take more of their time. Companies and candidates alike deserve competent interviewing, not expedient shortcuts or specialization to the point where the critical management skill of interviewing is lost in the process.