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Competency Madness?

• volume 3 • number 2

We have been promoting competency-based interviewing skills for so long, we sometimes forget how new and exciting this approach is for some companies. And while we're happy that so many businesses are adopting what we believe is a superior approach to interviewing, we're also disturbed by the extremes to which some organizations have gone. In fact, we're seeing something akin to "competency madness," where businesses think they can thoroughly assess a large number of competencies in a very short interview. Two cases in point:

One accounting firm has identified 11 "must-have" competencies, each of which is rated on a 3-point scale, for a total of 33 judgments. Their interviews take place on-campus and last 30 minutes. Since the interview is supposed to stress rapport-building and selling as well as assessments, the assessment phase is limited to about ten minutes. Hardly enough time to shake hands, let alone thoroughly evaluate a candidate!

Then there is the large financial services company that attempts to assess 10 behavioral competencies, each ranked on a 5-point scale, in a similar 30-minute campus interview. And since the ratings - outstanding, good, average, and so on - are highly subjective, it stands to reason that there will be little standardization among the scores.

We're also seeing individual competencies whose definitions are not only too broad, but often unintelligible. Some examples: "Knowledge sharing/technology: the interactive exchange of understanding and experience through thought leadership, innovation, and knowledge production."

What about "TQM/reengineering: committed to continuous improvement through empowerment and management by data?"

And why not just say "customer service" instead of the tongue-twisting "consultative solutions sales focus on customer satisfaction?"

The problem with competency madness is that people have lost sight of the number of competencies a candidate can reasonably be expected to possess as well as what can be assessed in a single interview. They also seem to have lost all connection to the English language, and so, in many cases, have turned a sound and effective approach to interviewing into jargon-filled nonsense.