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Pitfalls of Competencies in Behavioral Interviews

INTERVIEW EDGE • SEPT 2015

writing competencies in interview

Selecting competencies can be a problem for hiring managers and interview teams who jump on the "competencies bandwagon" too quickly. A case in point:

One HR director told us she'd asked the hiring manager in her financial services start-up to use competencies to select employees. The hiring manager asked the five members of the interview team to each select the most important competencies for a key project manager position. Interestingly enough, the only thing the lists had in common was that the interview team had each chosen competencies that seemed to describe themselves.

In trying to figure out what had gone wrong, we asked her the following three questions:

• First, had the hiring manager provided a description of the job? She told us he hadn't because his people "already knew what a project manager did."

• We also asked whether the hiring manager had described the organizational culture - the company's values, beliefs, and attitudes. In effect, had he answered the question, "What's it like to work here?" Again, the answer was no.

• Finally, had the hiring manager asked the interview team to think of the best project managers they knew when they picked the competencies they thought were important? "No," she replied, the hiring manager hadn't.

It seemed clear to us that the interview team were picking competencies that described themselves because they hadn't been given enough information to do anything else. Remember, they were working without a job description, a statement of organizational culture, or any real direction in using the competencies to separate average from top performers. Fortunately, it took only a few questions for the HR director to see the need to reevaluate their competency selection process in a way that was more focused and effective.

We're happy that more companies are recognizing competencies provide a platform for better behavioral interviewing methods. But here, as with everything else, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. It's one thing to decide to make selecting for competencies part of the interviewing process. It's another to learn how to define competencies effectively.