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Does competency based interviewing need to evolve?

Posted on from The Career Gym

Have competency based interviews become too predictable? Career coach Paul Deeprose gives his reasons why employers should stop looking for the most prepared interviewees and start searching for those with natural talents.

Interview preparation: a growing industry

I recently went onto an online book store and looked up ‘interview questions and answers’. To my amazement over 50 titles popped up, each one guiding the reader through the art of answering competency based interview (CBI) questions.

I looked at the search term ‘interview questions’ on Google and was informed that these key words are searched  5 million times per month globally, leading the user to multiple CBI answer sites. On top of this I am aware that last year up to 300,000 people received outplacement support, with the vast majority being trained or coached on interview technique.

Are companies really hiring the best candidates?

From a candidate perspective, CBIs are great as you are often told the required competencies and you can predict questions and prepare likely examples of your work that will demonstrate your past achievements in line with the role requirements. If you give relevant specific examples of work you have done, you should be well on your way to demonstrating the CBI principle that ‘past performance is the best indicator of future performance’.

As an ex-headhunter and someone who now regularly coaches people on interview technique, I appreciate that impressing an interviewer takes more than simply answering the questions, but the best prepared candidates are extremely well placed to be successful. With so much predictable information available before the interview, the fear is that the wrong person is therefore hired which can have a direct negative impact on performance and engagement. So what can be done to improve a recruitment process?

Look for employees with natural strengths

A colleague and I have been piloting our version of strengths-based interviewing. We believe that CBI has a place, but on its own is not robust enough to ensure that the company is hiring someone who is built for the role, rather than someone who is adapting to fit into it. This is the critical factor; we look for natural strengths:

“A strength is a pre-existing capacity for a particular way of behaving, thinking, or feeling that is authentic and energising to the user, and enables optimal functioning, development and performance” (Linley, 2007)

In our pilot we interviewed a range of higher performers in the organisation using a set of questions which started with ‘’what activities energise you?”  followed by appropriate probes and further strengths based questions. At no point did we directly ask about skills, but the answers we got were incredibly revealing. By discussing the way people work, what comes naturally to them and uncovering their motivating talents, we soon learned which employees had an instinct for their role and were the highest performers. We are now using this as an integral part of one of their recruitment campaigns.

The benefits to the company of introducing strengths-based interviewing into the process are many: firstly the candidate cannot predict the questions, so we have a far greater chance of exploring the authentic aspects of the candidate; the questioning reveals what the candidate’s true strengths are and if they use these in the role the research suggests that they will be higher performers; Hiring for strengths has all the benefits of performance, engagement and retention that hiring for skills alone does not necessarily generate. Add the questioning around strengths to that of skills and knowledge and you can be confident that you are hiring great candidates for the right reasons.

How can candidates benefit?

For candidates the process should be revealing and we are encouraging the candidates to have some reflection time on what they have learnt from the process. This not only ensures that they are allowed to express their reflected thoughts and value the activity, but it enhances the employer brand way beyond so many of the ‘impersonal’ candidate experiences I am often told about.

I’m not suggesting that companies do away with competencies but would urge you to consider how predictable your questions are and are they really getting to the heart of what makes an outstanding person in the vacant role?

And candidates, well perhaps it is now time to expect a bit more of the unexpected.

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