Competency based interviewing isn’t new, but it has been used more frequently in recent years. The high level redundancies which followed the recession meant more highly qualified candidates were available, making it very difficult for employers to reduce the number of applicants.
A result of the fall-out was employers shifting towards risk mitigation. They looked for reasons not to hire people and needed evidence to demonstrate they had carried out their due diligence before making an offer. Since then, a competency based interview has become standard; yet there is almost no evidence which demonstrates this method leads to more successful hires. There is also a danger of it being so overused that skilled interviewees can rehearse ‘good answers’, concealing specific behaviours or character traits.
So how can you improve the interview selection process? By way of inspiration, I’ve outlined below three different approaches I’ve seen successfully built into the interview process:
Work based tasks. Consider the challenges that your new hire may face and present them with a situational task. A financial services brand recruits roles where understanding data was a non-negotiable skill (combined with consumer finance experience). The scarcity of this skill had meant that, over the years, the candidate pool had diminished. The company acknowledged that they needed to broaden their expectations to look at individuals with less work experience but where analysis still formed part of their responsibilities. They now welcome applications from a broader pool but ask candidates to undertake a task analysing data. This is done prior to interview so doesn’t take up any additional time, but it has opened up a new pool of candidates with the aptitude they require, indirectly creating a team that is able to offer its clients new solutions rather than ‘same old’ ways of thinking.
Situational role plays. Used in different ways, we’ve seen clients adopt these to evaluate a candidate’s approach towards the unknown, and assess lateral thinking. The key to using these effectively is to have a universal evaluation. For example: how quickly a candidate reaches the crux of the problem; how shrewd a negotiator they are; whether they’ll compromise business values by reaching an outcome regardless of the means.
Solving Problems. Now more than ever, businesses are faced with a “VUCA” world - Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity. Discussing problems where these situations occur allows the candidate to demonstrate leadership in uncertain times. This could be clarity of vision, courage, or approach to risk. I’ve seen a tech company set an impromptu task at interview, outlining a problem and allowing the candidate 20 minutes to consider their approach, before discussing it. The nature of the question means the candidate talks through their thought process, demonstrating why they reached the outcome. It also enables the leadership team to see how the candidate goes the extra mile for the customer - one of the company’s core values.
So how do you create the ideal selection process?
For leadership roles it is imperative that you look at the business objectives you need to achieve in the short term. Don’t think too long term – it is unfair to interview for what five years’ time could look like. Instead, consider these aspects:
1. Focus on the foreseeable future and the challenge this presents. The candidate can see where the business wants/needs to go and the dialogue will be more in depth.
2. In line with point one, evaluate the skills and characteristics the new hire will need to demonstrate in order to be effective; be really clear on what can be learned and what you won’t compromise on.
3. Look at ways in which you can replicate real life situations as part of the selection process. Determine tasks, projects, discussion points or exercises which allow the candidate to see how it really works.
4. Be clear on how you’ll evaluate success.
In summary, there are many ways you can assess a candidate’s capability other than – or in addition to – competency based interviews. By creating tasks which reflect the specific challenges of the role, you’ll make a much more appropriate hire. At a time where many candidates are hesitant about changing companies, it’s essential that you use the time with them effectively and create a better outcome for all.
Berwick Partners is an executive search firm focused on hiring emerging leadership talent. Our search process is designed not only to identify the best leadership candidates within the market, but also to help you build effective assessment and selection programmes.
Kathryn Gallan leads the Digital function at Berwick Partners, specialising in senior leadership appointments across all business sectors.