Competency-Based Hiring: A Win/Win/Win/Win Approach to Getting Great Talent

Apr 2011
Issue 15


by Roycee Kerr, Director, St. Charles Consulting Group

As a professional involved in recruiting manager- and executive-level hires for a global professional services firm during the 1990s, one of my most dreaded voicemail messages (yes, to you of the GenY and Millennial generations, we did have voicemail way back then) was from one of our service line leaders, who reported, “I think I have found someone who is perfect for that opening we have in our region …”

Typically, this executive had been traveling and struck up a conversation in the Admiral’s Club or with a seatmate on a flight. Over a beer or glass of chardonnay, the conversation between them evolved to the business challenges each was facing and, by the time the plane landed, our executive had shared that we were looking for a new person and learned that the new acquaintance was either qualified or knew someone who would be really great for the position.

From there our executive had quickly moved from sourcing the candidate to selling, and of course all of this happened with very little focus on the actual skills, knowledge, and attributes required for the new hire to be successful in the specific role with our firm. In other words, there was no competency basis for making the determination that this was an “ideal” candidate.

Lest you think this is the kind of thing that only happened in the “olden days …”

Here’s the modern day scenario: Not only do the same kinds of conversations occur but, more often in this day and age, that same executive is connected to or talking to others on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, SMS (text), Skype, or one of a number of social networking sites. On such sites, the executive is a member of several groups including the university alumni group, industry or professional groups, and community organizations. From those “conversations,” connections are made. In 2011, the hiring manager or sponsor no longer needs to leave the comfort of home or office to identify the “ideal” candidate.

What’s wrong with this picture? Doesn’t personal networking enhance the recruiting process? Isn’t it better to have a referral, especially from the hiring sponsor?

Maybe, but not necessarily. Why? Four reasons:

  1. The hiring sponsor or manager has likely not focused on the specific capabilities needed to be successful in this role. Often the hiring sponsor is operating from the context of the talent that is currently in place, not what is needed for the future or even what would make someone most successful in this role now.
  2. The recruiter probably is focused on the specific capabilities and has already started sourcing based on this. Now he or she will be in the predicament of “unselling” a candidate who may not be qualified and negotiating with the hiring sponsor for time to consider other, more qualified candidates.
  3. When the hiring sponsor or manager proceeds with conversations about the position without full consideration of specific capabilities required, the recruit often gets a less-than-full or unrealistic picture of the job. It is easy for an anxious hiring manager to move to selling the candidate before assessing capabilities when there is a pressing business need.
  4. The organization has strategic imperatives and priorities. To achieve these priorities, the people who take on roles need to have very targeted skills, particular knowledge, and attributes or behaviors that enable them to drive the results that the organization needs.

Competencies create a common language for aligning all stakeholders in the hiring process. When an organization, a business unit, or functional area can clearly articulate the knowledge, skills, and attributes that enable their success, they have formed an important basis for hiring great talent.

  • The organization has some core attributes that are critical or foundational to anyone working there – attributes like “takes initiative,” “continuous learner,” “customer focus,” and the like.
  • There are also unique attributes for the particular job that are more likely to make someone successful in the specific role. An example for someone in a supervisory role might be “develops others” (or “invests personal time and energy in developing others”).
  • Then there are the functional or technical skills and knowledge required to perform the work in the job (or group of jobs). These need to be stated with some precision, specifying the type of work the individual is able to do and/or the degree to which he or she has direct knowledge of key subject areas.

Creating and communicating the competencies required for the various functions and roles in an organization is time consuming, and introducing the discipline to hire based on these competencies definitely requires diligence. But, when these are clearly defined in the context of the organization’s business goals, everyone benefits:

  • WIN #1 – Recruiters know specifically the criteria they should communicate and screen against.
  • WIN #2 – Hiring managers or sponsors have a solid. rational basis for evaluating and prioritizing among a group of qualified candidates.
  • WIN #3 – Candidates have clear expectations about the job they are applying for, and the new hire has clear expectations about the job that he or she accepts.
  • WIN #4 – And, ultimately, the organization acquires talent specific to the unique business needs.

If your organization does not use a competency-based approach to hiring or has not defined the skills, knowledge, and attributes required to perform key functions, it might generate more in the way of win/win/win/win results if your organization re-thinks that strategy.

For more information, please contact Roycee Kerr.

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