Making Employee Recruitment and Selection Competency Based: Part 2



Posted by John Bestgen, Recruiting Practice Lead


This is the second of two blogs regarding the issues surrounding moving to a competency based recruitment and selection process. You may access the first here.

Competency-Based Selection

Traditional employee selection methods must also be reinvented if they are to become competency based. The following discussion refers to the typical defined steps of the traditional employee selection process.


Step 1: Selection Process Planning

The goal of the first step in traditional employee selection is to plan the selection process. Planning is equally essential, if not more so, for the competency-based selection process. The goal of both is, of course, to make the best match between the person and the work.

With the competency-based approach, the criteria for selection are objectively stated. The process is systematic and disciplined. Perhaps the most desirable method of application is multiple interviews conducted by trained professionals, either individually or in teams. The goal of the interviews is to determine whether individuals possess the competencies necessary to achieve exemplary work results. This may be done by requesting work samples from experienced applicants or examining work histories for the behavioral anchors associated with the desired competencies. Consequently, selections are based on data rather than opinions. HR practitioners frequently comment that competency-based selection is probably one of the fairest and therefore most defensible approaches their organizations have used.


Step 2: Selection Method Planning

Next, Recruiters and HR practitioners must clarify the selection methods to be used in reaching a decision. Regardless of the work to be performed, the selection methods chosen should provide as much advance information as possible about those competencies that are the most critical for exemplary performance of the work. A competency assessment report from a former supervisor would offer this kind of valuable insight, for example.

Selection methods generally fall into two categories:

Ability to Perform: This category has to do with assessing the individual’s ability to perform the work. Methods in this category are competency based. One example might be job applications that seek information about individual competencies instead of work history or credentials that may not be directly related to proven performance. Another example is preparation of structured interview guides to solicit information about competencies linked to successful or exemplary performance and the behavioral indicators associated with them.

Fitness to Perform: Methods in the second category address the individual’s current fitness to perform and take into consideration additional requirements, such as drug tests and medical examinations, which are peripheral to an applicant’s ability to perform.


Step 3: Candidate Prioritization

After these types of evaluations have been completed, Recruiters and HR practitioners move to shorten the list of viable applicants. When using the competency-based approach, they work with managers to compare evidence of competencies with competency-based selection criteria. Recruiters and HR practitioners should focus their attention on the applicants’ competencies as discovered and documented to the minimally acceptable, fully successful, or exemplary competency requirements for the department, occupation, work role, or job category. Individual competencies are therefore the primary criteria for narrowing the field of applicants.


Step 4: Final Candidate Selection

Finalists are chosen in the next step. What is the difference between a traditional approach and a competency-based approach at this stage of the selection process? The traditional approach relies on a considerable number of assumptions about a candidate’s qualifications, based on superficial evidence of ability, such as academic degrees or work and salary history. In a competency-based approach, the guesswork is largely eliminated. The goal of competency-based selection is to go beyond the superficial to discover real evidence of ability to perform, based on interview questions that explore actual experience or work samples that verify an applicant’s ability to create outputs much like those required for the position. Persons with little experience may be tested for the ability to create the work products necessary for job success.


Step 5: Interviewing

The next and final phase of the traditional selection process centers on formal interviews and final selection. Competency-based selection relies on carefully planned behavioral interviews. Much attention is focused on the interview questions, how they are asked, the setting, and the approach used to assess results.

Competency-based interviewing has been used by many organizations for more than ten years. In developing an interview tool for a specific position, key criteria to succeed are identified by a relevant manager and experienced high-performing staff. Expectations for the job are developed along with a job description. Questions are then prioritized, and the method of interviewing is determined. Many organizations have found that an important consideration for the interviews is matching the number of questions to the amount of time for the interview. It is critical that applicants are prescreened, and that an accurate determination is made as to whether eligibility requirements are met. This allows the necessary time to be invested only in those applicants who are truly viable for the position in question.

Panels are often preferable in competency-based interviews; however, an individual can also conduct an effective interview. At many organizations, a panel of two or three members, including the first-line manager, and experienced staff members, is often used. Sometimes an applicant is interested in more than one position, and then other appropriate interviewers are included on the panel.

Before the interview is conducted, representatives of the organization welcome the applicant and introductions are made. An overview of the interview is then provided to the applicant. Organizations find that it is beneficial to indicate to the applicant that the interview will provide the opportunity to share work experiences as well as the demonstration of both skills and capabilities. The applicant is also informed that there will be notes taken during the interview. While the interview is taking place, interviewers rate both verbal and non-verbal responses to questions and scenarios that afford the opportunity for both objectivity and consistency. It also serves as a reminder following the interview.

Ratings and the methodology of how they are developed and applied are critical to success. Ratings are typically done independently without any discussion. Final scores are calculated by figuring the percentage of each rating based on the possible number. Finally, it is determined which applicant is the best match by those conducting the interview. In arriving at a decision, competencies are considered as are the learning needs and the willingness of staff and the organization to support training.


Step 6: Process Validation

One thing many organizations fail to undertake is to validate the selection decision. In a competency-based process, HR practitioners work with the new employees’ managers to determine how well performance matches up to expectations and work requirements.

A key consideration is the demonstration of competencies within the employer’s unique corporate culture for example.

A competency-based, multi-rater feedback process is just one of many possible methods. Or employees and their immediate supervisors might participate in a two-part probationary performance management process in which both parties provide competency and results ratings.


In summary, there are significant differences between traditional and competency-based employee recruitment and selection processes. Consequently, making a transition to a competency-based approach requires considerable time, money, and effort on the part of the organization and its HR staff. The benefits, however, invariably exceed the costs as the competency-based approach increases the percentage of exemplary performers within the organization providing true competitive advantage.


You can reach John at or at LinkedIn.