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This Fatal Flaw in Competency Models Prevents Hiring Success

At the beginning of a recent corporate recruiter workshop a hiring manager I had worked with previously at LinkedIn, asked if he could tell a Performance-based Hiring interviewing story.

Published: Feb 24, 2020

At the beginning of a recent corporate recruiter workshop a hiring manager I had worked with previously at LinkedIn, asked if he could tell a Performance-based Hiring interviewing story.

Without prompting, he went on to describe a person he had interviewed six months earlier who seemed like a perfect candidate – great progression with strong companies in senior-level marketing roles; highly motivated to work at this company; affable and outgoing; smart, insightful and results-oriented.

However, after a one-hour Performance-based Interview he recommended to the VP that she shouldn’t be hired to handle the open role which required strong project management skills to ensure their aggressive product launch schedules were met.

His no vote came despite the fact that she possessed all of the generic competencies, skills and experiences listed on the job description. He concluded that the examples she used to validate the competencies exhibited a pattern that emphasized her real intrinsic motivators focusing on the creative side of marketing, not the organizational and management requirements needed for the open role.

She was hired anyway and left 60 days later complaining she was misled and that the job wasn’t what she thought it was. Since this hiring manager understood the principles of Performance-based Hiring I asked him to give the recruiters some guidance as they began their learning journey. Here’s what he advised:

This story reveals the fatal flaw with competency models – they’re too vague to make important hiring decisions. The result is too many false positives like the one described above about a person who possessed all of the skills and competencies described in the job description but found the actual work demotivating. Without context about the actual work, the pace and culture of the organization and the hiring manager’s leadership style, competency-based interviews will give misleading results.

The critical problem is largely resolved by expanding on the above advice with these two additions:

First, convert generic competencies like good communication skills and results-oriented into KPOs (key performance objectives) or OKRs (objectives and key results) that describe how these competencies are actually used on the job.

For example, strong communication skills might be, “Collaborate with the marketing group to determine the product design requirements,” and results-oriented, could be, “Ensure the product is launched on time by proactively identifying and developing work-arounds for all technical challenges.”

Second, describe the actual job and situation before asking the standard behavioral interview question, “Can you tell me about a time when you used (competency)?”

Using the marketing spot described above for assessing a person’s drive for results in comparison to the actual job requirements the question would be something like:

“We’re in the process of launching a series of new products and upgrades over the next few months under very tight schedules. Can you give me an example of something you’ve accomplished that best represents your ability to successfully lead this effort?”

Getting a good answer to this type of behavioral question requires more than the standard two-minute STAR questioning pattern asking the candidate to describe the situation, the task, the action taken, and the result achieved. While a start, it’s not nearly enough. In addition, it’s important to spend more time getting the following:

  • The big changes made and how they were made
  • The biggest decision the person had to make
  • How the person solved the biggest problem faced
  • Multiple examples of where the person took the initiative and went the extra mile
  • The hiring manager’s style, the pace of the organization and the company culture
  • The team issues including the project team, the person’s role, how he/she got assigned the project and how the person ensured team and project success
  • Ask how the person planned, prioritized and managed his/her workload

In a recent video I described the need to hire people for the first year anniversary date, not the start date. This is what I refer to as a Win-Win Hiring outcome, where the hiring manager and the new employee both agree it was a great decision one year into the job. Generic competency models without context sadly too often result in Lose-Lose Hiring outcomes.