Blog: The competence of Competency Based Assessment

Talent Acquisition

The competence of Competency Based Assessment

Unlike decisions for job-fit candidate being intuition based, nowadays it's the competency based assessments that decide
The competence of Competency Based Assessment

Competency Based Assessment is arguably one of the most popular talent acquisition processes. However, for it to be successful, all the parties need to be prepared – and on the same page.

Interview! It conjures up visions of nervousness, sweaty palms and intense & intrusive conversations. Discussions that make or break careers and significantly influence the future prosperity of an organization.

Talent Acquisition leaders today, are blessed with modern, up-to-date tools that help them hire the best. Recruitment firms have fine-tuned candidate screening and presentation processes into a fine art. It’s a well-oiled ecosystem. And it’s already in action – well before the candidate enters the portals of their potential employer.

A metaphoric Gomukh* of Human Capital, the interview is where it all begins for candidates and organizations. So, predictably, everyone’s on their best behaviour, trying to get it right. Big smile, best outfit, neatly filed papers, well-rehearsed answers… The amalgamation of science, art and some good old-fashioned ‘sixth sense’ – as the older breed of hiring managers avers.

But times have changed, organizations have changed and attitudes have changed. Today’s ‘war for talent’ is fought on a very different looking battleground – which calls for a methodology that is more science than gut. One that can ‘truly’ draw out a person’s abilities and deliver a better fit for the role. One that meets today’s compliance-focused environment. One that can be learnt by anyone who puts in the rigour.

Enter: Competency Based Assessment (CBA).

CBA is a structured process that expects aspirants to demonstrate the behaviours required for a role they are pitching for. All the questions circle around uncovering these behaviours – or competencies – from situations experienced in the candidate’s current role. No more ‘tell-me-about-yourself CV reading sessions’, or ‘sell me this pencil’ stuff. It’s ‘give me an example of a time when you…’

CBA works! No wonder it is so popular. It however requires some serious preparation:

  1. Identify the competencies: This may sound easy, but is actually the most difficult part! While we would all like to have Superman on the team, it is important to realistically define only those competencies that are relevant to the role. Organizations tend to break up these competencies into three groups:
    a. Fundamental Competencies: Applicable to every role and usually originating from the Company’s values.
    b. Functional Competencies: Role specific and originating from the job description, and where the role sits in the organization structure (spot-check! do all unique roles in your organization have complete, and up-to-date JDs?).
    c. Technical Competencies: Commonly called qualifications – relevant degrees, work experience, etc.
  2. Prepare the questioning: Questions need to be specific, yet open-ended enough to get the candidate to ‘open up’ and talk. So, commonly available question banks need to be filtered for relevance. The idea is to get the candidate to disclose more! Interviewers (there should always be more than one) should also decide in advance who is going to ask which questions.
  3. Prepare the answers: While answers usually sit in the interviewee’s domain, it is important for the interviewing panel to determine – in advance – what they should be looking for. Typically, what constitutes an ‘appropriate’ answer, or what would the measures of success be. Also, be prepared to guide the candidate to use ‘I’, versus ‘we’, to zero in on her specific contributions.
  4. Prepare the candidate: Wait a minute! Shouldn’t candidates be preparing themselves? Maybe, but giving candidates a heads-up can save a lot of everybody’s time and energy. It works equally for candidates going through a CBA for the first time, and those veterans. Share the interview structure, the competencies of the role, the kind of questions and the expected response structure. Eg. Situation-Tasks-Actions-Results (STAR) is a good model for candidates to plan their examples.
  5. Take copious notes: This is important for the post-interview assessment (yes, the assessment happens after) and as an auditable record. Interviewers should rephrase answers, or ask supplementary questions for greater clarity. Having standard templates for each competency is a good idea.

Like most protocols, CBA should be used in conjunction with other available tools and actions.

  1. Precede CBA with a face-to-name coffee session. This puts the candidate at ease and makes the conversation non-threatening. Surprisingly, this interaction often reveals interesting insights sitting behind the candidate’s goody-goody persona!
  2. Ability/aptitude tests: Most major organizations subscribe to some. They all have their strengths…and add to the overall picture.
  3. Network insights: Social media, personal contacts, background checks and ‘friends-of-friends’, all provide a wealth of information about candidates. Listen carefully – there may be a story…

There is little doubt that CBA makes a very efficient hiring tool – with a high first-time-right record and enough cost-benefit analyses to prove it. However, it’s true competence only comes into effect when everyone is appropriately prepared and talking the same lingo.

*The point origin of the holy river Ganges

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Topics: Talent Acquisition, Strategic HR, #HRMetrics

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