Competencies Based Interviews

Introduction: The recruitment process has always been the most critical aspect for the growth of any engineering or non-engineering industry. A good and efficient resource can help the organization to set and achieve high growth whereas the vice-versa is also not false. With augmenting demand of deserving candidates in companies, the interview process has also undergone lots of revisions and changes.In this article, I tried to present few notable points regarding competencies based interviews along with merits of the same over traditional interviewing approach.

What is ‘Competencies Based Interview’?

Competency can be defined as a personal characteristic which is displayed by outstanding performers in a role in a given business environment and which is demonstrated through specific observable behaviors. In other words, competency is the way one conduct/demonstrate his/her skills in the given environment.

In competencies based interviews, the interviewer tries to evolve, understand and judge the competencies of the interviewees in different areas including behavioral and technical fronts.

How Competencies Based Interviews are different from Traditional Interviewing approach?

Competencies based interviews tends to evolve the technical and non-technical skills of the candidate based on his/her knowledge, behavior and demonstration of the same while traditional interviews tend to evolve the technical and non-technical skills using results as the base line.

Traditional interviewing approaches were more based on ‘What’ kind of questions rather than ‘How’ and ‘Why’ kind of questions and were strongly supported by ‘Theoretical and Hypothetical questions’. For e.g. ‘What was your role in the previous organization?’ but not followed by ‘How you managed that role, how you handle various challenges etc.

Few more drawbacks associated with traditional interviewing approaches were:

  1. Lack of clear job profile and competencies required for the same.
  2. Lack of interview preparation and structure.
  3. Poor follow-up questions.
  4. Involvement of various biasing aspects.

Moving forward, in this article, I will try to explain these points in depth and describe how competencies based interviewing approach handles these issues.What is the structure of a Competency Based Interview?

The structure of a typical Competency Based Interview is:

  1. Introduction by Interviewer
    The introduction of an interviewer is as important as that of an interviewee. Although the interviewee’s information is present in the resume or CV, the interviewer’s information in nowhere mentioned in the interview in most of the cases. A good introduction of interviewer makes the environment healthy and comfortable for both. This section can be optionally accompanied by the brief introduction of the organization as well.
  2. Rapport building questions
    Rapport building questions help in building the confidence of the interviewee and making the environment comfortable.
  3. Explanation of Job profile and expectations
    A brief explanation of job profile and expectations in the interview helps both interviewers and interviewing in focusing on the important and relevant information.
  4. Behavioral Competencies based questions
    These questions help in judging the interviewee on the behavioral front. Please read the explanation below for detail on behavioral competency based interview.
  5. Technical Competencies based questions
    These questions indicate the technical strength of the candidate in a relevant area.
  6. Questions from interviewee accompanied by optional feedback session
    Before ending the interview, the interviewee should be given an opportunity to ask any relevant question or clear any doubt. This section can be optionally accompanied by brief feedback session by an interviewer.
  7. Interview close up
    It’s important to close up the interview with a positive attitude maintaining self-esteem of the interviewee and expressing gratitude for taking interest in the organization.

What are ‘Rapport Building Questions’ and why should we involve them in interviews?

Rapport building questions include questions not directly related to the job profile but are used to begin the communication.

Few examples of rapport building questions could be:

  1. How are you today?’
  2. Do you face any problem in finding our office premise?
  3. How is weather condition there (especially in telephonic interviews)?
  4. Question/discussion related to any specific place, event or item of their native place for e.g. so you belong to Jaipur, I heard that it is called ‘Pink City’, do you know why?

There are various advantages of these questions including:

  1. Help in making the environment comfortable for both interviewer and interviewee and boost up the confidence of the interviewee.
  2. Help in making sure that both are audible to each other especially in the case of telephonic interviews.
  3. Demonstrate the candidate that this is a good place to work.

What is Behavioral Competency Based Interview?

Behavioral Competency Based Interview a.k.a. Behavioral Event Interview (BEI) includes questions related to the behavior or conduct of the candidate in his/her past job/organization or even personal life (useful in case of inexperienced candidate). The background assumption behind BEI is that the past behavior of a person best predicts the future conduct. Thus BEI involves questions related to past behavior of the candidate to understand and predict his/her conduct in future and suffixed by follow-up questions to gather more useful data. Few examples of BEI questions:

  1. Tell me about an instance where you dealt with a client who changes requirements very often and these changes resulted into lots of re-work and slippages? The follow-up questions could be ‘How you handle the situation, how you manage your team in that scenario, how you convince your manager at your end, how you faced the challenges and what was the learning from that instance, did you get a chance to apply that learning in other projects etc.
  2. Can you tell me an example where you have a deadline nearby but unfortunately 1 or 2 key resources of your team went on emergency leave or left the organization? Follow up question could be ‘How you communicated with the client, how you managed your team, what extra efforts you put into the project, what were your learning from that instance etc.

In traditional interviews, the theoretical questions were preferred over behavioral questions for e.g. the theoretical version of the 1st example above could be: Tell me if you need to deal with a client who changes requirements very often which may result in lots of re-work and slippages, how will you handle the situation? The drawback of theoretical questions is that the candidate can use his/her good communication skills to answer such questions wisely but not necessarily execute the same. Thus it resulted in more useless data.

In traditional interview question the end result is more important but in the behavioral interview, the approach, behavior, conduct, learning, execution and other aspects are also important along with results.

One more important point to note here is the difference between behavioral and non-behavioral answers. For e.g. the answer ‘I proved as a great manager in my last project. The project was delivered on time with excellent quality. Our client also appreciated the same.’ is an example of non-behavioral action. Notice that in this answer, no useful data could be collected because it doesn’t indicate how he/she managed the team, how he/she faced critical and complicated situations, what issues/problems he/she faced and resolved etc. Thus it is important for an interviewer to recognize the non-behavioral answers and use follow-up questions to get more information.

It should also be noted that in behavioral interviews it’s important that answers should indicate a complete behavior consisting of context, action, and outcome. For e.g. the answer ‘In one of my previous projects, one of the resources left the organization just before project deadline and I took efforts to manage that’ misses the action (to some extent) and outcome. The above answer doesn’t indicate the actual action and what happened finally and learning from this instance.

What is the importance of follow-up questions in BEI?

To illustrate the important of follow-up questions let me quote snippet from a recent interview…
Interviewer: Can you give me a recent example where you own the complete module and delivered it on time in the constraint of deadlines?
Interviewee: In the last project, I completely owned one of the modules in the application and since the deadline was nearby we delivered it without testing cycle and later recognized that there were no bugs in the module.

At this point, it seems to be a great work. But let’s see the follow-up question:

Interviewer: Can you explain more about that module?
Interviewee: The module was ‘help’ module which opens various manuals of the application on user’s request.
Interviewer: How much code you wrote for the same?
Interviewee: It was 1 JSP page.
Interviewer: Did you also write or manage the manuals?
Interviewee: No those were written by Technical Writing Team.

The above communication indicates the importance of follow-up questions to get more realistic data.

Remember that the ultimate goal of the interview is to get the most useful data regarding the interviewee to help making effective selection and in this regard follow-up questions can be proved critical to get more and more information.

What are important things to notice while asking technical competency based question?

Technical competency of a candidate is the demonstration of his/her technical skills in the given business environment. This section is very critical as it judge the interviewee on the most critical and relevant part i.e. technical caliber. Questions in this section should be cleverly designed to not only gauge his/her technical strength but also instances and way he/she demonstrated the same in previous job. Few important guidelines for technical competency questions are:

  1. Avoid questions which requires more cramming but ask questions which requires more logic.
  2. Use more analytical and general questions. Don’t use uncommon terminologies.
  3. Try to cover more depth rather than width. Ask simple concepts and explore in depth rather than covering everything.
  4. Be specific and focused in the technical requirements.
  5. It’s is very important that you rephrase the important questions if the same is not clear to interviewee.

What are major biasing factors during interview?

Below are few examples of biasing factors which an interviewer should neglect to make effective results:

  1. Pressure to fill positions: Most of the time interviewer says that the position was open for a log time and ultimately I decided to compromise on that. In long term this may result in serious impact on the project and organization growth.
  2. Contrast effect: This is again a trivial factor with most of the interviewers. The goodness or poor performance of one candidate affects our attitude towards other candidates. This is true especially incases of weekend drives and walk-ins.
  3. Regional and religious biasing: ‘Some one belonging to the same part of country as you’ or ‘Some one belong to the non-reputed state of the country’ or ‘Some one belongs to majority/minority community’ etc are most common factors affecting the interviews.
  4. First Impression: Many interviewers got biased with the 1st impression of the candidate or the gesture and dressing code of the candidate.
  5. Halo and Horn effect: Halo effect means impressing with one quality to such extent that you neglect all other drawbacks while horn effect means you neglect all god qualities because of one drawback. An interviewer should always try to come out of halo and horn effect.

At the last, I just wanted to list down some tips for effective interviews:

  1. Focused: Interview is also knows as ‘Mining the skills’ and as in mining it’s very important to follow a vertical path to avoid danger of loosing the track, similarly in interviews it’s very important not to loose the focus and deviate from main track.
  2. Avoidable Question Types: It is recommended that in interviews the ‘Yes/No’ type of question should be avoided as they don’t result in any valuable data. Also leading, confusing and complex questions should be avoided. (Lending question includes those the answer of which lies in the question itself for e.g. ‘I think you can handle a big team?’)
  3. Non-Question Questions: Nowadays non-question questions are proving very effect in interviews. Thus instead of asking ‘What are your best skills?’ ask ‘Your resume seems to be impressive but to better know you, can u help me by telling your best skills?’
  4. Simple and Straightforward: It is highly advisable to keep the questions simple and straightforward so as to get better results and useful data. Use your effective communication skills to explain the questions if required. Avoid using uncommon terms and misleading phrases.
  5. Maintain Candidate’s Self Esteem: It’s very important that after interview, the candidate shouldn’t feel guilty or insulted. Being on the decision-making-chair, it’s the responsibility of the interviewer to maintain the self esteem of the candidate which not only resulted in healthy environment but also sends an impressive message in the community regarding your organization.
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