July 22, 2018

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Identifying Competencies to Ensure Successful Placements

In Part 1 we discussed what candidate competencies are and how to clearly define them in functional and behavioral terms. In this article, we will discuss how to quickly and accurately identify your candidate's competencies to ensure the most successful placements in full time, temporary, or contract positions.

The first place to start is typically in the functional category. In most cases, hiring managers are looking for candidates with a clearly developed set of experiences, skills, or exposures. In rare situations, you may find someone who tells you, "I don't care about what they've done before. I want someone with 'XYZ' personality characteristics." This will happen most frequently with entry-level roles and sales positions.

Don't take this at face value! What they're really telling you is that they don't know how to (or maybe haven't taken the time to) define what they're looking for. This should also be a flag to you that the behavioral competencies may be more important in identifying a great candidate. Do your homework in these situations by asking the two fundamental questions designed to uncover functional and behavioral competencies in any job:

  1. What are the key things the person in this role must accomplish to be successful?
  2. What would someone need to know/be/do in order to achieve that result?

These questions will help you discover what's really needed whether or not the hiring manager can articulate it effectively.

So now that you've gathered the necessary information about the competencies needed for the job, you need to evaluate your potential candidates for the "right stuff." Your job is to sniff out the evidence that tells you whether this candidate meets the critical competency needs as agreed by you and the hiring manager. Together, you also need to identify in advance which and how many of the job-critical functional competencies the candidate must possess in order to be seriously considered for the position. Where can you find that evidence? There are two primary resources to which you will have access once you have completed your initial sourcing:

  1. The candidate's resume (or employment application)
  2. Direct conversation with the candidate

The candidate's resume is the quickest access to documentation of what they believe their functional and behavioral competencies to be. There are some clear things to look for that will tell you in a matter of moments whether this person comes close to meeting the hiring manager's needs.

  1. Their education and training tells you what they have studied and whether their "book learning" is applicable to the role they are seeking. Someone with a finance degree or CPA designation is likely to have the appropriate education to fill a corporate accounting role.

  2. Their descriptions of previous work experience will give you the next glimpse into their functional competencies. Do the descriptions include "action verbs" that evoke a clear picture of their involvement and achievement? Do they include statistics about improved results or quantity of services delivered? Be very wary of the "responsible for." trap! Just because someone is responsible for something doesn't mean they've actually executed it successfully or consistently.

  3. Does the candidate's resume show a clear track of progression to more responsible roles or to a parallel role in larger organizations? Most important to the evaluation of functional competencies is what the candidate has done to increase his technical skills as he moved from one position to another. Has he taken additional training or coursework? In what on-the-job learning opportunities has he participated? Is he an active member in a professional or technical association?

Your next critical source of information about functional competency is direct conversation with the candidate about her background and experience. An important key is to get her to do the talking. Ask open or "launching" questions to prompt her to talk about what she has done.

For example, you are interviewing someone for a mid-level position as a Project Manager for the Information Technology division of a large financial services company - "Your resume shows that you managed the Web Services group at XYZ Finance for three years. Tell me about your approach to determining how you would deliver intranet services to the four locations for which you were responsible." (You know this is a critical functional competency because you have seen this requirement in the job description or discussed it with the hiring manager.) Now the beauty of this kind of question is that you don't need to know lots of detail about what this might include. Your job is to get the candidate to talk about what he does. You evaluate his answer on the basis of two things:

  1. Is he able to explain what he does in detail - such as describing a process from beginning to end?
  2. Does he explain what he does in terms of his own role in that process - without using the "royal we"?

If the answer to both of these questions is "yes," the candidate likely has the functional skill in that area. Your next step is to continue to explore each of the functional competencies that you and the hiring manager have identified as job-critical.

When you are satisfied that a candidate meets the job's functional competency requirements, you begin to explore the behavioral competencies identified by the hiring manager. This process is quite similar in terms of your role, but will likely feel a bit different to the candidate. Candidates are typically more comfortable talking about the technical aspects of their job, and don't often even think about the behavioral elements, so this can feel a bit challenging.

Let's say that the hiring manager has identified "problem solving" as a critical behavioral competency for the role she needs to fill. Again, you will want to ask an open or launching question to get the candidate to talk about her skill level.

For example - "Tell me about a time when you had a major problem at work - something that really got tangled up - what did you do?" Give the candidate a little time to recall a situation and begin to tell you about it. Be attentive to her answer, looking for opportunities to clarify or get more information. Probes you can use might include "And what happened next?" or "What was your thought process at that point?"

You are looking for the evidence of a candidate's competency that comes with her ability to provide work-related examples of the requirement. Your evaluation of her competency is again based on two things:

  1. Is she able to explain what she did in detail?
  2. Does she explain what she did in terms of her own role?

When you have concerns or need additional evidence about whether a candidate possesses the necessary behavioral competency, ask for another example or turn the question "inside-out", asking, "What about a problem you were not able to solve? What was different about that situation and your approach?"

These techniques will ensure that you are able to gather the critical evidence about a candidate's functional and behavioral abilities. Presenting these well-vetted candidates to your clients will ensure the highest levels of success for you, your candidate, and the hiring managers you serve.

- Paula Roy

Paula Roy ( is the Vice President of Learning and Development of StaffingU, a global provider of training, coaching, and consulting services for staffing and recruiting professionals. For information on StaffingU's programs and services, including TeleClasses (live telephone-based classes), Virtual StaffingU (web-based courses), individual and group coaching, on-site training and speaking, and management consulting visit or call 866-SU-WORKS (789-6757). Paula Roy is a recognized expert in behavioral interviewing and in developing comprehensive selection strategies. Using a comprehensive project management system, Paula has developed the productivity and effectiveness of sales teams, project teams, and executives. She earned her degree in communication and management and has completed extensive study and research in adult learning theory and methodology.