Competency Based Hiring: Critical Factors I Learned From Hindsight

Guest Post by: Jack Baxter

My management career got started when I was promoted from a sales position to that of a Regional Manager covering 5 or 6 states for a laboratory equipment company in the medical device industry. Having never managed a group of salespersons, my boss thought it would be appropriate to send me to an American Management Association seminar. I spent the better part of a week learning the ins and outs of managing a sales force; from recruiting to hiring to managing them.

Competency Based HiringOutdated Interviewing

In those days interviewing individuals for a company position was pretty much the same from industry to industry. The interview theme was broken down to the three parts:

  1. Can they do the job?
  2. Will they do the job?
  3. Do they fit in?

“Can they do the job” was based on the resume. We looked at the individual experience of the candidate and made a decision based on their experience in the industry, their rolodex, who they knew in the industry and the amount of sales they had made in the previous years.

“Will they do the job” came from the interview process, usually performed by the manager and one of the experienced sales individuals or an operations person. Of course there was no scripted interview. We asked questions that we thought appropriate at the time using the resume to form the basis for our questions.

To answer the question, “Do they fit in”, we would ask a third person on the staff, usually one of the technicians, since the salesperson and the technician worked closely together to take him for coffee and talk with him. If the technician felt a type of report with the candidate and he had past the two previous questions we would hire the person and pass him/her off to the technician to spend a week or two in the field. The candidate would shadow the technician until formal product training could be set up at the corporate office.

When I left the medical device industry my employer at the time set up period of time that I could have access to an “outsourcing” center. This type of interview process was taught at the various seminars during my time at the center. As far as I know this type of hiring process went on for years.

Costly Mistakes We Missed

In subsequent management positions it became painfully clear that this type of interviewing process did little to measure the competency of an individual prior to hiring them. In some instances this became a costly mistake. There was no guarantee that hiring a top sales person from a competitor’s company meant instant increase in revenues for the company. In fact, in my own experience some individuals who looked great on paper (resume) fell flat when compared to other sales individuals in the same office.

Hindsight being 20/20 I missed some, what I now know as, critical factors in the interview process. Yes, I knew what skills and experience were required; they did seem to fit in with the company culture, call it a gut feeling. However, I failed to define the core competencies and expectations for the individual I was about to hire. I am not making excuses, but it must have occurred to me that the individual should know what was expected since he/she had been in the same environment for years before they came to me.

Adopting Competency Based Hiring

Certainly, we had job descriptions with what the position requires in terms of knowledge and experience. This type of “position specifications” is required by HR for their documentation. What I had failed to do was to define and examine the patterns of behavior that distinguished high performers from others in the same job. It is essential to identify the behaviors that are required to perform a job at optimum levels. The competency must align with the job description.

One advantage of using the same competencies in each interview allows the interviewer to make fair observations from one candidate to another. This type of questioning for competency will provide a true sense of the individual’s ability.

There is an old saying, “How you hire determines who you hire”.

Next time I will talk about how you determine the type of questions you ask to illicit information regarding past and present behavior.


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