Identifying Core Competencies When Hiring

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If you’ve ever made a bad hire (we all have!) you know how damaging it is to have someone in a role for which they are not suited. A bad hire can cause problems for employee morale, client relations, and productivity. When you add up the financial costs, a single bad hire can cost a business more than $50,000. That’s no small change.

Sometimes a bad hire results from a failure to properly identify the competencies required for a position. It can become impossible to find the right person for the job if you don’t first identify what the ideal candidate needs to succeed.That’s why one of the first steps in filling a position has to be identifying what competencies someone needs to be successful in the position.

Here’s how to identify core competencies and how to use these competencies to evaluate candidates.

Identifying Core Competencies

As you put together a job description, there are two types of core competencies you need to consider:

Position-specific competencies. These are the abilities and skills required for a specific role.

Organizational competencies. These are the skills and abilities a candidate will need to have to navigate the culture of an organization.

Sometimes organizations focus on the position-specific competencies and neglect the organizational competencies. Don’t make that mistake. Each are important and need to be carefully considered.

Another mistake commonly made is the assumption that older job listings and competencies identified for previous hiring periods will work for the current hire. Don’t assume that the skills required in the past will be the skills necessary for success in the future. Consider how the role has changed or may change, and hire for the competencies required for the role as it is, not as it was.

Position-Specific Competencies

To identify position specific competencies, think about what is required to complete the duties of the job.

Skills. Hard and soft skills such as technical skills, interpersonal skills, accounting skills, writing ability, knowledge of specific statistic, scientific, or project management techniques, etc.

Knowledge/areas of expertise. Often the candidate’s field of study, such as administration, nursing, IT, accounting, history, etc.

Personal qualities and work style. What characteristics does a person need to have in the role? This can include qualities like being organized, analytical, creative, able to meet deadlines, etc.

Ideally, determining the position-specific competencies of a position will include the input of not only the position’s supervisor, but also other employees that work closely with the position.

Organizational Competencies

While position-specific competencies need to be developed for each role, organizational competencies will be consistent across all roles in a company.

Begin by identifying the norms and behaviors that are expected across the company. Is the management style hierarchical or are decisions taken by consensus? Are employees encouraged to take risks or avoid them? What is the pace of work? Is the work environment traditional or more unconventional? How collegial are employees?

The answers to these questions will tell you which type of people will “fit” in your company. The skills necessary to be successful within the company culture need to be included in your job description to ensure candidates have the organizational competencies required to fit into the company culture.

Many of these organizational competencies will relate to the company’s brand and values. If your organization has codified its brand, values, and culture, refer to these as a starting point to help you identify your organizational competencies.

Using Core Competencies to Guide Interviews

As you begin recruiting, your company may find a focus on core competencies leads to a broader, more diverse candidate pool because the emphasis is on competencies, rather than particular educational or work backgrounds.

Now it’s important to use these competencies to evaluate candidates in the interview process.  

Armed with the core competencies for a position, a hiring manager is in a much better position to conduct an interview that evaluates whether a candidate has the skills necessary for the job.

Research confirms that structured interviews are much more effective than unstructured interviews. Identifying core competencies provides the basis for structuring effective interviews.

Anchor interview questions to the list of competencies for the position. Questions relating to organizational competencies will be relevant for every position, and can form the basis of an interview script for interviews across the company, regardless of the particular position.

Building on this these stock questions for all positions will be position-specific interview questions. Again, these questions should relate directly to the core competencies of the position.

For example, a question such as: “What motivates you?” should be asked with the intention to determine whether a candidate has particular competencies, not merely to learn what the candidate’s motivations are.

A candidate may say they are highly motivated by working with others and contributing to the goals of a team. For roles where collaboration is necessary, this shows they have a required competency. For roles where an ability to work independently is a core competency, this answer will reveal they may not be the best fit for the position.

Beyond Hiring

Core competencies are also useful beyond hiring and recruiting. They can help to set goals and position new hires for success, identify areas for professional development, make decisions about raises, and identify the best positions for employees in the case of a significant organizational restructuring.

Ultimately, core competencies not only help hire the right people, but also ensure they are well-equipped to do their job and fulfill their career aspirations within your company. This in turn improves employee engagement and retention, and positions your organization for success.

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