Back in the late 1980’s, while I was working at Mobil Chemical as a technical service manager, I was selected as an employee participant to train and practice a cutting-edge initiative called competency-based interviewing. Mobil’s intention was to always hire the best and brightest employees to join its workforce. However, despite its best attempts, Mobil’s batting average was far less than its target. With the help of a consulting firm, Mobil embarked on a study of its top performers to determine what characteristics these employees all had in common. The result? The consultant agency found that across all job functions, those employees that Mobil rated as its highest performers had an abundance of the following competencies:
- Analytical thinking – analyzing a situation/problem, seeing trends and outcomes, and developing solutions
- Conceptual thinking – identifying and developing concepts and ideas
- Concern for accuracy – performing the job right the first time
- Concern for effectiveness – taking action that balances results and efficiency
- Effective Communication – communicating messages both orally and in writing so the intended message is clearly and easily understood
- Enthusiasm for work – working and contributing with enthusiasm
- Flexibility – adjusting priorities or a course of action without concern
- Initiative – acting without being asked
- Perceptual thinking – being aware of how people are responding to communication and behaviors and adjusting to elicit a more positive response
- Teamwork – working effectively with other people to achieve a goal
- Technical Knowledge – working knowledge of subject matter
Identification of these common competencies then led Mobil to develop competency-based interviewing, which was a radically different interview process and approach used up until that point. The competency-based interviewer was trained how to ask specific questions to help an interviewee unfold stories, so the interviewer could identify as many competencies practiced by the candidate. In the case of personal competencies, past performance was an assumed indicator of future performance.
When 20 summer interns became willing interviewees to help trainees certify in this new interviewing process, the results were surprising. These college students were only told that they were interviewing for factitious jobs and had nothing to gain or lose. Each intern was separately interviewed by four interviewers. The interviewers then ranked each intern for competencies and compared notes. The results? Most interviewers found the same number of competencies for each interviewee. What was unexpected? The interviewers identified a handful of candidates that Mobil would have clearly offered a job based on the criteria of the past such as sociability, confident manner, physical appeal, participation on team sports, and academic performance, and yet, these same candidates had no competencies.
What does this mean for those companies who want to hire the best employees? Every candidate should be screened for basic knowledge that cannot be taught on the job. Certain jobs need specific technical skills such as a design engineer or lawyer. However, for many jobs, companies would likely be more satisfied in their employee selection, if they emphasized competencies in the hiring process. Most technical knowledge can be taught on the job, as opposed to personal competencies, which can only be influenced and may take more time than an employer can afford to invest. Rare is the candidate that has all the above competencies, so an interviewer should have a clear understanding of which competencies are most important for the job.
Competencies are found in both young and older adults, because they typically manifest from core values or personal characteristics of the individual. Therefore, it is not uncommon to find personal competencies across all or several dimensions of a person’s life. Since my competency-based interview training, I have always focused on hiring for competencies over a pedigree, and I have been pleased that my batting average has been higher than most.
About the Author: Sandra Dillon is a professional coach, consultant, and mentor with an extensive background in business development, leadership, and ministry which provides her with the experience, relational skills, and proven processes to move individuals, couples, and leaders to higher levels of personal awareness, effectiveness, and goal achievement. She coaches in a variety of areas including life purpose and plans, business, finances, and premarital/marriage.