Use Competency Interview Guides to Conduct Structured Event Interviews

The Premise:
Past behavior is the best predictor of future performance. People have unique and characteristic ways of dealing with work situations. As a result, they develop preferred ways of operating. Because of these preferences, they develop particular abilities and become competent in their use. Some of these preferences, abilities and competencies are significant in predicting job success. People do—in the course of describing experiences and accomplishments—offer valuable information to adequately discern their preferences, abilities and competencies.

A competency-based interviewing protocol can be used to assess the competencies (skills, knowledge, and personal characteristics) of a candidate that have been determined to be required for superior or effective performance in a job. These competencies are usually identified through job competency modeling. Interview guides can provide an easy-to-follow format for structured, behavioral-based interviews. Each Workitect interview guide, with specific questions related to each of  thirty-five competencies in Workitect’s competency dictionary, makes it easy for a hiring manager or interviewer to collect behavioral examples about a candidate’s relevant work experiences and accomplishments. These interview guides can be used with other generic competency dictionaries or lists of competencies. Most of the Workitect competencies (definitions and behavioral indicators) are similar to non-Workitect competencies. For example, most competency dictionaries include a competency similar to Interpersonal Effectiveness and Fostering Teamwork. 

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Related Reading

Blueprint: Competency-Based Assessment and Selection    
Blog: Six Steps to Conducting a Behavioral Event Interview
Website page: Competency-Based Assessment and Selection
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The Purpose

Interview guides are designed to assist in the behavioral interview process. They provide specific questions and probes for the behaviors of a competency. In addition, positive and negative behavioral indicators are listed that will help evaluate the candidate’s responses. While the process described below is designed for multiple interviewers seeing each candidate, it can be completed with only one interviewer.

What is included in a Guide

An interview guide is available for each of the competencies in the Workitect Competency Library/Dictionary . Each guide contains a cover page with tips for conducting an effective interview with a candidate by including “What to Do”:

  1. Prior to the Interview
  2. During the Interview
  3. Following the Interview

Each interview guide then provides the competency definition and behaviors associated with the competency, followed by potential behavioral-based questions and probes for the competency. In addition, positive and negative behavioral indicators are listed to help the interviewer evaluate the candidate’s responses. Finally, the guides provide for space for the interviewer to take notes and provide an overall rating of the candidate.

Selecting Competencies for the Interview

If you have identified competencies for the job being interviewed for using the Workitect Competency Dictionary, determine which competencies you want to assess in the interview process. Usually, only a subset of the total number of competencies for a job is used in an interview – the most critical. There are two “schools of thought” when it comes to which competencies each interviewer assesses. Each interviewer can assess different competencies or multiple interviewers can assess same competencies. The decision depends on how many interviewers there are, how many competencies will be assessed for in the interview, and the preference of the organization.

If you have not identified competencies for the job being interviewed for, look at the key roles and responsibilities of the job (i.e. job description) and identify the critical requirements to the success of the job. Then, using the Workitect Competency Dictionary or another generic dictionary, select those competencies that best match up with those critical requirements based on the definition of the competency and its behaviors.

Conducting the Interview

Prior to the interview:
  • Review the candidate’s resume.
  • Review the assigned the competency(s) and the behaviors that comprise each competency.
  • Select the specific questions you feel comfortable asking each candidate. Note: Not all the questions need to be used – select at least two questions.

During the interview:

  • Greet the candidate and spend a few minutes building rapport; talk about areas the candidate is interested in.
  • Transition into the formal interview.
  • Ask the selected questions and use follow-up probes to get complete examples of the:
    • Situation that the candidate encountered;
    • Actions that the candidate took;
    • Results or outcome of the actions taken.
  • Give the candidate time to think about past examples/experiences when answering the questions.
  • Ideally get at least 2-3 examples for each question.
  • Use the guide to take notes and evaluate the candidate.

Following the interview:

  • Check off appropriate behavioral indicators and summarize key observations and notes. Rate the candidate on each assigned competencies in the space provided at the bottom of each page.
  • Note any observations for competencies not assigned and be prepared to discuss.
  • After completing, interviewers should meet to discuss and reach consensus on the final ratings for each candidate and complete the Candidate Interview Summary.
  • Make the hiring decision.

DOWNLOAD AN INTERVIEW GUIDE FOR THE COMPETENCY OF “INITIATIVE”.

Learn more about Competency Interview Guides for 35 competencies.

Structured Event Interviews are also used to collect data in step 3 of Workitect’s competency modeling process, as taught in the Workitect Building Competency Models workshop.

Ed Cripe is President of Workitect, Inc., the leader in the development of job competency models and competency-based talent management applications.

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Behavioral Descriptors – Options for Job Competency Models

Much of the value of a competency model comes from its behavioral descriptors. There are three main options for Human Resources staff to consider: (1) behavioral indicators, (2) evaluative competency levels, and (3) competency levels describing job requirements.

1. Behavioral Indicators
The majority of competency models use the first and simplest option, behavioral indicators. Behavioral indicators are descriptions of behaviors and thought patterns that are hypothesized to contribute to superior performance. A competency’s definition represents an underlying ability or trait, and the behavioral indicators describe specific ways in which that ability or trait is demonstrated. For example, in a generic competency framework the competency, “Interpersonal Awareness,” has the following definition and behavioral indicators:

Interpersonal Awareness:  The ability to notice, interpret, and anticipate others’ concerns and feelings, and to communicate this awareness empathetically to others.
a) Understands the interests and important concerns of others.
b) Notices and accurately interprets what others are feeling, based on their choice of words, tone of voice, expressions, and other nonverbal behavior.
c) Anticipates how others will react to a situation.
d) Listens attentively to people’s ideas and concerns.
e) Understands both the strengths and weaknesses of others.
f) Understands the unspoken meaning in a situation.
g) Says or does things to address others’ concerns.
h) Finds non-threatening ways to approach others about sensitive issues.

When behavioral indicators are used in a specific competency model, they are sometimes altered or written more specifically, to describe how the behavior is demonstrated in this job. For example, indicator (b) above was rewritten for use in a sales competency model:
“Notices nonverbal behavior and asks questions, when appropriate, to clarify its meaning”

Creating good behavioral indicators depends on conducting and analyzing critical event interviews with outstanding performers. Each behavioral indicator is a theme derived from examples from several interviews. Behavioral indicators can also be taken or adapted from a generic competency dictionary, which includes generic competencies and behavioral indicators previously identified in several competency models.

2. Evaluative Competency Levels
The second option for behavioral descriptors is to use evaluative competency levels. Under this option, several key dimensions are identified for each competency, and each dimension is ranked in order of effectiveness. The highest level describes outstanding performance, and the lowest level describes poor performance. Lyle and Signe Spencer used this approach to develop a generic set of competencies with levels. For example, one generic competency, “Interpersonal Understanding,” has two aspects: (a) depth of understanding of others, and (b) listening and responding to others. Listening and responding to others has these levels:

-1 Unsympathetic
0  Not applicable or makes no attempt to listen
1  Listens
2  Makes self available to listen
3  Predicts others’ responses
4  Listens responsively
5  Acts to help

Each level has more specific behavioral descriptors, which are too lengthy to reproduce here. But, as an example, the behavioral descriptor for Level 4 is, “Reflects people’s concerns, is easy to talk to; or responds to people’s concerns by altering own behavior in a helpful, responsive manner.”

When this approach is used, the levels form a behaviorally anchored rating scale. Whether this kind of rating scale improves the reliability and validity of measurement is open to question, since behaviorally anchored rating scales have generally proved to be no more reliable and valid than other, simpler rating scales.

Rating scales with three or more levels for each dimension of a competency are generally too cumbersome. There are too many behavioral descriptions to read, when assessing someone on twelve competencies, each with two to four dimensions, with each dimension further broken down into four or more descriptors of different performance levels. It may be more useful to specify only the highest and lowest levels, as in the following example of a rating scale used to assess a competency called “Personal Credibility:”

ResearchReport_Chart_1

Creating behavioral descriptors in the form of evaluative performance levels is most useful when performance appraisal is planned as an immediate application. Once the competencies for the job are identified, the content for the rating scales can be determined by meeting with managers of persons in the target job. Key evaluative aspects for each competency can be discussed and identified.

3. Competency Levels Describing Job Requirements
A third option for descriptors is to create levels describing the extent to which a competency is required in a particular job. This alternative is most useful when the multiple competency models are being created within an organization and the Human Resources staff need a way to distinguish the requirements of the different jobs (e.g., to help people within the unit plan career progression paths). 

This approach was used in developing competency models for a variety of jobs in the commercial sales division of a manufacturing company supplying optical fiber for the telecommunications industry. The first step was to agree on a set of generic competencies, including both technical and non-technical ones, to describe the skill requirements for jobs in the commercial sales division. This was accomplished by reviewing, modifying, and adding to a generic competency dictionary. Next, drawing on the generic competency dictionary and other projects involving competency levels, a set of levels for the competencies was drafted. Drafting the levels required first identifying several key dimensions for each competency and then writing behavioral descriptors of several levels. In this case, the internal Human Resources project team wanted three levels specifying basic, intermediate, and advanced demonstrations of each aspect of each competency. The levels for one competency, “Energizing Others,” are shown below:

ResearchReport_Chart_2

As one moves from the basic level to the intermediate and advanced levels, the competency is demonstrated in larger groups and more challenging situations. The behavioral descriptions often target performance outcomes rather than specific behaviors demonstrated to achieve the outcomes.

In deciding which type of behavioral descriptors to use – behavioral indicators, evaluative performance levels, or levels describing job requirements – the most important consideration is how the model will be used. Sometimes, when a model will be used in multiple ways, more than one set of behavioral descriptors may be created. For example, behavioral indicators might be needed to support development planning, and evaluative performance levels to support performance appraisal. 

When planning the development of a competency model or models, there are practical considerations that affect the design of the project, the format and content of the competency model, and the success of the project’s implementation. The following seven questions may be useful to Human Resouces professionals responsible for planning and implementation:
1. What HR application should be included in the initial model building project?
2. What will the key users of the model need from it?
3. How should key stakeholders be involved?
4. How extensive should the data collection be?
5. How should research be balanced with intuitive approaches?
6. What format of behavioral descriptors will best suit the application?
7. How can additional, future competency models be accomodated?

This blog addresses question #6. Each question is addressed in Key Questions to Answer before Building Competency Models, Adapted From Practical Questions for HR Professionals Who Are Building Competency Models—a Consultant’s Experience By Dr. Richard S. Mansfield.

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Build Better Job Competency Models

 

Many HR executives are satisfied with the competency models they have developed in their organization and about the impact those models have had on their HR practices and the organization as a whole. Many say that they want to improve the models they have created, and some want to trash what they have done and start over, or build models for the first time.

POPULAR MODEL-BUILDING PRACTICES

For those who have already created models, when asked to describe the process they used, many HR professionals say that the models were created by:

  1. Interviewing the CEO, other executives, incumbents of the position being modeled and their managers and asking for their opinion as to the competencies required by employees to carry out the organization’s strategic plan. The focus of the model is often on managers in the organization, and may be referred to as the leadership model.
  2. Collecting the same or similar information in a meeting or series of meetings or focus groups.
  3. Other means, such as card-sorting, surveys, computer selection, off-the shelf models, adaptations of job descriptions, self assessments by employees, etc.
  4. A combination of the above.

Models created using these methods often achieve their intended purpose. Competencies are incorporated into performance management, selection, training, and other HR applications. But, they are “basic” models. They, and the applications that are developed, are based on the opinions of various people about competencies required for specific jobs. They are not determined using a validated, research-based analysis of superior performers. There is a better way, a way that produces a far greater ROI for a model-building project

A BETTER COMPETENCY MODEL – UNBIASED & ACCURATE

I believe that the best methodology for building job competency models is Job Competence Assessment (JCA), developed in the 1970’s by Dr. David McClelland, a pioneer in motivation and competency research and testing at Harvard, and by consultants at McBer and Company.

The modeling process starts with superior performers in a targeted job being identified, and then studied to identify the personal characteristics, skills, and knowledge that they possess that enables them to be superior performers. The methods used to collect data for the study, such as behavioral event interviews and expert panels, are designed to get beneath mere opinions about superior performance and superior performers. Since each organization has its own culture, mission, and ways of doing business, performance in one organization may require competencies that are different than those required in another organization. This is the reason that off-the-shelf models may not be useful.

An adaptation of the JCA methodology is used in Workitect’s consulting practice and is taught in our Building Competency Models workshop. JCA also influences the content of our products, including the Competency Development GuideCompetency Interview Guides, and Competency Dictionary. A detailed description of the JCA methodology is provided in Competence At Work, a book by Spencer & Spencer and on pages 5-7 of Integrating Key Human Resource Processes, a 10-page booklet that describes competencies and how to create an integrated human resource system with applications for selection, succession planning, career pathing, performance management, and training.

Additional Tips On Building Better Models

Changes in organizations and in the world of work over the past 30 years have affected the practice of competency modeling. These changes suggest that seven practical questions be asked and answered by human resource professionals and others who are planning to develop competency models in their organizations. (PDF)

In summary, JCA is an accurate, unbiased approach to predicting job performance and success. It is characterized by its rigorousness and yet its accessibility to managers and HR professionals with little or no background in statistics and competency research, the JCA methodology enables you to match the right people to the right jobs.

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Include Competencies in a Succession Plan

 successionplanningSuccession planning is an ongoing system of identifying competent employees who are ready to move into key jobs in the organization and/or those who, with specifically identified development, will be ready to assume key jobs at some stated point in the future. Job-person matches are made between existing employees and future jobs they might assume. These future jobs are usually higher level posi­tions. But, succession planning may be for key jobs above, at the same level, or even below the job an employee now holds. Increasingly, succession planning is for lateral job moves (e.g., to a different function, project team, or geography).

The usual criteria for a succession planning system successful include:

  • One, preferably two, well-qualified internal candidates are identified as ready to assume any key job should it become vacant.
  • A record of successful promotions (or other job placements).
  • Few superior performers leave the organization because of “lack of opportunity­”

Competency-based succession planning systems identify the competency re­quirements for critical jobs, assess candidate competencies, and evaluate possible job-person matches. Career path “progression maps” identify key “feeder” jobs for lateral or higher level “target” positions within a job fam­ily or across job families.

The table below shows seven generic levels for line, staff function, and team/ project management. Jobs at any given level are feeder positions for higher rungs on the job ladder, and for lateral moves to positions in other job families.

A competency-based succession planning system assesses how many em­ployees in which feeder jobs have (or have the potential to develop) the compe­tencies to perform well in key target jobs. There are two ways of doing this.

  • The first is to compare the competencies of people in the feeder job with the competency requirements of the target job.
  • The second is to compare the competency requirements of the feeder job and the target job.

                  Generic Organizational Structure: Feeder Jobs and Levels

Line Staff Team/Project
1. Individual Contributor: Seasoned professional New hire 1. Individual Contributor: Seasoned professional New hire 1. Individual Contributor: Seasoned professional New hire
2. First Line Supervisor: Homogenous work group 2. Lead professional: Integrates other professionals work 2. Team/Project Leader: without permanent reports
3. Department: Manages several work units managed by subordinate supervisors 3. Function Manager: (finance, human resources) for a small business unit 3. Project Manager: Coordinates Project/Team Leaders from several work groups
4. Several Departments: Manages plant, region, several departments, function managers 4. Several Functions: (e.g., finance and administration) 4. Large Project Manager: Manages other Project managers
5. Business Unit: President or General Manager 5. Top Function Manager: for a business: VP Finance, VP Marketing 5. Major Product Manager: Coordinates all functions – R&D, marketing, manufacturing, HR
6. Division: Manages many business units (e.g., Group VP of large firm) 6. Corporate Executive VP: (e.g., Chief Financial Officer) 6. Mega Project Manager: $100+ million (e.g., NASA, military weapons acquisition)
7. Major Corporation CEO: Large complex multi-division organization

ORGANIZATIONAL ISSUES

The issues that indicate a need for competency-based succession planning systems include:

  • Promotion or placement outcomes are poor; too many people promoted or transferred to new responsibilities fail or quit. Typical examples are promoting the best salesperson to sales manager or the best technical professional to supervisor and then finding he or she lacks essential in­terpersonal understanding and influence skills.
  • There is a need to redeploy technical/professional staff people to mar­keting or line management jobs-or managers back to individual con­tributor roles in an organization that is cutting middle management. “Lean and mean” organizations offer fewer vertical promotional or ca­reer path opportunities, with the result that more succession planning is In downsizing organizations, the key placement question may be which managers have kept up with their technical and professional com­petencies so they are able to return to individual contributor roles.
  • Organizational changes require employees with different competencies. Globalizing firms need employees with the competencies to function in different parts of the world. Privatizing organizations need to determine which government bureaucrats have enough achievement motivation to be­come entrepreneurs and businesspeople. Stagnant firms need employees with innovative and entrepreneurial competencies to survive in markets with shorter product life cycles and fast-moving foreign competitors. Downsizing firms need to decide who stays and who is let go, that is, which employees have the competencies to fill demanding “same amount of work with fewer people” jobs in the new, smaller organization.
  • Mergers, acquisitions, and reorganizations require the surviving firm to decide which existing employees are needed for (which) jobs in the new structure. Mergers of similar firms often result in an organization with two marketing departments, two sales forces, duplicate staffs in many functions; merger efficiencies come from elimination of the double As with downsizing organizations, the question of who stays and who goes is determined by which employees have the competencies to succeed in the firm’s future jobs.

STEPS IN DEVELOPING A COMPETENCY-BASED SYSTEM

  1. Identify Key Jobs. Identifying these jobs in the organization’s struc­ture – or the structure it wants for the future usually includes identifying the firm’s strategy, its critical value-added target jobs, and key feeder jobs to these target jobs. Most organizations will have some variant of the seven levels shown in Table 1 for line, technical/professional, or functional staff, and team/project manager job families. Vertical progression in a job family is:
    – Individual contributor, often divided into two subgroups: new hire and seasoned professional
    – First-level functional supervisor, managing a homogeneous group of individual contributors (e.g., a move from engineer to chief engineer or programmer to software development team leader). For functional technical/professionals and project job families, this level may be a lead professional who acts as a temporary team leader, assists and integrates other professionals’ work, and mentors junior employees, but does not have any permanent reports.
    – Department, function or project managers, who manage supervisors or lead professionals of several work groups
    – Multiple departments or functions managers, who manage several other department, function, or project managers (e.g., a plant or re­gional manager, or director of finance and administration)
    – Business unit general manager, such as CEO of a small firm (less than $20 million in annual revenues); top functional manager, such as Mar­keting or Finance Vice President of a medium-size firm ($20-$200 million revenues); or manager of a major project
    – Division general manager, such as CEO of a medium-size firm ($200 million revenues); top functional executive in a large firm ($200+ million revenues), or mega-project manager
    – CEO of a large, complex multidivision organization
  2. Develop Competency Models for Critical Target and Feeder Jobs. Fre­quently this involves development of competency models for each of several steps in a job family ladder. BEIs conducted with four superiors and two aver­ages at each level are analyzed to identify competencies required for a supe­rior performance at the level and also to pinpoint how the competencies change or grow as an employee advances up the ladder.
  3. Create a Formalized Succession Planning Process. This process should be an annual cycle that requires management at each level to conduct assessments and engage in discussions about the talent within their organizations including performance and potential of their direct reports and other high potential people within their groups. In addition a mid-year update meeting can be help to identify progress since the last formal session. During the annual session the management team classifies people, in terms of their performance and potential, as:
  • Promotable, either:
    • Ready now, or
    • Developable (i.e., could be ready in the future if they develop specific competencies to the level required by the future jobs for which they are candidates)
  • Not promotable :
    • Competent in their current job, and/or
    • Have potential to transfer laterally to some other job
  • Not competent in their current job and not a fit with other jobs in the organization as it will be in the future. These people are candidates for early retirement or outplacement.

4. Develop a Human Resource Management Information System. Succession planning for more than a few positions all but requires a computerized human resource information system to keep track of the competency requirements of all jobs, competencies of these people assessed, and evaluation of possible job-­person matches.
5. Develop a Development/Career Pathing System (Optional). Succession planning systems create demand for competency-based development and ca­reer pathing systems. Once employees understand the competency require­ments for higher jobs and the gaps between their competencies and those required by the jobs they want, they ask for training or other developmental activities to close the gap. Similarly, once an organization is aware of the com­petencies it needs to be successful and the gaps between these needs and the capabilities of its existing or projected staff, it seeks selection or developmen­tal programs to close these gaps.

Workitect consulting services are available to create competency-based succession planning and talent management systems.

Reference: Competence At Work, by Lyle Spencer and Signe Spencer; 1993, John Wiley & Sons.

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Six Steps to Conducting a Behavioral Event Interview

sr-woman-interview

Regardless of how you view today’s economy, if your job involves acquiring talent for your organization, you know that interviewing, assessing, and selecting the best candidates for key jobs remains as challenging as ever.

Even more challenging is finding candidates who have been superior performers in their current job and who are likely to be superior performers in a new job. To do so, it is first necessary to have a clear picture of what constitutes “superior performance” and the competencies possessed by superior performers that enables them to be superior performers. Job competency models serve such a purpose. Developing job competencies models utilizes a special behavioral event interviewing (aka BEI) technique

The basic principle of the competency approach is that what people think or say about their motives and skills is not credible. Only what they actually do, in the most critical incidents they have faced, is to be believed. The purpose of the BEI method is to get behind what people say they do to find out what they really do. This is accomplished by asking people to describe how they actually behaved in specific incidents.

More about the Purpose of a BEI

The goal of the behavioral event interview is to identify the competencies needed to do various jobs. Its nearest relative is the searching clinical interview, in which the goal is to identify the individual’s chief characteristics that have lead to maladjustment. In the behavioral event interview the focus is what it takes to do a given job well. Since individuals may adjust to a job idiosyncratically, it is necessary to interview several incumbents and try to determine what characterizes good performers as contrasted with poor performers. In isolating the competencies needed, the interviewer should keep in mind what is measurable. When the interviewer has formulated the competencies that are needed, he or she will test these judgments by finding measures of them and determine if those who perform the job well score higher on these measures than those who perform poorly. When these hypotheses about the competencies needed for a job are cross-validated in this way, the measures can be used to select better qualified people or to train people better for the job.

The Basic Technique

One of the best methods of getting the information to assess the competencies needed for a job is to elicit very detailed behavioral descriptions of how a person goes about doing his or her work. Sometimes this may be done by asking a number of job incumbents to write out critical incidents, following a technique first popularized by Flanagan (1954). However, these incidents may not be detailed enough to figure out just what the person was thinking and doing. Therefore, it is usually better to interview a few incumbents in depth. This permits a more thorough exploration of each episode reported until all the relevant behaviors have been elicited. To distinguish this technique from Flanagan’s well-known critical incident approach, it should be referred to as the behavioral event interview technique. The interviewer should realize at all times that the purpose of the interview is to get raw behavioral data which can be used to conceptualize the competencies that are required for doing the job well.

Above all, the interviewer must avoid being caught up in the interviewee’s concepts of
what it takes to do his or her job. Every person has some ideas about what he or she is like and how he or she does things. In some cases these ideas may be accurate but often they are not, and the interviewer must avoid asking questions that simply elicit the interviewee’s concepts. The interviewer must keep pushing for the behaviors — the thoughts and actions — that the interviewee demonstrated on a given occasion.

Use of a tape recorder is recommended to save every detail of the interview for future uses, such as developing case materials and other learning aids. Its most immediate use is to help you reconstruct your interview notes when you do your summary writeup. However, there is no substitute for good note-taking, especially if you have a mechanical failure. Don’t expect to use the recorder like a crutch and your notes will be all you will need to write up the interview, saving you the time you would ordinarily have to spend listening to the interview all over again.

How to Conduct the Interview

Step 1. Explanation

Everyone will want to know why he or she is being interviewed. Your explanation might go something like this:

“I’ve been asked to try to figure out what competencies it takes to do your job. The best
approach seems to be to ask a person who is doing a job how he or she does it. You are the obvious expert in what it take to be (whatever the person does). We’re just going to talk for awhile about some examples of how you do your job”.

Optional, depending on the interviewee’s curiosity and/or your mandate:

“This is part of a program which should lead to better selection and training for the job. If we can identify the competencies needed for a job, we can select people who have those competencies needed for the job or train job incumbents to develop the necessary competencies to a fuller extent”.

At this point you should get the permission of the interviewee for you to tape-record the interview. You can explain it this way:

“With your permission, I would like to record parts of this interview to help me with my notes.
Everything you say will be kept confidential and will not be shared with anyone else in
(interviewee’s organization). But if there is anything you want to say off the record or don’t want me to record, just let me know and I’ll turn off the tape”.

Step 2. Duties and Responsibilities

It is a good idea to break the ice by getting the interviewee talking about what he or she does in a general way, that is, about what his or her duties and responsibilities are.

“Let’s begin by taking about what your responsibilities are in your job. I really know nothing about what it takes to be a good (policeman, naval officer, manager, etc.). What do you do? Where do you work? Whom do you work with? What are your hours? Whom do you report to? Who reports to you?”

The objective here is to get the interviewee talking in as free and relaxed a way as possible about his or her job. Sometimes interviewees have difficulty getting started, but most of them find it easy to talk about their work and they like telling others what they do. It is wise not to push the behavioral event approach on them too soon; lead into it gradually.

Often in the course of describing their work, interviewees will say things that puzzle you or that you want clarified. For example, a police captain may say, “Well, I supervise the lieutenants”. Here he is simply quoting a job description to you and your problem is to find out what he means. So you say “Could you explain a little more what you mean by ‘supervise’? Do they write reports for you to read? Do they come in to talk with you first thing in the morning, or when they leave? Do you observe them working with the patrolmen? What is the chance you would get to know they were doing something wrong or to give them some direction? It helps most if you can describe an actual case where you supervised someone”.

Step 3. First Behavioral Event

Hopefully this questioning about duties will lead to a critical event which you can ask the interviewee to describe in detail so that you can get a better idea of how the job is done and what characteristics it takes to do it well. You may say something like:

“To get a better idea of what supervision consists of, can you think of an instance where
you were able to help someone do his or her job better, or keep him or her from making a mistake? I need an example of just how you operate”.

It is hard to generalize about just how you will hit on the first incident since it should come up naturally in the course of discussing various responsibilities. But once you have got the interviewee talking about a particular event, you should push hard for behavioral detail.

“Now let me get the setting straight. Let’s begin at the beginning. Where were you? What time of day was it? What had you been doing when this came up? What was in your mind?”

You may want to ask what kind of day it was (raining?) or how the interviewee was feeling, to recreate the whole scenario. Here you become an investigative reporter, pushing to get clear in your mind just what happened. Asking for time, place and mood often helps the interviewee recall the episode, since all the person has left in his or her mind usually is some memory of how it all turned out which he or she told you first anyway. You should have in mind the following questions as the interviewee begins to tell the story:
– What led up to the event?
– What was the person thinking? (of the individual he or she was interacting with, of the       situation,etc.)
– What did the person do, and why?
– What was the person feeling, wishing?
– How did it all turn out?

You are interested in the interviewee’s:
– Perceptions of the people and the situation
– Thoughts
– Acts
– Feelings
– Conclusions for future reference

Try to get the interviewee to begin at the beginning and take you through the story as it unfolded. Otherwise you may get confused about what happened and who did what. This may be difficult because the interviewee will usually start by remembering the outcome of an event. Just say, “That’s exactly what I had in mind. Now let’s start at the beginning so that I can understand what happened”. As the interviewee tells you all this, you are learning things about him or her, and you should ask questions that will verify or double-check inferences you are beginning to draw about his or her competencies. In all questioning, however, be sure that you are giving the interviewee plenty of reinforcement for what he or she is telling you. You are not the FBI. You should laugh with the interviewee, tell stories of your own if necessary to keep the flow of talk informal and pleasant, constantly reinforce him or her for the help he or she is giving you in clarifying what goes on
in this job.

Your objective is to get the interviewee to tell you little vignettes, scenarios of things that happened to him or her. Some people need a lot of encouragement and stimulation to really get into the process of telling a story.

Step 4. Further Behavioral Events

You may find it easy in talking about an event in the area of supervision to move on to an example of when things didn’t go well:

“That helps me understand much better what supervision involves. Now, can you think of an instance in which you feel you didn’t carry out supervision as well as you might have? That will help me also, because it will identify the characteristic one ought to show in such situations”.

If the interviewee can’t think of one, you can make a few suggestions (“Did you ever have to fire somebody?” “Did you ever have problems with any of your subordinates?”) and if the interviewee still blocks (an unusual occurrence!) you can go to some other area (“Well, can you think of a time when things didn’t go well on the job?”). Again, when the interviewee comes up with and event, ask first for time, place and setting, and then go into detail.

In all, it is best to try to get detailed descriptions of three events where the interviewee was effective and three events where the interviewee was ineffective. but there is nothing magical about these numbers. The crucial question is whether you are learning what it takes to do this job well.

Occasionally you will run into someone who blocks when you ask him or her for an example of something that went particularly well or poorly. The interviewee just can’t seem to think of anything important. In that case, don’t keep pressing him or her; your main goal of getting the interviewee to talk about how he or she performs on the job may only be interfered with as he or she gets more frustrated or annoyed about not being able to do what you want. Then you should use other approaches to get the interviewee to talk, such as asking the person to take you through what he or she did yesterday or probing in detail, or just how he or she goes about supervising someone through an example.

Remember, the goal is to get the interviewee to talk about the way he or she does the job.
Any method of doing that is legitimate.

Step 5. Characteristics

It is often useful at the end of the interview to ask the interviewee what characteristics he or she thinks a person ought to have to do his or her job well. This serves the double purpose of establishing good relations by asking the interviewee’s opinion and also of giving you some further insight into what he or she thinks is important. For example, if none of the good incumbents thinks to mention interpersonal skills, you may want to infer that incumbents in this job can get along without caring much about interpersonal relationships.

Step 6. Summary and Writing

After the interview is over it is a good plan to sit down quietly for an hour and summarize what you have learned. This may include a brief characterization of the person you have just interviewed. It also helps you define things about which you are still unclear. In other words, it is a time to make your budding hypotheses explicit so that you can check them in later interviews. If you have the time, this is the best point to write up the entire interview, while your memory is still fresh.

Reference: Spencer, L. M. & Spencer, S. M. (1993). Competence At Work. New York: Wiley, 114-134

FUTURE BLOGS

THREE PITFALLS TO AVOID IN INTERVIEWING
FIVE COMPETENCIES TO HAVE IN MIND
COMPARISONS OF JOB ANALYSIS TECHNIQUES
COMMON INTERVIEW TECHNIQUES
FOUR COMMON INTERVIEWING STYLES
FEATURES OF THE BEI TECHNIQUE
ADVANTAGES OF THE BEI TECHNIQUE

Note: This information can also be found in the Research & Support section of the Workitect website.

The BEI technique has been adapted and taught in Workitect’s Building Competency Models workshop and Interviewing for Competencies workshop as the Structured Event Interview.

The methodology is also applied in Workitect’s set of 35 Competency Interview Guides.

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Interviewing and Assessing “Strategic Thinking” Competence

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What is a Strategic Thinking Competency?

Definition: Analyzing an organization’s competitive position and developing a clear and compelling vision of what the organization needs for success in the future.

 Behaviors:

  1. Understands the organizations strengths and weaknesses as compared to competitors
  2. Understands the industry, market and product/service trends affecting the organization’s competitiveness
  3. Develops distinctive strategies to achieve and sustain competitive advantage; translates strategies into clear goals and objectives
  4. Communicates a clear vision that energizes others to accomplish what the organization needs for success in the long term; consistently restates and reinforces that vision and direction
  5. Focuses on ways to build the organization’s capabilities for the future

Using a Competency Interview Guide

Download the complete interview guide for Strategic Thinking.

Use a Competency Interview Guide to assist in the behavioral interviewing process. It provides specific questions and probes for the behaviors of the competency. In addition, positive and negative behavioral indicators are listed that will help evaluate the candidate’s responses. While the process described below is designed for multiple interviewers seeing each candidate, it can be completed with only one interviewer.

Prior to the interview:

  • Review the candidate’s resume.
  • Review the assigned the competency(s) and the behaviors that comprise each competency.
  • Select the specific questions you feel comfortable asking each candidate. Note: Not all the questions need to be used – select at least two questions.

During the interview:

  • Greet the candidate and spend a few minutes building rapport; talk about areas the candidate is interested in.
  • Transition into the formal interview.
  • Ask the selected questions and use follow-up probes to get complete examples of the:
    • Situation that the candidate encountered;
    • Actions that the candidate took;
    • Results or outcome of the actions taken.
  • Give the candidate time to think about past examples/experiences when answering the questions.
  • Ideally get at least 2-3 examples for each question.
  • Use this guide to take notes and evaluate the candidate.

Following the interview:

  • Check off appropriate behavioral indicators and summarize key observations and notes. Rate the candidate on each assigned competencies in the space provided at the bottom of each page.
  • Note any observations for competencies not assigned and be prepared to discuss.
  • After completing, interviewers should meet to discuss and reach consensus on the final ratings for each candidate and complete the Candidate Interview Summary.
  • Make the hiring decision.

Examples of Behavioral Questions and Probes

1a. Think about the organization you work for now. What are some strengths and  weaknesses of the organization as compared to its competitors?
1b. What industry and market trends are affecting the organization’s competitiveness?

2. Think about a product or service provided by your organization. What are some specific competitive strengths and weaknesses of that product or service within the marketplace?

3. Give me an example of a time when a product or service you were offering was not as competitive as it should be. How did you know this and what did you do about it?
What was the situation? What action(s) did you take? What was the result?

4. Give me an example of when a product or service you were offering was one of the best in the marketplace. How did you know this and did you do anything to keep it the best?

  • What was the situation? What action(s) did you take? What was the result?

Download the complete interview guide for Strategic Thinking.

Learn more about Competency Interview Guides for 35 competencies.

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Do your executives and managers need a Global Perspective?

Twitter1252X626_WorldTo maintain global competitiveness, changing circumstances are demanding global strategic visions and new organizational structures that are conceptualized, articulated and implemented by managers.

What is a “global perspective”?

It is the ability to recognize and address issues that are outside of our national perspective. Issues are viewed without any pre-set biases or limitations. It requires being objective, and utilizing a broad framework in making judgments in domestic and international activities. It is an ability to see the “big picture”.

A person demonstrating this competency:

  1. Has global experience: considers problems and opportunities from a global perspective
  2. Understands group strategy, the role of the local business: “walks the talk”
  3. Is culturally aware and demonstrates ability to conduct business in local terms
  4. Understands and takes into account global and local impacts on day-to-day activities
  5. Aligns global strategy and tactics with local considerations
  6. Keeps abreast of global influences on the local business
  7. Role models for staff on global initiatives
  8. Aligns and manages local interests with global considerations
  9. Is proactive – prepares locally to support global activities
  10. Is empathetic and sensitive to global issues, but may lack international experience

General Considerations in Developing this Competency

In order to develop this competency, one must first set aside any and all negative, preconceived notions, biases, and ideas. This will allow the individual to fully understand and appreciate the inherent differences that exist within all cultures. Once this is done, the individual should begin to acquire information and knowledge about other cultures, in an effort to conceptualize the mores, norms, values and business practices of those given cultures.

Practicing this Competency

Acquire as much knowledge as possible through various media sources, such as the internet, periodicals, and television. Immerse yourself in different cultures by traveling, or joining groups and/or organizations with a variety of cultures. When given the chance, listen to other people’s experiences and viewpoints as they pertain to a specific cultural group, then experience this same group and see in your experience what was similar or dissimilar.

Obtaining Feedback

Ask persons from different cultures how knowledgeable you seem in regards to different geo-social, geo-economic, and geo-political issues. This will be your best gauge to assess your progress.

Learning from Experts

Identify people within your organization who are from other cultures. Discuss both business and social topics with them. See things from their perspective. Look for differences in the way they would handle and interpret different situations. Ask experts in international business to help you understand the interaction between world events, global business and your business. Spend time with natives of foreign countries, discussing the differences and similarities of your respective backgrounds.

Coaching Suggestions for Managers

If you are coaching someone who is trying to develop this competency, you can:

  • Assign the person to work on projects with others from diverse backgrounds, countries and cultures. Build in international travel, where possible. Provide pre and post project briefings and debriefings regarding cultural opportunities and pitfalls.
  • Help the person develop a proactive plan for developing a global perspective.
  • Give the person feedback on his/her behaviors and performances where there was an opportunity for the demonstration of a global perspective.

 Sample Development Goals

By July 1, I will attend a meeting of the local World Trade Organization or international chamber of commerce – to learn and network.

By end of the third quarter, I will complete a Spanish (or other foreign language) class.

By the end of this month, I will subscribe to and read The Economist on a regular basis.

Each week, I will read about and/or learn about a different culture. This may include going to lunch with someone from a country/culture different from mine.

Resources for Developing this Competency
Resources for developing this competency, including books, workshops, courses, and e-learning programs, are listed in Workitect’s COMPETENCY DEVELOPMENT GUIDE, which includes similar information for the additional thirty-four competencies that are contained in Workitect’s COMPETENCY DICTIONARY.

Questions for conducting a structured behavioral event interview in order to assess and select for this competency are included in a set of thirty-five COMPETENCY INTERVIEW GUIDES.

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Selecting for Success: Succession Planning

Talent Management PuzzleThe challenge with any corporate succession plan is ensuring its adaptability to the dynamic nature of the actual succession process, as well as the shifting demands of a given position. Translation: gaining a baseline assessment of your internal candidates, truly understanding the talent pool, avoiding the myths associated with the process, and implementing the right competencies once the requirements for a position have been determined.

Of course, as with any plan, the hardest part is execution. Have you tested your selection process recently?

The myths surrounding succession plan failure

There is a common misconception of how to go about the business of succession planning, and top management and board members are often quick to assume that they cannot truly find a viable successor from inside their organization. This often leads to several myths, including:

  • External candidates are more exciting and/or promising
  • The successor has to be ready “now”
  • What worked in the past will work in the future

In such scenarios, it is frequent to observe that failure with succession planning has nothing to do with the competencies of employees, but with the company’s establishment and assessment of these very competencies.

Look far and wide

The first step is, of course, to identify the competencies of the top performers in each job, ensuring that the competencies match the responsibilities of the job. Once the requirements for a given position have been determined, you must gain a baseline assessment of your internal candidates. Avoid focusing on favorites or those who have been high performers in their current role – this is not always indicative of how they will do in the future.

Instead, look wide and deep to better understand the talent pool within your organization. It is critical to create and continually refocus a succession plan on the moving target – that being the knowledge, skills and abilities (competencies) the successor for any role will need in order to succeed. It is only at this point that you can begin to make decisions about candidates.

You can read more about this topic in the article “Succession Planning: How To Do It Right” on Forbes.com.

To learn more on how we can help you design a competency-based succession plan, please visit our webpage.

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Better Hiring, Less Firing

Interview iStock_000019777981_SmallHiring employees is one of the most crucial decisions an organization or business owner will make. Compensation certainly is a large expenditure, especially when an employee ends up not being the right candidate for the job. That’s why it’s important that before hiring, no matter how pressing the need, you take a step back and ask yourself: “Are my hiring practices hurting our bottom line?”

Competencies guiding the way

Consider this: People have unique and characteristic ways of dealing with life situations – work and personal. This fact gives to a preferred way of operating where certain abilities become competent in their everyday lives. These abilities and competencies are quite significant in determining individual job success.

With the use of a competency-based interview guide that is focused on specific behavioral questions, you can truly gain a sense of a prospective employee’s personality, as well as whether or not they are the right hire for the job.

There are many factors to consider when hiring employees, including:

  • The fit with your company’s culture
  • The level of enthusiasm about your vision
  • The attitude and willingness to learn new things
  • The career goals of the individual (do they want this job or are they looking for a transition?)

These traits are, of course, not all that matters, and that’s why it’s crucial to have a competency model for each position; to ensure that your hiring process is cost effective and adapted to each role.

The foundation for performance

When used during the HR selection process, competencies have also proven effective in identifying certain behaviors required for a job that would affect the welfare of other individuals or groups within an organization. These behavioral repertoires, such as motive and personality traits, offer a better means of predicting occupational success.

Employees are both a challenging and expensive investment, but hiring the right employees the first time can make all the difference.

To learn more about how you can build a solid competency-based system for employee assessment and selection, please visit our website.

Also, for a more in-depth discussion on the cost of a wrong hire, check out our blog archive: The Cost of a Wrong Hire: Competencies to the Rescue.

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Key Ingredients to Organizational Success

RaiseTheBarSliderConversation, Compensation, and Competencies

Do you feel overwhelmed with managing your employees’ expectations? Do they not understand your company culture and what is expected of them to keep progressing? You’re not alone.

Communicating what it takes to achieve the next steps in job advancement provides your employees with the knowledge they need to manage their own careers. Moving up typically depends not only on having the skills and knowledge required for a promotion, but the behavioral attributes necessary to achieve job success.

When it comes to conducting an employee development review and coaching session, did you know that competencies can provide the necessary elements for building a solid career framework model?  Competencies can play a significant role in determining the right conversation points, and even help determine compensation increases when it comes time to have your organization’s annual performance reviews.

 Raising the Bar on Performance Management

Adequate and customized competency assessments can contribute to enhanced performance management, framing employee development reviews and helping to identify:

  • Job performance standards and measures
  • Job behaviors required to accomplish specific tasks and responsibilities
  • Competencies demonstrated by average and superior performers in key jobs

The American Compensation Association (now know as WorldAtWork) sponsored a research study in 1996 called “Raising the Bar – Using Competencies to Enhance Employee Performance.” Much of this 76-page booklet of findings still maintains relevancy with today’s workforce. For example, one of the most frequently cited human resource strategies involves improving teamwork and coordination, and increasing the link between pay and performance.  This is a human resource strategy that supports a broader business strategy.

 Exiting the “Free Agent” Culture

As organizations begin to adopt a career framework model as apposed to the “free agent” culture, employees will be less likely to leave. Why? The reasons are obvious:

  • They will feel encouraged in their path to progress
  • They will understand your expectations more precisely
  • They will stop feeling ‘stuck’ in a position that keeps asking them to do more for less
  • They will remain engaged and dedicated, further preserving your culture and values

In turn, this will satisfy both their drive to access dearly coveted positions and your need for performance and organizational success.

To learn more, click here to read about even more benefits of competency-based performance management.

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