Competency-Based Interviewing Can Lead to Better Hires

By Ranjit Khompi, SHRM-SCP June 12, 2019
Competency-Based Interviewing Can Lead to Better Hires

​An increasing number of organizations are defining competencies to create standardized role expectations—and capitalizing on them.

The SHRM Body of Competency and Knowledge (SHRM BoCK) and other competency models for various roles are useful for developing processes for hiring, training and advancement.

To create standardized expectations for the HR profession, SHRM extensively researched successful HR leaders and defined the competencies expected from HR practitioners. The SHRM BoCK organizes eight behavioral competencies into three clusters (Leadership, Interpersonal and Business) that enable effective application of 15 HR knowledge areas. HR professionals can use this comprehensive roadmap to build their own capabilities, which they need to advance their careers and improve their effectiveness in the workplace.

To hire the right candidate, I use a competency-based interviewing (CBI) technique. CBI provides structure for an assessor to evaluate a candidate's display of competencies.

CBI is also an example of how, since I became SHRM-certified, I look at things as outcome-based, no longer as input-based. I ask myself what I want to achieve two years from now, then work back to create a process to get there. I go to "the source"—the SHRM BoCK—for time-tested ways to approach problems. It has changed the way I work. Thanks to the competencies, I more clearly see what I am doing and what I will do, identifying blind spots so that I can fine-tune solutions. The CBI technique is one result of this ongoing exercise.

Below are five key elements for an effective CBI process.

  1. The role of the interviewer in the context of the interviewee. In a typical unstructured interview, a candidate is given organizational situations to visualize and is asked to respond to them according to his or her capabilities. The candidate has to make assumptions about the structure, scope of role, and any standard operating procedures already present relating to the situation, along with the responsibilities and authority afforded by the organization to the present role-holder. In CBI, by contrast, the candidate has the option to choose the situation that permits his or her best display of role expectations sought in the given question. This enables validation of the candidate's behavioral performance, rather than of the candidate's future projections based on so many assumptions.
  2. Questions based on real past experiences. While typical interview questions focus on current situations or future scenarios, CBI aims at actual incidents from the candidate's past. This conscious focus unearths the real behavioral responses demonstrated by the candidate, vis-a-vis a candidate who provides "ideal" answers found in books or imaginary portrayals of behaviors that can't be validated for execution or probability of success.
  3. Questions focused on behavior. For a candidate to successfully perform in any situation, a combination of three or more competencies comes into play. (Indeed, almost any decision involves a minimum of three competencies.) Most of the time while tackling a situation, however, a candidate isn't aware of his or her subconscious use of competencies. CBI questions are based on recognizing specific competencies. The interviewer asks questions that focus on the behaviors that a candidate demonstrated while handling a particular situation—which also makes it easy for the candidate to recall all the behaviors he or she actually displayed in that situation.
  4. "1 x 10" probing. To ensure that the behavioral response provided by the candidate correlates with the focused competency, in CBI the main question must be followed by multiple questions that probe further. This probing enables the interviewer to understand the candidate's situation in context, the depth of the problem, his or her risk assessment of the solution, and behaviors demonstrated. The CBI technique also differentiates between action by the candidate and by other persons who may have contributed to resolving the situation. Just as a jeweller turns a diamond in multiple directions to check the light passing through its different edges, the CBI interviewer probes the candidate with multiple follow-up questions to validate his or her behaviors against expected competencies. The rule of thumb for achieving this depth of understanding is 10 probing questions for each situation shared by the candidate.
  5. Name, date and data. Humans love to listen to stories and also narrate them to others. In this fast-paced technology age, the details of how someone has handled a situation are readily available online. Candidates can easily pass off someone else's knowledge as their own as they respond to questions about their competencies. Thus, in CBI it's important to verify that the situation shared by the candidate is her or his story and not someone else's history. This can be achieved by further intensifying the probing questions—asking the candidate to name the people involved, the date the situation occurred, and the data points around the decision taken. These details, coupled with the interviewer's expertise in role requirements, will enable selection of the competent candidate, not just the good storyteller.

Ranjit Khompi, M.B.A., SHRM-SCP, is head of Learning & Development for Reliance Trends Limited in Bangalore, India. He is also a subject matter expert (SME) assessor for the Confederation of Indian Industries' HR Excellence Awards, and volunteers with the SHRM certification program as an SME exam item writer and reviewer.

For more information on SHRM Certification, and to register for the exam, please visit our website.

Already SHRM-certified? Be sure to maintain your credential by recertifying. Learn more about recertification activities here.




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