When I first started out in HR, interviewing seemed like something of a black art to me. While there are days that it undoubtedly still does! – I like to think that over the years I have been able to disperse some of the smoke and mirrors around what an interview process that delivers results needs to look like.

Certainly, in my early years in an HR role, recruitment was all about competency-based interview questions. Interview question packs could sometimes be several sheets deep in order to extract information about every last competency on the person specification for the role being recruited for. I remember one interview going on for more than two hours, simply to get through all of the questions! – and this wasn’t even atypical!

Demonstrating expertise

There is a logic behind the use of competency-based questions and their associated scoring systems. It is of course important to ensure that the person you are recruiting is able to demonstrate expertise in each of the essential competencies for the role.

But I’m not actually sure that competency-based questions necessarily do that.

If you think about your typical interview process, it likely involves an initial phone screening, maybe one or two stages of face to face meetings and perhaps some assessment tests along the way. All designed to assess the candidate’s ability against a series of competencies.

The person behind the competencies

The question I started to ask myself was: when do we actually get to know the person behind the competencies?

Obtaining an understanding that the person can do the job you’ve hired them to do is of course critical. But I would argue that, despite their prolificness, competency-based interviews aren’t the best way to do that. And the reason for that is because most allegedly competency-based questions don’t actually test the competency you’re asking the candidate about.

Let me give you an example. You might ask the question: “How will you ensure you work effectively with other teams within the business?”, effective team working being a core competency for the role. You might get a textbook answer back from the candidate which tells you exactly how they’d work brilliantly with other teams within the business to deliver results.

Does that demonstrate to you that they meet that competency? Well… no, not really. A great answer tells you that they’ve carried out some great interview preparation, and know exactly what you want to hear. It doesn’t necessarily predict how they’re going to actually perform once they’re in the job.

Assessing the reality

When it comes to testing competencies, wherever possible you are far better placed to look at how they deliver them in practice. At Benefex, assessment tests are making up an increasingly large percentage of our recruitment process. If we want to understand a candidate’s coding skills, we set them a practical task. If we need to understand how they would deal on a customer call, we’ll get them to roleplay a real life scenario. If we want to see how they’d lead teams, we’ll ask them to direct a group of people to carry out a task. All of a sudden, we’re seeing not what they tell us their skills are in this area… but what they actually are in reality.

But the other part of the recruitment process we’ve really focused in on is getting to know the person – and that’s the person behind the nervous, sometimes stilted, interview façade. I’ve always striven to ensure that our interviews feel less like a formal process and more like a relaxed conversation – and it’s been great to see this borne out in recent feedback we’ve received via Glassdoor.

The real them

Personally, I’d far rather minimise the amount of red tape candidates have to cut through and prioritise my efforts on getting to know the real them. I am a firm believer that skills can be taught; personality and cultural alignment can’t. If I look at the hires I have made that have failed, in the vast majority of cases it’s not because they couldn’t do the job, it’s because they didn’t want to be a part of our culture. It therefore stands to reason that doing everything we can to make an interview process accessible and comfortable for candidates gives us the best possible chance of getting the right person into the role.

A degree of formal assessment will likely always form a part of any selection process, to a greater or lesser extent. But I would challenge anyone reading this to go back to their organisations and take a good look at their recruitment processes… to ensure we allow candidates to bring their best – and very human – self to interview.