Competency-Based Employee Recruitment and Selection


Human resource plans are implemented, in part, through the functions of employee recruitment and selection. Taken together, recruitment and selection provide a key way of sourcing talent with the aim of achieving organizational objectives. There are, of course, other methods of sourcing talent—such as the use of temporary workers and consultants—but in this chapter we will focus on recruiting and selecting so-called fulltime workers.

This chapter addresses the following key questions on recruiting and selecting people to implement HR plans:

  • What are employee recruitment and employee selection?
  • How are employee recruitment and selection traditionally carried out?
  • How can employee recruitment and selection become competency based?
  • What are the advantages and challenges of a competency-based approach to employee recruitment and selection?
  • When should employee recruitment and selection be competency based, and when should they be handled traditionally?
  • What model can guide competency-based employee recruitment and selection, and how is it implemented?

Employee Recruitment and Selection

Employee recruitment and employee selection are two sides of the same coin. Recruitment is the process of attracting as many qualified applicants as possible for existing vacancies and anticipated openings. It is a talent search, a pursuit of the best group of applicants for an available position. Selection reduces the list of applicants to those who are most qualified to achieve the desired outputs or results. During the process, HR practitioners try to predict which applicant will be most successful and will best fit the job and the corporate culture.

Recruitment and selection are important issues in today's workplace. A study of human resource trends conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management indicated that respondents considered finding and keeping qualified candidates to be the greatest employment challenge (1997 Survey of Human Resource Trends, 1997).

Traditional Employee Recruitment and Selection

The traditional starting point for recruitment is a job description and a job specification. The job description describes the work activities or job responsibilities of the successful job incumbent. The job specification specifies the qualifications an individual should possess in order to carry out the work. Qualifications are usually expressed as the minimum education, experience, and other requirements necessary to do the job. Some employers also use a job requisition, which justifies the creation of a new position or the replacement of a departing worker.

The Traditional Recruitment Process

The traditional recruitment process requires HR practitioners to carry out four predictable steps, as shown in Figure 6.

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Figure 6: Traditional Recruitment Process

Step 1: Clarify the position to be filled through recruitment

Employers act according to different philosophies of recruitment. One philosophy suggests recruiting continuously—that is, without regard to the number of vacant positions. For instance, an engineering firm may recruit engineers all the time so that an appropriate applicant pool is available whenever an opening occurs.

According to another philosophy, recruitment should be carried out selectively and only as necessary to fill openings as they occur. For instance, a firm may identify three management trainees as due for promotion, reassignment, or turnover. Recruitment at this firm is then targeted to fill the three openings.

Of course, it is possible for an employer to act in accord with both philosophies, recruiting continuously for some positions and recruiting for others only when openings occur. In either case, HR planning may forecast the number and kind of persons who will be needed.

Step 2: Review and update job descriptions and specifications for the position

Job descriptions, after all, clarify the tasks successful applicants will perform on the job. Job specifications enumerate the required qualifications. Without current job descriptions and specifications, HR practitioners cannot screen applicants by comparing individual qualifications to work requirements.

Step 3: Identify possible sources of qualified applicants

Recruitment is perhaps most often associated with this step. In the broadest sense, of course, applicants may come from inside or outside the organization.

There are a number of advantages associated with recruiting from within. Internal recruitment maximizes the return on the organization's investment in its employees.[1] By seeking internal applicants, management gains increased awareness of individuals who are interested in furthering their careers and reduces time spent on orientation and training for persons with whom it is already familiar (Grensing-Pophal, 2000). Applicants may be found internally through job posting and bidding and by supervisory nominations.

Internal recruitment efforts very often result in promotions. Promotion signifies reward for past performance and encourages employees in their efforts (Sherman, Bohlander, & Snell, 1998). It also sends a positive signal to employees in suggesting that their own efforts may be similarly rewarded.

Yet despite the many advantages to hiring from within, there are also disadvantages. Grensing-Pophal (2000) noted that the practice limits the potential number of qualified candidates, decreases opportunities to gain new ideas and concepts, and creates additional open positions.

Methods of external recruitment include newspaper, radio, and television advertisements; help-wanted signs; database searches of previous candidates; public and private employment agencies and search firms; educational institutions; employee referrals; advertisements with professional associations and labor unions; temporary help agencies; and Web site advertisements.

Organizations vary greatly in their philosophy and practice of internal and external hiring. Some companies are committed to providing development initiatives for their own employees and encourage promotions but are somewhat reluctant to conduct external hiring (Michaels, Handfield-Jones, & Axelrod, 2001). Other companies prefer external hiring, particularly for some senior-level positions, because, among other reasons, "regularly bringing new people in is a good way to constantly calibrate—and even raise—the company's standards for talent" (Michaels et al., 2001, p. 72).

Most employers try to balance the cost of recruitment against their likely success at finding the best talent. The SHRM survey of 2000 indicated cost-per-hire results from various sources as ranging from $99 for job fairs to $30,655 for an executive search (Pfau & Kay, 2002).[2]

Step 4: Select the most effective means of communicating with and attracting qualified applicants

This step usually involves marketing the organization to prospective applicants. After all, people often self-select themselves, which means they choose to apply based on the perception that an organization's image matches their own self-image. HR practitioners are familiar with methods of communicating with possible applicants. These include open houses, campus visits, presentations to groups of possible targeted job applicants, internships, and school-to-work programs. In other words, the organization must find a way to build awareness that it is a good place to work.

Specialized approaches to recruitment include a variety of new Web-based efforts aimed at attracting applicants from a broad range of geographical locations. The Paine Webber Group estimated that businesses will spend more than $8 billion for on-line recruiting by 2005 (Rubin, 2002).

In recent years, considerable attention has been paid to recruiting special groups, such as protected-class employees represented by women, minorities, the disabled, and others whose inclusion helps to achieve a diverse and thereby more creative workforce. In providing equal employment opportunities, many organizations create a formal program that includes the recruitment of protected classes as an integral part.

The Traditional Selection Process

The traditional selection process begins where recruitment ends. The selection process requires HR practitioners to carry out 10 predictable steps, which are shown in Figure 7.

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Figure 7: Traditional Selection Process

Step 1: Clarify the selection process

It is important to clarify how the selection process will be carried out. For example, will the applicant have to meet subjective or objective criteria—or some combination of the two? Will evaluation be performed by multiple, independent reviewers—or by one? In short, on what basis will a selection decision be made, and who will make it?

Step 2: Clarify the selection methods

It helps to get clear what the organization wants to find. There are many tools and approaches available for pinpointing the most appropriate applicant in a group. Methods include application forms, weighted application blanks (WABs), reference checks, honesty tests, psychological tests, manual dexterity tests, assessment centers, graphology, medical examinations, drug tests, and planned (structured) or unplanned (unstructured) job interviews. HR practitioners must choose the appropriate methods for identifying the most qualified individual.

Step 3: Shorten the list of potential candidates by comparing the applicants to the selection criteria

Develop a list of probable candidates by comparing applicants to the selection criteria. This may require compiling test scores and interview results, or a combination of methods.

Step 4: Establish a list of finalists for the target jobs

After individuals have been screened by one or more selection methods, only a few well-qualified people should remain. One candidate usually emerges as the preferred choice. The names of other candidates may be retained, however, in the event that negotiations with the preferred candidate are unsuccessful.

Step 5: Conduct a more detailed examination of the finalists to identify the best candidates for the targeted job

At this point, decision makers may insist on additional interviews or further evidence of an individual's ability to perform the job successfully.

Step 6: Make the selection

Decision makers in the organization should now be in agreement on which individual they believe is best equipped to do the job. Some organizations may check a candidate's references before finalizing the decision.

Step 7: Negotiate a competitive compensation and benefits package with the successful candidate

The goal at this stage is to match the candidate's expectations with the employer's ability to pay. This step is likely to be completed successfully when applicants have already been informed of the pay range and associated benefits.

Step 8: Extend an offer to the successful candidate

A formal offer may involve requesting the candidate's signature on a letter in which he or she agrees to the terms of employment. Less formal offers are extended orally. Written employment contracts are common at certain executive levels in some professions (and in other nations) but are not generally used in the United States.

Step 9: Confirm that all requirements are met

Final requirements may include tests such as drug screening or evidence of educational credentials.

Step 10: Confirm that the selection decision was correct

This step may require a probationary period. If the individual meets the organization's performance requirements during this preliminary period, he or she becomes a permanent employee. If not, the organization may terminate the individual in a manner consistent with legal requirements and any collective bargaining agreements previously negotiated by the employer.

[1]Grensing-Pophal (2000); Kaplan (1999); and Sherman, Bohlander, and Snell (1998).

[2]Other sources and their costs indicated in the SHRM survey are employee referral, $320; Internet, $444; print advertising, $943; college recruiting, $2,510; and agencies, $9,187 (Pfau and Kay, 2002).

Making Employee Recruitment and Selection Competency Based

In considering a transition from traditional to competency-based recruitment and selection, one question is uppermost: How can a competency-based approach improve the organization's ability to predict successful job performance from prospective applicants?

The answer to this question is simple, but it does require some explanation. The success of a competency-based approach depends on whether or not the organization has clarified work performance requirements and kept them up-to-date. If, for instance, the organization's managers have not clarified the desired work outcomes, then trying to match applicants to those ill-defined goals will not be easy.

Competency Based Recruitment

The traditional recruitment process must be reinvented if it is to become competency based.

Competency-based recruitment begins when the organization's leaders identify the key work roles, positions, or other work designations in need of recruitment efforts. This involves setting priorities. Decision makers must also decide on the time span over which the recruitment process will take place.

A competency-based approach to recruitment and selection places more demands on an organization, compared to the effort required for a traditional approach. But what if sufficient resources are not available to adopt a competency-based system for the entire organization? In such a case, the organization should invest its available resources in a competency-based approach to recruiting and selecting for those jobs or positions that are most critical to the organization's success. After key positions have been filled, leaders can evaluate the costs and benefits of extending the use of these methods to other areas.

After the organization's leaders have identified their recruitment needs, they must confirm the accuracy of the descriptions and specifications for the positions to be filled. The information can be gained through moderate to extensive job analyses and should meet the following requirements:

  • Work outputs, activities, and tasks as well as job competencies and the behavioral indicators by which those competencies can be measured are clearly stated and aligned, and the managers who are seeking applicants agree on them.
  • The competencies necessary for successful performance of the work are valid for the purposes stated.
  • Key competencies that are the greatest predictors of job success have been identified and validated by the managers who are seeking applicants.

With a competency-based approach to recruitment, the third step of the traditional recruitment process must be reframed. The task of finding the needed competencies is made easier when the organization has conducted an assessment of existing staff competencies and can access that information through a competency inventory. It is also helpful to identify past sources of exemplary performers. Analysis may reveal that some sources of talent yield the best applicants more often than do others.

In the final step of the recruitment process, the organization actively seeks applicants. It is particularly important that decision makers identify and communicate those competencies that are not developed with training and must be sourced through recruitment and selection. For example, most people would agree that it is difficult, if not impossible, to train new employees to persevere. Consequently, locating this competency may require special attention during recruitment and selection.

Sea-Land, a large U.S.-based member of the global shipping industry, is an example of a company that uses a number of different approaches in its recruitment practices, including, increasingly, Internet technology (Little, 1998). Sea-Land also utilizes various recruitment strategies that include use of both retained and contingency firms specializing in recruitment, temporary and full-time staffing, and contract recruiters and personnel. It has established good relationships with nine core colleges and places strong emphasis on competency-based selection.

Competency Based Selection

Traditional employee selection methods must also be reinvented if they are to become competency based. The following discussion refers to the 10 steps of the traditional employee selection process shown in Figure 7.

The goal of Step 1 in traditional employee selection is to plan the selection process. Planning is equally essential, if not more so, for the competency-based selection process. The goal of both is, of course, to make the best match between the person and the work.

With the competency-based approach, the criteria for selection are objectively stated. The process is systematic and disciplined. Perhaps the most desirable method of application is multiple interviews conducted by trained professionals, either individually or in teams. The goal of the interviews is to determine whether individuals possess the competencies necessary to achieve exemplary work results. This may be done by requesting work samples from experienced applicants or examining work histories for the behavioral anchors associated with the desired competencies. Consequently, selections are based on data rather than opinions. HR practitioners frequently comment that competency-based selection is probably one of the fairest and therefore most defensible approaches their organizations have used.

Next, HR practitioners clarify the selection methods to be used in reaching a decision. Regardless of the work to be performed, the selection methods chosen should provide as much advance information as possible about those competencies that are the most critical for exemplary performance of the work. A competency assessment report from a former supervisor would offer this kind of valuable insight, for example.

Selection methods generally fall into two categories. One category has to do with assessing the individual's ability to perform the work. Methods in this category are competency based. One example might be job applications that seek information about individual competencies instead of work history or credentials that may not be directly related to proven performance. Another example is preparation of structured interview guides to solicit information about competencies linked to successful or exemplary performance and the behavioral indicators associated with them. Methods in the second category address the individual's fitness to perform and take into consideration additional requirements, such as drug tests and medical examinations, that are peripheral to an applicant's ability to perform.

In Step 3, HR practitioners shorten the list of applicants; when using the competency-based approach, they work with managers to compare evidence of competencies with competency-based selection criteria. HR practitioners should focus their attention on the applicants' competencies as discovered and documented to the minimally acceptable, fully successful, or exemplary competency requirements for the department, occupation, work role, or job category. Individual competencies are therefore the primary criteria for narrowing the field of applicants.

Finalists are chosen in the next step. What is the difference between a traditional approach and a competency-based approach at this stage of the selection process? The traditional approach relies on a considerable number of assumptions about a candidate's qualifications, based on superficial evidence of ability, such as academic degrees or work and salary history. In a competency-based approach, the guesswork is largely eliminated. The goal of competency-based selection is to go beyond the superficial to discover real evidence of ability to perform, based on interview questions that explore actual experience or work samples that verify an applicant's ability to create outputs much like those required for the position. Persons with little experience may be tested for the ability to create the work products necessary for job success.

Steps 5 and 6 of the traditional selection process shown in Figure 7 cover interviews and final selection. Competency-based selection relies on carefully planned behavioral event interviews. Much attention is focused on the interview questions, how they are asked, the setting, and the approach used to assess results. We provide a detailed discussion of these points in a later section of this chapter.

An example of competency-based interviewing using a behavioral event interview can be seen at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center (VAMC) in Gainesville, Florida. Competency-based interviewing has been used at the Gainesville facility for more than ten years since a train-the-trainer program was introduced by the Veterans Affairs Nursing Service. In developing an interview tool for a staff nurse position, key criteria for a nurse to succeed are identified by a nurse manager and experienced unit staff. Expectations for the job are developed along with a job description. Questions are then prioritized, and the method of interviewing is determined. VAMC has found that an important consideration for the interviews is matching the number of questions to the amount of time for the interview. Applicants are prescreened, and a determination is made as to whether eligibility requirements are met. The nurse manager then decides who will conduct the interview.

Panels are often preferable in competency-based interviews; however, an individual can also conduct the interview. At VAMC, a panel of two or three members, including the first-line manager, experienced staff members, and an additional head nurse, is often used. Sometimes an applicant is interested in more than one position, and then other appropriate nurse managers are included on the panel.

Before the interview is conducted, representatives of VAMC welcome the applicant and introductions are made. An overview of the interview is then described to the applicant. VAMC notes that it is beneficial to indicate to the applicant that the interview will provide the opportunity to share work experiences as well as the demonstration of both skills and capabilities. The applicant is also informed that there will be notes taken during the interview. While the interview is taking place, interviewers rate both verbal and non-verbal responses to questions and scenarios that afford the opportunity for both objectivity and consistency. It also serves as a reminder following the interview.

Ratings at VAMC are (+) positive, (0) neutral, or (−) negative. Ratings are done independently without any discussion. Final scores are calculated by figuring the percentage of each rating based on the possible number. Finally, it is determined which applicant is the best match for the job. At VAMC, guidelines on acceptable scores are not available, but decisions are made by those conducting the interview. In arriving at a decision, competencies are considered as are the learning needs and the willingness of staff and the organization to support training. At VAMC, much credit is given for the success of a competency-based interview to the planning of the interview process itself. (Blazey & MacLeod, 1996)

Step 7 involves the negotiation of a compensation and benefits package with the successful candidate. This step is essentially the same for both approaches. It is worth noting, however, that in competencybased selection, the organization's representative is negotiating primarily to purchase the candidate's talent, or competency, pool rather than to simply "fill the slot." Thus, competency issues dramatically underlie the negotiations, even if they are not explicit. It is important for HR practitioners to understand this as a philosophical point.

Steps 8 and 9 of the traditional selection process are basically unchanged with a competency-based approach. The purpose of Step 9, however, is slightly different. Verification applies to the successful candidate's competency in a technical or professional area—for example, medicine, engineering, plumbing, boiler maintenance, or psychotherapy—and may require evidence such as licenses or employer references to support an applicant's claim of experience or credentials.

The last step is to validate the selection decision. In a competencybased process, HR practitioners work with the new employees' managers to determine how well performance matches up to expectations and work requirements.

A key consideration is the demonstration of competencies within the employer's unique corporate culture.

A competency-based, multirater feedback process is just one of many possible methods. Or employees and their immediate supervisors might participate in a two-part probationary performance management process in which both parties provide competency and results ratings.

In summary, there are significant differences between traditional and competency-based employee recruitment and selection processes. Consequently, making a transition to a competency-based approach requires considerable time, money, and effort on the part of the organization and its HR staff. The benefits, however, may exceed the costs, particularly if the competency-based approach increases the percentage of exemplary performers within the organization.

The Advantages and Challenges of Competency Based Employee Recruitment and Selection

There are several key advantages to competency-based employee recruitment and selection.

First, competency-based recruitment and selection are results oriented. They make it easier to concentrate on the results expected of a successful or exemplary performer. They focus less attention on approximations of competence—such as educational level or years of experience—that have little connection to verifiable results.

Second, competency-based recruitment plays an important role in attracting individuals who possess characteristics that might be difficult, if not impossible, to acquire by training or development efforts. A competency-based approach encourages managers and other decision makers to clarify the verifiable, measurable results they expect from successful performers before a selection decision is made. That makes selection methods more effective, which reduces turnover, since the persons who are hired are more likely to do well in jobs or work roles that are matched to their existing or potential competencies (Wood & Payne, 1998). Competency-based selection also provides some insight into whether or not a new hire will be a good fit with the organization's culture (Guinn, 1998). In addition, competency-based practices can be very effective in hiring for virtual or flextime positions (Vincola & Mobley, 1999).

Third, a competency-based recruitment and selection process provides applicants with opportunities to outline, explain, and demonstrate their qualifications in competency-based terms. People will not be confronted during the selection process with questions that have little or no bearing on their ability to produce desired work results.

Fourth, since competencies are readily transferable across work situations, competency-based selection may help the organization to function effectively even during times of rapid or unanticipated change. Of course, there are limitations. For example, the demonstration of a competency is often grounded in a unique segment of the corporate culture and might not be amenable to transfer.

Fifth, competency-based recruitment and selection processes give HR practitioners an opportunity to plan for developing competencies for new hires and for experienced workers who must be reassigned.

Sixth, competency-based hiring methods do not discriminate. They encourage managers to clarify the desired work results and to find individuals who can achieve those results regardless of age, race, gender, sexual orientation, ethnic background, religion, or other considerations that have little or no bearing on their ability to perform.

Seventh, competency-based selection methods can underscore the competencies of candidates during succession planning initiatives. That makes it easier to identify backups for key positions.[3]

And eighth, competency-based hiring processes can reduce traditional training times by ensuring the selection of applicants who can perform. It also helps to raise the bar on performance, especially in organizations that seek potential exemplary performers.

There are no panaceas, however. Competency-based recruitment and selection present some challenges.

Competency-based processes require a disciplined and regulated approach to job and work analyses. HR practitioners must verify and validate the outcomes of the analyses and ensure their accuracy. Competency identification and modeling also demand commitment of time and other resources. Many organizations are unwilling or unable to invest in these activities.

Competency-based approaches are not appropriate for recruiting and selecting unskilled or semiskilled workers. Individual discretion, a key issue in competencies, is not a major factor in these jobs as it is in professional and managerial positions.

Using competency-based job information in recruitment could dramatically increase the cost of advertising, since extensive information on the job and candidate requirements must be published.

Competency-based selection requires the investment of substantial numbers of hours by managers and others involved in group interviewing and assessments. Managers in particular are often difficult to schedule for these activities, especially when an organization has downsized.

[3]For more about succession planning, see Rothwell (2001).

Deciding on Competency Based or Traditional Employee Recruitment and Selection

Employee recruitment and selection should be handled traditionally under the following conditions:

  • Decision makers are unwilling to make the substantial investments in time, money, and effort that are necessary for researching and validating competencies for any of the organization's jobs.
  • The organization's resources are limited and cannot be committed to establishing a competency-based approach.
  • The organization's need is for unskilled or semiskilled workers with whom a competency-based approach is not that useful.
  • Candidates' competencies have already been documented or verified through a comprehensive and systematic process, as is the case with medical doctors, and only minimal additional competency assessment must be completed in order to select a capable job candidate.
  • Recruitment and selection activities must be completed within a very limited period of time.

A competency-based approach to employee recruitment and selection is probably most appropriate in the following situations:

  • The selected workers must complete work of strategic importance to the organization.
  • The organization needs to fill leadership and management positions.
  • Decision makers will commit the resources needed to carry out the competency-based recruitment and selection processes.
  • It is necessary to fill "high stakes" jobs or specialized work roles for individual contributors or team members in an intensely demanding work environment.

There have been many research studies on competency-based recruitment and selection.

In a study conducted by the American Compensation Association published in 1996, researchers found that 88% of respondents use competency-based interviews, which is the most frequently cited competency-based technique. The study also surveyed respondents on their decision-making practices in the five major staffing categories: hiring and selection, job placement, promotions, succession planning, and terminations. Results in these areas were as follows: for job placement, 70% used competency-based interviews and 59% used supervisor assessments; for promotions, 68% used supervisor assessments and 49% used competency-based interviews; for succession planning, 54% used supervisor assessments and 32% used multirater assessments; for termination, 42% used supervisor assessments. Managers have received training in conducting behavioral interviews, as indicated by 6 out of 10 respondents, and 57% provide competency criteria to recruiters and placement firms. The majority of respondents, however, do not believe that candidates should be rejected because of poor alignment of competencies, and only 38% reject candidates based on competency assessment as long as they meet or exceed all other job or role criteria. Only one respondent faced a legal challenge in any of the five major staffing categories ("The Role of Competencies in an Integrated HR Strategy," 1996).

The findings of another study indicated that 75% of respondent organizations use job and role competencies in selection and promotion (Cook & Bernthal, 1998).

In a study of nonprofit organizations, 29 respondents suggested competency-based selection as a way of creating a higher quality applicant pool. Recommendations based on the study included wider dissemination of information about job openings and hiring practices based on measurable competencies linked to requirements for the job rather than on colleague referrals (Knowlton, 2001).

Results from a 1999 survey of more than a thousand North American companies indicated that lower turnover rates are experienced by 36% of those respondents that use competency-based selection and hiring practices. The survey also indicated that 43% of respondents using competency-based selection experience higher levels of productivity (O'Daniell, 1999).

Findings in a survey conducted in by Schoonover, Schoonover, Nemerov, and Ehly (2000) indicated that 53% of respondents consider hiring as the area in which the application of competencies is "very effective" or "effective," and 38% find competency-based job descriptions "very effective" or "effective."

A Model for Competency Based Employee Recruitment and Selection

How does an organization go about implementing a competency-based recruitment and selection system? The main difference between the traditional and the competency-based approach is largely one of emphasis. The competency-driven system naturally is weighted toward competencies that can be documented, discussed during formal interviews, and demonstrated on the job.

The model portrayed in Figure 8 can be applied to implementing competency-based recruitment and selection for an entire organization or for only select portions of it. In an ideal world, we would be able to implement the model organization wide, but finite resources often dictate more limited use.

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Figure 8: Competency-Based Employee Recruitment and Selection.

Implementing the Model

Steps 1 through 4 describe competency-based recruitment. Competency-based selection is explained in Steps 5 through 11.

Step 1: Identify HR and job recruitment needs

Every recruitment action should be an outcome of a larger, competency based HR planning process. Therefore, the first step of this model requires the organization's leaders to return to their HR system plans and account for their recruitment need in strategic terms. As a result of this inquiry, they should be able to answer the following kinds of questions. What outputs or results will the recruited employee produce? How will those outputs or results contribute to the strategic success of the organization? Could the organization continue to meet its strategic business objectives without filling this job? When is the best time to implement this job? Demonstration of what key competencies will enable the successful candidate to produce the expected outputs or results? What are the best sources of those competencies?

After decision makers have determined that embarking on the recruitment process will serve the best interests of the organization, the HR practitioner can proceed to the next stage of the recruitment effort.

Step 2: Complete job or position documentation

With recruitment activities commencing, the HR department begins documenting the job and work to be completed in the forms of a job description and a job specification. In doing so, HR practitioners must keep in mind that competency-based job or position documentation must embody the premise that competencies are the foundation for all performance.

If job information has not yet been assembled, the HR practitioner must complete the work, since the analyzed data will be part of the job documentation. The following job analysis information must be researched:

  • Work outputs or results
  • Work activities
  • Work tasks
  • Competencies and associated behavioral indicators
  • Competency model

In addition, the functional manager for the job must identify any of the following that are appropriate:

  • Educational requirements or qualifications
  • Work samples of successful outputs
  • Experience with the same or related work, including possibly the length of time spent performing the work
  • License or certification requirements from government, academic, professional, or other organizations
  • Other requirements related to the employee's ability and capability to complete the work

Step 3: Identify recruitment sources

At this stage of the process, the HR practitioner, usually with suggestions from the functional manager for the position, who is responsible for the work to be performed, will identify sources for recruiting high-potential candidates. In a competency-based environment, the recruitment process requires a focus on competency sources or pools of recognized effectiveness in the area of the recruitment. The HR specialist must work with the manager and others in the functional area to identify traditional and nontraditional sources of talent so that information on the position can be made available to them. It may be worth analyzing sources of exemplary performers and targeting recruitment to historical sources for the best talent.

Step 4: Create recruitment materials and implement the recruitment process

The major objective in this step is to encourage only the most highly qualified candidates (i.e., exemplary performers) to express their interest in the job. Remember: Competencies and their availability in the applicant pool drive this type of recruitment effort!

The content of recruitment materials is a critical element at this stage of the process. It should communicate the values, vision, core competencies, and industry status of the organization with the intent of encouraging exemplary applicants to want to work for the organization and thereby share its vision, values, and intentions. The expected work outputs or results and general requirements and conditions of the job should also be made very clear in recruitment materials. In addition, the minimum and preferred educational, age, and other requirements (for example, certifications) must be mentioned in recruitment materials. The competencies needed for successful performance must be described in plain language that can be understood by any person who can read at the intermediate-school level.

Written applications should give specific information on what the HR department needs from applicants in order to determine their viability as job candidates. An organization that is serious about hiring for competencies should be able to screen applicants on competency requirements with a high degree of reliability using documentation the applicants provide. This can be done in a straightforward manner by instructing applicants to list each competency followed by a two- or three-sentence description of its use in the same or a similar performance context and how much time they spent using it. They should also be directed to specifically document their competencies with education, training, or long-term learning experiences. Although the application received from a candidate in a competency-based recruitment process might be considerably lengthier than a traditional application, it enables more effective screening for the position.

Step 5: Determine the selection criteria

As they begin the selection part of the hiring process, HR practitioners and their customers must determine the criteria to be used. They must agree on the correct mixture of information, out of the volume of data received from applicants, and weight each item so as to accurately assess the candidates' competency strengths and predict their likelihood of success on the job.

What information should be used to establish the selection criteria? Organizations use the following items to collect information from job candidates:

  • Job application form specifically designed to collect detailed competency information as well as traditional information
  • Reference statement from former organizational leaders and competency assessments completed by persons with in-depth knowledge
  • Statements of work, academic, and life accomplishments
  • Test data and their analyses with the use of instruments such as the Sixteen Personality FactorQuestionnaire (16PF®) assessment, California Psychological Inventory™ (CPI™) assessment, Edwards Personal Preference Schedule (EPPS), Holland Types, Jackson Vocational Interest Survey (JVIS), Kuder Preference Record, and Strong Interest Inventory® assessment.
  • Work sample assessments
  • Simulation interviews
  • Documented work and life experience factors
  • Certificates
  • Licenses
  • Ratings from peers, immediate supervisors, or direct reports, including competency assessment data from a multirater competency assessment process
  • Assessment center data, if available

Since every selection situation has its own unique set of competency requirements, it would not be appropriate for us to suggest a formula or weighting method for general application. Decision makers must specify the required versus the preferred competencies before reviewing candidates' qualifications. Next, a qualified HR practitioner or other qualified professional should construct a one-to-one or one-to-several correspondence between the job competency requirements and the qualifications data submitted by the candidate as documentation for each of the competencies.

Step 6: Screen the applicants

Typically, the number of responses an employer receives for an advertised position far exceeds the number of job openings. Consequently, only the most promising among the pool of candidates will be selected for a formal interview or otherwise continue to participate in the selection process.

Although screening will never be an entirely scientific procedure, it certainly must be systematically completed. The process must give equal weight to all candidates when competency profiles are assessed and the first pool of finalists is chosen. The HR professional must have a clear understanding of the minimum requirements for competency, experience, education, and other credentials and apply them equitably to each profile. When there is doubt regarding a candidate's qualifications, the organization should err on the side of having too many candidates and include the person in question in the pool.

A two-level screening process may be completed for candidates whose qualifications are still unclear. Sometimes a simple telephone call to the candidate will clarify the situation so that a decision can be made.

When the paper screening is complete, the functional manager will review the list of the most qualified candidates. The HR representative might want to review some of the findings from the screening process in order to obtain guidance on the customer's preferences for formal interviews or other interventions.

Formal interviews with the leading candidates make up the next stage in the screening process. With a competency-based interviewing process, we suggest that only the top five candidates be included in the first interview pool. Ideally, competency-based interviews should be completed by an interview panel, and competency assessments by the panel should follow completion of the interviews. Each candidate, all members of the panel, and possibly a recorder must participate in both the interviews and the assessment sessions. This presents quite a challenge in today's business world, in which staff resources are stretched so thin. If the process is to be completed virtually, the logistics become even more labor-intensive. After the interviews and assessment sessions, the panel must meet and reach agreement on the competency assessments for each person interviewed. This requires more logistics. We don't want to discourage you from using these processes. It can be done if they are well planned.

Step 7: Train the interviewers and conduct behavioral event interviews with the leading candidates

What is wrong with traditional job interviewing questions and techniques? The answer to this question could consume many pages in this book, but we will keep our answer brief.

First, traditional interview questions such as "Tell me about yourself" tend to provide little or no information about the candidate's qualifications for the job. You might learn that this person really enjoys cooking French food, but what does that have to do with the competencies that are required to successfully teach Greek archaeology in a secondary school in Yugoslavia? The connection is not an obvious one.

Second, traditional job interviews are not conducted systematically. This leads frustrated candidates to charge that they did not have an adequate opportunity to outline their qualifications for the position, that inappropriate discussion items were raised, or that deliberate or systematic bias was introduced, thus compromising their candidacy.

When a systematic, planned, and disciplined competency-based interview process has been used, all of these criticisms vanish. The interview process focuses only on the work to be performed by the successful applicant, the relationship of his or her experience to that work, and the competencies presented by the candidate to be used in producing the expected outputs or results. The process alone is sound, but it is made even more so because interviewers are trained, were certified by their trainers, and have practiced the use of the behavioral event interview technique for selection purposes.[4]

L'Oreal, an international cosmetics firm, uses behavioral event interviews in its competency-based selection practices for hiring salespeople, according to the Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligence in Organizations. The behavioral event interview used by L'Oreal was developed by its consultant, with the goal of identifying key competencies in successful sales. Those selected through the behavioral interview method achieved $91,370 more in sales annually than did those selected by the previously used method (Competency-Based Selection, 2002).

Since the details for training interviewers and using behavioral event interviews for selection purposes are quite extensive and have been explained elsewhere, we will not duplicate that information here. Instead, we suggest that you review portions of Competence at Work that focus on interviewing (Spencer & Spencer, 1993, pp. 114–155).

Before we proceed to the next step of our model, we offer the following suggestion. Because behavioral event interviews typically require at least 1 to 2 hours for each candidate, we recommend that the HR customer (the functional manager, for example) identify for interview panel members the strategic competencies that must be present for exemplary performance of the work. These strategic competencies should be the ones explored during the interview process. With a concise list, the panel might be able to concentrate on key competencies and interview a larger number of candidates. Under all circumstances, we strongly recommend identifying key items for all interviews.

Step 8: Complete competency assessments, prepare the selection recommendation list, and select the candidate

After the interview panel has completed its competency assessments and selection recommendations, a selection can be made.

Typically, although not always, the interview panel sends a report on the candidates' competency ratings to the decision maker. Panel members usually complete further analyses of the competency strengths of the candidates relative to work demands, and they will often call special situations to the attention of leaders in charge of selection. The report must be objective, fair, and free of bias. The panel must never attempt to subvert or undermine the selecting manager's authority to recommend or make a decision. More often than not, a decision maker who was not a member of the interview panel will want to interview at least the leading candidate for the position and come to his or her own conclusions on the candidate's qualifications and fit in the work environment. The manager might decide to interview additional candidates or even all the candidates who were interviewed by the panel. This is his or her right and it must be honored. HR practitioners might need to provide guidance on the details of a competency-based approach to recruitment and selection, and they should speak frankly about the professional aspects of the processes and the outcomes to date.

In some situations, selection decisions must be supported by higher management. Interview panel data on competency strengths can be highly useful for making a final decision.

Step 9: Verify the selected candidate's qualifications

Before an employment offer is made, it is essential to verify the preferred candidate's qualifications as they were presented in the application materials and during the interview process. Organizations of all types and sizes must complete thorough due diligence investigations in human resource matters.

In some circumstances, an organization could put the lives or wellbeing of others at risk by hiring an unqualified person. For example, a medical doctor without a verified M.D. degree or a license to practice medicine in the proper jurisdiction could cause injury and possibly death to patients. The same cautions apply to other areas of expertise, such as, for example, building engineering staff. Having less than a fully skilled and licensed boiler engineer in charge of an office tower heating system would be irresponsible. Never neglect due diligence responsibilities, especially when making a selection decision.

Step 10: Negotiate a compensation and benefits package with the successful candidate and extend an employment offer after the package has been accepted, first by the organization and then by the candidate

This step proceeds as it typically would in a traditional hiring situation, but one suggestion seems appropriate for a competency-based environment. Representatives of the organization who handle this step of the process must remember that the organization is negotiating to purchase a highly valuable commodity: human competence. This means that the process and the candidate must be treated with a high degree of respect and consideration. It is important also for the representatives to remember that many person-hours have been invested in the competency investigations and the dividends on this investment must be captured through a successful and reasonable outcome to the negotiations.

Step 11: Validate the selection

Now that the employee is on the job, one final question remains: Was this a valid selection? If the use of a competency-based recruitment and selection process resulted in an organizationally useful selection, then we are satisfied that the approach is working. In this step, we are not presenting a method of determining whether the best selection was made, nor are we attempting to determine the future use of the process based solely on the outcomes of one selection. Research needed to answer those questions must be more rigorously designed and controlled.

The most direct method of validating the selection is to examine the new employee's performance at key points during his or her employment history. Always keep in mind when reviewing performance that persons are employed by organizations to produce outputs or results that are valued by the organization, its customers or clients, or both. The new employee must have been on the job and had sufficient time to begin producing the expected outputs or results. This consideration affects the timing and circumstances of data collection.

In our experience, an individual must be on the job and fully immersed in the work culture and external environment of the organization for 12 to 18 months before useful data can be collected. Except for low-skilled or unskilled jobs, a 6-month probationary period is not sufficient to allow the employee to become fully integrated with and productive in an organization.

Others might disagree with this position. They might argue that their organizations have highly structured and competency-based performance management systems in place that support new-hire performance at every step during the first 6 months of employment and that reliable and valid conclusions can indeed be drawn after only 6 months on the job. We accept that possibility. However, our experience with a wide variety of organizations indicates that our caution is reasonable. Allow time and provide performance support before making decisions on performance.

What kind of data should an investigator collect and analyze in order to validate a selection decision? Answering the following questions should provide much of the needed insight:

  • What measurable outputs or results did the employee produce, and at what level of quality? Were they produced in a timely or agreedupon manner? Was the customer or client satisfied with the outputs or results?
  • What were the outcomes of a competency assessment (with data provided by, at a minimum, the new-hire's immediate manager) for the competencies that were used to make the selection decision? How do the results of the on-the-job assessment compare with those of the pre-hire interview panel members?
  • What are the new-hire's thoughts, feelings, and actions relative to his or her work performance, the organization, its customers, and his or her fit with those entities?

In an ideal world, the answers to these three classes of questions would reveal a consistently high fit between the employee and the organization. When that does not occur, as may be the case, then the following additional questions might be helpful:

  • Did we hire a competent person (as defined by the selection criteria) but then place performance roadblocks in the way that impeded the new hire's producing the expected outputs or results in a timely manner and at the expected level of quality?
  • Did we provide adequate performance support for this new employee?
  • Have there been changes in the organization or its clients or customers since the selection decision was made, and, if so, has the situation affected the employee's performance in an adverse manner?
  • In what ways do the organizational and work unit cultures affect the employee's thoughts, feelings, and actions? What are the dimensions of these impacts? If there is a mismatch, how could it have been averted or possibly detected during the interview processes?

These questions may be sufficient, depending on the work situation. A one-time assessment is probably not entirely enough to determine the validity of the selection decision, but at the least, an initial investigation should be made.

[4]Behavioral event interviews are the foundation methodology for researching job, work, or role competencies in work settings. See Dubois (1993) and Spencer and Spencer (1993) for background and details.


This chapter examined competency-based recruitment and selection, two closely aligned processes. A competency-based approach differs more in focus than in content from its traditional counterpart and demands more resources from the organization. For a competencybased approach, HR practitioners establish competency models by job category, department, work role, or occupation and attempt to match individual competencies to those models. In contrast, the traditional approach relies on implicit links between the work as defined in job descriptions and the qualifications of an applicant to carry it out. Competency-based recruitment and selection are not always appropriate for all positions and present challenges as well as offer significant advantages.[5]

[5]For additional reading on the topic, see Callaghan and Thompson (2002); Harvey and Novicevic (2000); Markwood (2001); Rothwell and Kazanas (2003); Smith and Kandola (1996); and Warech (2002).

Competency-Based Human Resource Management
Competency-Based Human Resource Management
ISBN: 0891061746
EAN: 2147483647
Year: 2003
Pages: 139 © 2008-2020.
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