Performance vs. Competency - A Better Interview


Performance-Based interviewing yields better hires, when compared to competency-based interviewing. We are advocates for doing the work during the interview to find the candidate’s precise skills in context (in directly comparable situations) that align with the SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, time-bound) goals that apply to the position.

Competency-Based Interviewing (CBI), also known as behavior-based interviewing, focuses on specific personal traits, and seeks to find examples of how the candidate has demonstrated the trait. Common traits included in this type of profiling include: leadership, teamwork, decision-making, ethics, communications, etc. A typical CBI question would be: “Give me an example of how you have exhibited leadership in your job.” Interviewers find CBI easy, because it follows a script, conversation flows, and it feels like a high quality information exchange. There are several flaws and pitfalls to using CBI:

Candidates know how to win the game. There are too many books and articles instructing job seekers on how to prepare and rehearse great-sounding answers to CBI questions.

The information has no context – you won’t find out if the candidate can do what you need done. Even if the candidate answers sincerely, you’ll only learn how they behave in general terms.

You will end up judging the candidate based on presentation, not true capability.

Performance-Based interviewing requires an up-front definition of the performance objectives (SMART goals) for the job. Once those are determined, each goal can be turned into a question that is contextual. For example, suppose you need “leadership” to be exemplified specifically by improving profitability and efficiency. Your question to the candidate might be: “We need this person to turn around production, improve efficiency and increase gross margin. What specifically have you done that would prepare you to achieve this goal?” Candidates can’t rehearse that answer. Mediocre candidates will be uncomfortable, employ generalities, talk around the subject, and their lack of substance will be evident. Highly qualified candidates will have specifics, facts, figures, percentages, and will be excited about giving you the answer. The difference will be palpable to you.

Constructing a Performance-Based job description and interview profile takes more work. The interview itself takes a more structured approach (than CBI), and being willing to dig for details – the evidence of capability in context. The result is knowing that you can predict the new hire’s performance, and be better assured of success. For more hiring tips, read our blog: http://headhunterssecretguide.blogspot.com/

Views: 734

Tags: SMART, behavioral, competency-based, descriptions, evaluation, goals, interviewing, interviews, job, performance

Comment by Bill Ward on July 30, 2010 at 7:21pm
Hey Mark,

If you're going to about performance based hiring and SMART goals, don't you think it would be fair to recognize Lou Adler's IP contribution in this area with his book Performance Based Hiring?
Comment by Mark Bregman on July 30, 2010 at 7:25pm
Bill, Good observation! If you visit my blog, you will note that Lou's book (Hire With Your Head) is mentioned in "Books I Like", and he is acknowleged in a couple of my blogs. I worked with Lou in the early 90's, and consider him a friend. He is the quintessential expert in this area. I have been practicing Performance-Based Search (as have other of Lou's disciples) ever since.
Comment by Bill Ward on July 30, 2010 at 7:54pm
Great. I'll definitely give your blog a read. Thanks for posting Mark!
Comment by Michael Webb on August 3, 2010 at 4:25am
Mark, I think you are splitting hairs a little.
I am a Behavioural Expert and have trained thousands of hiring managers how to interview using Behavioural Interview methodology.
Your PBI and SMART seems very close to BI questions where I use SAR (what was the Situation, Action Result).
Interviewers focusing on SAR when listening to answers will get a very good appreciation of the applicant’s competencies.

I provide a 1000 BI question CD to attendees of my course.
Below are three BI questions straight from the CD that could be used by hiring managers to determine “leadership” to be exemplified specifically by improving profitability and efficiency.

What strategies to increase production, improve efficiency and increase gross margins have you successfully put in place in the past to stay ahead of your industry and competitors?

What major organisational change programme with regard to increasing production, improving efficiency and increasing gross margin, have you recently supported and encouraged others to get behind?

Can you share with us what major contributions you have made in regards to your organisations goals in increasing production, improve efficiency and increasing gross margin recent times?


The CBI example you use
Give me an example of how you have exhibited leadership in your job.” is not a BI question, but an “open-ended” question.
Comment by Paul Hanchett on August 3, 2010 at 10:33am
One of the concerns I have about these techniques is that, while they do a grand job of assessing behavior in the past, they do not speak to the ability to handle future challenges and opportunities. Thinking of the big picture, they slant selection towards candidates who have already navigated the challenges we choose to ask about-- e.g., they have experience. But a candidate who could handle the situation will be neglected because they cannot demonstrate competency in this framework. How would one know that candidate A's handling of a situation was preferable to how candidate B would handle it, given the chance?

There are many professions where the path to performance is not well charted and our own ignorance will keep us from asking the right questions. For example, what questions would you ask an astronaut, a physician, a singer or a researcher in a either of these frameworks?

I'm also concerned because the qualification for a candidate to do the work is that they have already done it. How does someone then gain experience except through the accident of unplanned opportunity?

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