Business Excellence at your fingertips


Effective Recruitment: Why You Should Use Competency Based Interviewing

By Madeleine Allen

So you’ve got through that difficult first year in business, and now you’re facing the next big hurdle - hiring staff. Or maybe you’ve already had people on board but they just didn’t work out. Recruitment is costly, and a recruitment mistake can be a major blow to a small business.

Let’s say you’re running a graphic design company. Even if you’ve never interviewed before, you will have a pretty good idea how to tell whether your candidate is a good designer. It will only be after they’ve been in position for a few months that you begin to discover that they’re not a team player, or that they’re unwilling to take decisions.

The solution is to spend only half the interview on exploring the candidate’s skills and knowledge, and the other half on their attitudes, character and soft skills. Here are seven steps that make this easy both before and at the interview.

Before the interview:

1. List out the responsibilities of the job, then list out the attributes that a person in this position needs to have. You may well come up with 10 or more attributes, ranging from decision-making to customer focus, from strategic thinking to a liking for detail, from courage and risk taking to procedure-loving. Narrow them down to about 5 by asking yourself “If two candidates were the same in all other respects, which of these attributes would be the most important when choosing between them?”

2. For each attribute, identify the kinds of situations when they might need this attribute, and how you might be able to recognise that they have it. How might someone with this attribute behave in the given situation? For example, if you are looking for someone who is very adaptable, they might demonstrate a flexible approach in their work, or be enthusiastic about taking on new challenges.

3. Prepare questions that ask the candidate to tell you about actual situations in their current or recent position in which they have had to demonstrate this attribute. For example “Tell me about a difficult decision that you have had to make recently”. We call these “situational” questions.

At the interview:

1. Tell the candidate that you are going to ask them to give you real examples when you ask them questions. It is only fait to give them time to think of a good situation that illustrates the behaviour you are interested in.

2. After each situational question, follow up by asking what action the candidate took in the situation. Watch out for candidates who say “we did such and such”. They may be taking credit for the actions of a colleague. Press them to describe what they did personally.

3. Ask the candidate to tell you what the outcome was in this situation. This will help you to assess whether they understood the consequences of their own behaviour, and made appropriate choices of action in that situation.

4. Finally, ask them to reflect on the situation, what they have learned from it, and what they would do differently in the future.

It pays to remember:

S – Situation
A – Action
O – Outcome
R – Reflection

Now go out there and hire the right person.

Madeleine Allen is a business coach, management skills trainer and entrepreneur. She is the author of “The Interviewer’s Resource Pack” – a complete set of behavioural competencies with sample questions to use at interview. Find out more at

Visit to find out about products, services and training courses on offer.


Copyright ©
Terms of Use - Privacy Policy