How to use competency-based recruitment to improve hiring decisions

Andy Agouridis Talent acquisition

Recruitment is one of the most important business processes, as it can make or break an organisation. Apart from allocating the required resources for successful talent acquisition, businesses should also make sure that their recruitment approach is fit for purpose. To identify the optimal recruitment technique, we recommend starting with the end goal in mind.

There is a consensus that a successful hire should be capable of doing the job, motivated to do the job, and able to adapt to the company culture. If any of these criteria are not met, a hire is destined to fail. Thus, there is a need for a recruitment approach that allows HR professionals and hiring managers to evaluate candidates holistically, identify the best matches, and hire the candidates that are the best fit for the role and the business. Enter, competency-based recruitment.

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What is competency-based recruitment?

Competencies are a business concept popularised by Harvard Business Review in the 1990s to describe the specialised expertise of an organisation in a specific area. Since then, competencies have been adopted by businesses globally to communicate what they are good at. Recruitment is one of the functions that has been affected heavily by the introduction of competencies, as savvy employers have made the concept a key part of their talent strategy.

In a recruitment context, competencies are defined as candidates’ behavioural characteristics, personality traits, knowledge, skills, and qualifications. Typically, competency requirements for each vacancy are defined by the employer at different levels, including job-specific, departmental, and organisational ones. After a business identifies the competencies relevant to their goals, they communicate these requirements to prospective candidates. Then, candidates use examples from their professional background to demonstrate that they fulfil these requirements during the interview stage.

The benefits of competency-based recruitment

Competency-based recruitment was introduced as the traditional hiring approach that employers used was problematic. From the lack of clearly defined recruitment goals to issues related to candidate assessment to subpar selection decisions, organisations that don’t utilise the power of competencies struggle to bring the required talent on board. However, employers who focus on competencies may benefit from the below improvements.

Relevant recruitment goal-setting

Goal-setting is a prerequisite for any successful recruitment effort. Using competencies is an excellent way for linking business strategy to recruitment strategy and hiring decisions. Having a structured way for defining candidate requirements at a vacancy, departmental, and organisational level can give decision-makers clarity on what good looks like.

Holistic candidate assessment

Before the introduction of competencies, organisations focused on hiring candidates based on their hard skills related to the vacancy, due to the fact that technical skills are easier to assess. However, soft skills are equally important, and according to McKinsey, they are expected to dominate the future business requirements. Additionally, competency-based recruitment allows decision-makers to evaluate candidates for cultural fit, minimising the risk of hiring applicants who would disrupt the company culture.

Fair and consistent applicant evaluation

Typically, competency-based interviews are structured. What this means is that recruiters and hiring managers are clear on what they are looking for, how to get this information, and how to score candidates based on their answers. This can minimise bias and help in a fair assessment.

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

A byproduct of the unbiased assessment that employers can achieve through competency interviews is offering candidates equal opportunities. In short, minimising bias can be a great way to hire candidates from diverse backgrounds, treat them equally, and create an inclusive workplace.

Increased quality of hires

Taking advantage of a relevant goal-setting process and a holistic assessment method is likely to allow employers to hire employees who will perform better and will stay with the business for longer. Many organisations, including Devereux Cleo Wallace, a healthcare organization in the US, have seen significant improvements in their recruitment KPIs after implementing a competency-based approach.

Implementing a competency-focused recruitment strategy

We have established that incorporating competencies in your recruitment can drive improvements, however, when we talk about results, it all comes down to the execution. From designing an approach tailored to your needs to implementing this approach through your recruiters and hiring managers, here are the key steps to follow to set yourself up for success.

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Define competency requirements

Using competencies for talent acquisition makes no sense unless these competencies have been selected based on your business need. Perhaps the most important part of the design process is analysing your business goals, identifying relevant competencies, and creating a framework to be applied to your future vacancies. Make sure your foundations are solid by involving all required stakeholders, including business leaders, HR leaders, and heads of departments.

Creating competency-based job descriptions

Once you have created your competency framework, it is time to communicate it to your recruitment decision-makers. Educate your hiring managers and recruiters on how to use your selected competencies to create compliant job descriptions. Then, use these job descriptions to create job ads, using a tool like Jobylon.

Conducting competency interviews

The main assessment tool for your new recruitment process should be competency interviews. Competency interviews consist of questions that aim to allow candidates to provide relevant examples that demonstrate whether they possess the desired competencies. The key to designing an effective competency-focused interview is aiming for open-ended questions that encourage the candidate to answer using the STAR method, which stands for situation, task, action, and result.

Evaluating applicants

The last piece of the puzzle is assessing candidates based on their competencies. If you have executed the previous steps correctly, this part of the process should be relatively simple. The key to success here is using a structured and accurate scoring method, which can be achieved by weighting competencies based on their importance and having clear guidelines on how decision-makers should rate applicants’ answers.


Attracting and selecting the best talent based on your needs is paramount to the success of your business and the most important recruitment goal. Also, hiring in a diverse, equitable, and inclusive way is pivotal for business and ethics. We recommend utilising the power of competency recruitment and assessment to achieve these goals.

To do this, start by defining competencies relevant to your brand and business strategy, developing a competency framework. Then, educate your recruiters and hiring managers to adopt a competency-focused approach when it comes to creating job descriptions, interviewing candidates, and identifying the best fit for vacancies. This will allow you to hire people who possess the required behavioural characteristics, personality traits, knowledge, skills, and qualifications, getting a competitive advantage.

Andy Agouridis

Andy helps candidates and employers connect faster and better. Apart from being a Jobylon contributing writer and a Careers content creator. He has a background in HR with Fortune 100 businesses, holds an MSc in HRM, and is a Chartered member of the CIPD.

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