3 Tips for Competency-Focused Hiring

Posted 7/21/2022 in Learn by Candidate Team

Co-authored by Lionel Lee, DE&I Advisor at Candidate and Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Recruiting at Google.

With companies in the startup space and beyond increasingly focused on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), leaders are revisiting both documented policies and engrained workplace practices to reduce bias in the hiring process, ensure consistent assessment for all candidates, and remove barriers that have served to historically exclude non-white individuals. A significant push in the last several years has been to shift the focus of hiring programs from screening for experience and background to a skills-based assessment approach. 

Hiring managers, human resources teams, and leadership teams should consider these three best practices for competency-focused hiring that levels the playing field for candidates and makes the path to getting hired clear.

1. Design a skills-based assessment

In concert with a recruiting team or on their own, the hiring manager for a specific role should identify a core set of skills that translate directly to on-the-job success. This should happen when the role is scoped and will inform every hiring step, including writing the job description, the recruiter screening, hiring manager interview, and any assessments used during the interview loop.

Clearly outlining competencies provides a framework for candidate assessment and reduces bias for interviewers and decision makers by shifting the primary focus away from industry experience, connections, or education background and to core competencies. Harvard Business Review notes, “putting the focus on capabilities instead of direct experience allows your organization to be inclusive of varying backgrounds and perspectives in your interview process.”

Focusing on required skills empowers interviewers to evaluate a candidate’s ability to do the job for which they are interviewing. Requirements that are irrelevant to on-the-job success related to educational background, particularly when it comes to advanced degrees, can be biased against individuals who may have the core competencies and relevant professional experience but didn’t get the degree for one reason or another.

According to ERE Media, 60 percent of early talent believe evidence of technical skills is the most important aspect to make their application stand out. Yet almost four-fifths report that their main source of information about a role and company is anecdotal from the Internet. When your published job description is crystal-clear about the required skills, both candidates and interviewers can be on the proverbial same page from the beginning.

2. Build a standardized interview process

Often, the interview process can vary based on who’s conducting an interview and their personal management style. But too often, this inconsistency means candidates aren’t judged by the same interview criteria. 

Candidate advisor, Aparna Rae acknowledges standardized and structured interviews can feel awkward for both parties. “Most people don’t enjoy the robotic nature of structured interviews,” she says, “but it does level the playing field for people that are introverted, shy, neurodivergent, or those without a quick start personality”.  

Regardless of who is doing the interviewing, candidates for the same role should be asked the same set of questions and have the same skills assessment. All candidates should be scored on the same rubric, directly after each interview. Candidates should only be compared to the established criteria, and not directly to other candidates. 

Additionally, to minimize bias, multiple people should be involved in the interview assessment process, with each person responsible for assessing one or more skills. 

The more similar each candidate’s interview can be, the more likely they are to get a fair and balanced assessment of their skills and experience–instead of being abstractly judged on factors such as “likeability.”

3. Ensure inclusion is embedded in the interview process

Every employee who will be involved in recruiting or interviewing should receive specific training  on how to identify and interrupt bias in interviews. Even your company’s most skilled or experienced interviewers may have “blind spots” that negatively impact your inclusivity goals. Any and all employees who will be involved in interviewing, even as one person in an interview loop, should receive ongoing training centered on equitable practices in hiring, the history of discrimination and exclusion, and the day-day experience of employees whose identities are often undervalued, when compared to the experiences of white, cisgender, heterosexual, young, neurotypical, and abled-bodied people. 

Companies committed to inclusion, build questions to gauge candidate values, attitudes and interest towards DE&I. It’s reasonable, and important, to question candidates on their own commitment to DEI. If your company truly values DEI, it should be expressed at your core–which means it should absolutely be discussed during hiring. 

“Most hiring managers may not feel like experts in DE&I and might struggle with engaging with a candidate on a topic they aren’t confident discussing, or ones that may create tension” says Rae.

Building confidence and skills weaving DE&I throughout the interview practices takes practice. There are a variety of different questions you may pose, including asking the candidate about any previous DEI training they’ve received in the past, how they might like to contribute to keeping DEI values present at your company, and experiences they’ve had working with others who have different backgrounds than their own.