The Power of Competency-Based Interviews

As a Hiring Manager, do you rely on your gut instincts or make use of competency-based interviews when hiring a candidate? To some people, instincts are the best indicators of recruitment success. When you tap on your instincts, it does bring in some advantages as it reduces your mental resources while you make a faster judgement about the candidate. However, it should be noted that such judgement should not be used as the basis for hiring decisions. Instincts are prone to biases and will most likely result in a wrong hire! Worst still you can’t tell your boss or peers that hiring was based on your instincts, as it means there is no systematic process of decision making across the organisation! On the other hand, competency-based interviews can prevent unconscious biasness and help you see beyond candidates who are just verbally expressive. 

The cost impact of an inaccurate hiring decision is far higher than most people expect let alone a series of wrong hires. There are many direct and indirect costs involved. The direct costs would be the training costs and salary costs while the indirect costs would be the loss of morale, poor productivity in the team, and the list goes on. Studies have shown, the cost of a wrong hire is actually 7 times the average salary!

At Citadel Search, we’ve used a proven Headhunting 7-Step Methodology, which places a considerable amount of emphasis on ascertaining the DNA of the mandate, employing competency-based interview techniques and market mapping that has seen us place over 1000 candidates across more than 380 employers in Singapore and the region.

How To Run Competency Based Interviews?

Competency-based interviews are designed to test one or more competencies based on a candidate’s past experiences. It is different from normal interview questions where the commonly asked questions are “tell me a weakness about yourself” or hypothetical questions such as “what do you want to be in 10 years’ time”. Oftentimes, such questions only warrant hypothetical answer depending on how persuasive the candidate can be, he could lead you to cloud nine and there is no way to validate what he said since it is open, subjective situation susceptible to interviewer biases and stereotypes.
In a competency-based interview, we are focusing on specific evidence of behaviour as we strongly believe that past behaviour generally predicts future behaviour. Hence we are looking for specific evidence in the candidates’ recent past, and if he had demonstrated the required behaviour/skill before. This style of interviewing ensures that we are highly effective and hiring the right candidate that matches the needs of the job.

What Is Competency Based Interview?

Firstly, identify the competencies that you will want the candidate to have in this role. Different roles will require different types of competencies. Refer to the job description and check with the job content experts (JCE) who are currently in the role to determine if the competencies are essential or good to have in the role. These are not JCEs on the extreme ends of the spectrum, meaning only the high performers or low performers, they are the middle of the bell curve. This determines the key competencies that are the must-haves on the job.

Next, the top performer group of JCEs, can then be capitalised to identify unique and differentiating competencies. But these are what we call the good to-have competencies, hence if the candidate possesses these competencies, that will be ideal.

Secondly, prepare quality competency-based interview questions by asking questions that seek their past behaviours. Be clear of what behaviours you are looking for and avoid asking for opinions, views, or leading questions that may prompt candidates or hypothetical questions that may inaccurately assess the ability of a candidate. Hypothetical questions generally are hypothetical in nature, what are the chances of it happening in the actual job context? If it is a low probability, why are you asking these questions?


Most of the time, candidates will not give full answers as they tend to miss out on certain details. Therefore, as Hiring Manager or Talent Acquisition Partner, you must not end after asking a competency-based interview question, instead continue to ask probing questions.

Examples of Competency Based Interview Question

An Example of a Competency-Based Interview Question:

“Give me an example of how you made a difficult decision when you had insufficient information In your last company.”

(Competency: Decision Making)

Assessment Centres For Competency Assessment

Alternatively, assessment centres can do a perfect job in assisting your hiring process. The assessment centre consists of interviews, tasks, and assessment exercises to accurately test a candidate’s suitability for the job. There may be case studies, group discussions, presentations, psychometric tests or even role-play involved. The assessor will then observe first-hand on how the candidates behave and score them against competency framework.

Assessment centres are often the final stage of the selection process and have the highest probability of success of choosing the right candidate due to the stringent hiring process if the design is right. It is particularly efficient for hiring managers who want to differentiate candidates who have similar skills and experience in their CVs. However, the biggest limitation would be the high costs involved as the expense of conducting an assessment centre is relatively higher.

Citadel Search also works with Organisation Psychologists to run competency based Assessment Centres, which are tailored to specific roles and organisations. If you would like to use these assessment tools for talent development and succession planning, speak with us or write to us.

Citadel Search’s Competency Based Approach Will Ease Your Hiring Process

After reading this article, we hope you are convinced that instincts should not be used as the basis of hiring. Getting the right employees on board maximises productivity at work and reduces the need to rehire again and again like an endless cycle. It can sure be annoying when a new hire whom you trained leaves the company after a few months due to a job misfit. Imagine the time and effort spent on the new hire just to let them go. Therefore, Hiring Managers need strategic hiring processes like the competency-based interview and assessment centre to weed out candidates who are not a good fit and yield you the most ideal candidate for the role. These methods can paint a clearer picture of whether a particular candidate has the relevant competencies to fit the needs of the job. Remember there is no perfect candidate, only ideal ones.

At Citadel Search, we recognise talents that are the competitive edge of outstanding organisations. We are constantly in touch with our clients to understand the core competencies they are looking out for in their organization and role. Partnering with Citadel Search reduces costs and saves time for your company and most importantly get you the talent in the door and keep them! Time can be better allocated to performing other business functions, which will then improve productivity and enhance efficiency in this VUCA environment and reduce regrettable attrition. We can speed up the job fill with our existing network without compromising on the quality of the candidates.

Our article Good Interview Techniques That Work reveals some of the job interviews that not only made candidates all tensed up, but also was not effective in finding you your ideal candidate.


For companies who are looking for effective ways of assessing candidates, take a look at our Candidate Assessment Tools. If you are interested in engaging us as your recruitment partner, do check out our Executive Search Serviceor if you would like to train your hiring managers in Competency Based Interviewing Skills, contact us to have a chat.

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