How leveraging competency-based assessments can increase the chances of successful employees.

By Brad Zomick

Often chief learning officers and chief human resource officers use traditional methods -basic completion
and quizzes and surveys -as the primary way to gauge success in analyzing a candidate’s fit when making 
hiring decisions or implementing learning initiatives. But competency-based assessments can demonstrate how the candidate functions in real-world scenarios. Outcomes include:

  • Judging a work-based product
  • Evaluating acquired skills
  • Creating a replicable tool

Showing Versus Telling

We’ve all heard the adage: show me, don’t tell me. Resumes and interviews provide a snapshot of the candidate’s potential, but do they demonstrate an employee’s actual abilities or how they’ll perform in real-life scenarios?

Traditional screening and hiring processes have
been refined and now interviewing is increasingly sophisticated. No matter how specific the questions are, the approach still “tells” instead of “shows.” Asking
a candidate to produce a piece of work -develop a short Powerpoint presentation, write code, or chair an impromptu staff meeting -gives the hiring manager a better idea of how well the candidate applies their skills in an environment with rigid deadlines.

Competency-based assessments aren’t new. In 2014,
 the U.S. Department of Education developed an “experimental site” initiative to encourage colleges
to implement this in their degree-track programs. Institutions are either offering or plan to offer these programs, reports Inside Higher Education. But the speed of development and change in today’s business world requires staff to adapt to dynamic circumstances. CLOs and CHROs are tasked with finding employees with exemplary job skills as well as the ability to think on their feet. These are the types of candidates who add value to the company.

With an increasingly competitive hiring market for tech staff, tools like Talentbuddy, Gild, and Codility enable software development managers to use competency- based assessments. In the fast-moving field of technology, simply evaluating a candidate’s work experience or technical skills won’t tell a hiring manager how well they’ve delivered a product under pressure or interacted with team members to implement a design change.

Using an assessment to screen software engineers means actual job experience and capabilities are closely simulated. A hiring manager can evaluate basic knowledge as well as productivity (are they able to do the work quickly, at a reasonable pace), critical thinking (can they problem-solve on their feet) and communications (are they able to explain their thinking process; do they ask pertinent questions).

It’s not surprising that consulting companies use a form of assessment (case interviews) to hire or contract their own staff. Their business model is built on staff who
can join a company, quickly assess problem areas, and develop strategies to produce positive change. By using these interviews to screen their own staff, the consulting company has a core group of critical thinkers who bring flexibility and creative ideas to the job.

Developing The Tools

Competency-based assessment tools are more labor- intensive than traditional methods for evaluation. After a learning curve, a CLO or CHRO who develops and implements this tool will understand it pays dividends.

While the methodology of developing and using a rubric for assessment is more rigorous and complex in the academic world, corporate requirements are used to design them to reflect company needs.

Developing a replicable rubric with stated goals -for example, a candidate writes a synopsis from a longer report on a laptop during the interview – helps with the implementation of the tool. Measurable metrics might include speed writing and the ability to understand and address the subject. This rubric measures the capabilities of candidates and can be used for all similar job roles.

For positions like software developer -which requires more than the ability to code with JavaScript -the rubric might include a short code-writing session with a current software employee. Does the candidate understand the coding instructions, are they able explain them to their work partner? Did the candidate interact well with the existing employee? Was the candidate able to add helpful information?

Whether using competency-based assessments to recruit new hires or for assessing programs for internal staff, a manager is provided a rational basis to determine the strengths of the person for the job available. A candidate can look great on paper: education, experience, awards, recommendations, and solid references. But will these translate to a motivated employee who can accept challenges, change the way they approach problem-solving, and bring excellent interpersonal skills to the table?

Metrics like engagement and satisfaction are used in evaluating corporate education. Do these have a practical outcome? Quizzes and surveys gauge an employee’s knowledge, but how does it translate to the real work world outside the training classroom?

By linking education and background learning to results, competency-based assessments help answer questions like: Is this the right person? Will they succeed? Will
they add value to our company? Competency-based assessments help CLOs pinpoint weaknesses in internal staff and help them develop learning tools to bridge the productivity gap.

Competency-based assessments -the tools to finding people who can prove their ability to do a job -help tie talent acquisition with talent development -where existing employees can learn the skills to increase their value to the company.

Brad Zomick is senior director of content strategy of

Tags: june-2015

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