Monthly Archives: June 2017

References, people skills and the competence-based interview

This is not really technology-based, more some observations about trends in recruitment procedures (something which I’ve been exposed to a lot of in the last few years).

I’ve been told by people on the other side of the process that some recruiters only take up references for successful candidates, to check that they have not made false claims about themselves, and that this is because references were becoming too hyperbolic in praise of candidates and hence less useful. Along with this is a rise in the ‘competence-based interview’ where the shortlisted candidate is asked to give examples of how they’ve behaved in particular work situations in the past, and to explain how they might behave in a particular hypothetical situation. In my experience this approach is particularly aimed at assessing ‘people skills’. These two trends seem to me to be connected, with the competence-based questions designed to find out about personal qualities which a referee might have drawn attention to, although I’m not sure which trend might have driven the other.

This approach seems to me to miss some important things. Firstly, there are some useful skills which will simply be missed by it. For example, the possibly vital one of remembering a trivial-seeming piece of information and then being able to apply it some time later, e.g. to introduce two people with something significant in common to one another. This is the sort of thing a referee might comment on, but which is impossible to test in a job interview.

Secondly, even a question about the candidate’s experience of dealing with failure is not necessarily going to find their really weak points. What people say they would do and the way they actually behave are two different things. In fact many people are not necessarily aware of major blunders they have made in their job, especially in the area of people skills. If you were asked about managing a team, or dealing with a member of staff whose job title had changed, you’d probably go on about the importance of meetings, and about keeping that member of staff informed of the change. And yet things don’t always happen that way, as I’ve remarked before.

Actually this shows up a problem with references generally: that they are written by one’s superiors. I wonder if a better picture would be given for those applying for management posts if one reference came from someone who had been line-managed by the candidate. The referee would be chosen by someone in the department/group other than the candidate. I think if people knew that this would happen when they applied for another job, people skills all round might improve enormously!