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Competency-Based Hiring: The Secret to Stronger Leadership

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At a time when the future of an organisation often depends on having the right people at the forefront, competency-based hiring is the solution to appointing leaders who will guide a business to success.

While traditional recruitment approaches are often focused on having the right experience, skills and qualifications, success in today’s business landscape is just as much about behaviours, mindsets and culture.

Competencies are the combined attributes, mentalities, capabilities and knowledge that constitute effective leadership, and by prioritising these during the hiring and executive search process, organisations can better identify and develop their leaders.

To help you secure the best possible people to head your business, here is my advice for developing a competency-based hiring model that supports a more robust leadership recruitment process. 

Identifying a Leadership Competency Profile

The first step in adopting a competency-based recruitment framework is to determine the competencies required for a given position. Generally, these core competencies can be divided into role-specific competencies – those that contribute to success in the relevant leadership position (such as work style) – and organisational competencies – those that influence how a person will fit into the wider business (such as risk tolerance or their approach to people management).

In addition to identifying the key competencies required, you also need to assess how important each one is to the role, as this will help you give sufficient weight to the various capabilities when selecting candidates.

I recommend creating a competency “profile” for every leadership vacancy, mapping out the key capabilities necessary for a candidate to perform the job successfully. Obviously, the requirements of every role and organisation are unique, but there are some key competencies that many high-level leadership positions share.

Examples of Common Leadership Competencies

Remember, there are no tailor-made candidates, but by using your competency profile to guide your hiring process, you can find a leader that best fits the needs of your business.

Leadership Competencies in Times of Crisis

Although some competencies are essential to the majority of leadership roles (for example, relationship building and communication), business trends and environmental factors should also influence how organisations develop and define key leadership attributes.

For leaders managing leaders, the events of 2020 have highlighted the importance of adopting appropriate strategies to handle crisis situations and a shifting economic climate. As Registered Organisational Psychologist Megan Jenkins pointed out in one of our recent webinars, effectively leading people through change is about being flexible in your approach to provide them with the support they need. By adapting which leadership competencies are prioritised in times of crisis, organisations can better respond to unpredictable situations, assess the merits of possible actions and minimise the adverse impact on stakeholders.

Megan Jenkins highlighted several key competencies that allow leaders to successfully navigate change, helping them take suitable steps to address challenges, while simultaneously building trust in their commitment to acting in the best interests of the people they lead. 

5 Competencies of Change Leadership

Leveraging Competency-Based Strategies to Hire Better Leaders

Once you have determined the competencies for a given role, you can use this information to inform all subsequent stages of your recruitment process. Implementing a competency-based hiring model begins with the job description, which should focus specifically on the capabilities the successful candidate should have, not just technical abilities or qualifications. During the selection process, use this profile to compare the competencies each candidate possesses and where they might need further development – this will allow you to make more informed decisions about hiring (as well as promotion and building a leadership pipeline).

These core competencies should also drive the interviewing stage, providing a relevant and structured framework with which to assess candidates. I suggest utilising competency-based interview questions, which require candidates to describe past scenarios in which they demonstrated specific competencies. After all, past behaviour is often a good indicator of future performance.

Examples of Competency-Based Interview Questions

As well as screening and interviewing, leadership competencies should serve as a guide when conducting reference checks, setting goals, and ultimately making decisions about future promotion and development. Keep in mind that if you’re working with a recruiter, it’s important to communicate the core competencies that are important to the role early on to keep hiring activity aligned and provide them with any information that will help them find you the best candidate.

Closing Thoughts

While adopting a competency-based hiring model requires an investment of time and effort up front, it’s the secret to hiring better leaders that will give your organisation a competitive edge in a challenging market.

​To confidentially discuss an upcoming executive appointment or to learn more about how our Executive Search and Executive Recruitment services could be utilised by your organisation, contact us today.


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