Notes from Lucinda

Five best practices to hire for competencies (not experience)

Lucinda Duncalfe, Founder & CEO of AboveBoard
Lucinda Duncalfe, Founder & CEO of AboveBoard | Mar 15, 2022

It's time to make hiring for competencies the standard.

Attending an elite university, working at a “hot” company, or knowing the CEO doesn’t make a candidate the best person for the job. A great company is built by people who have the specific skills you need.

I’ve seen it myself when I’ve built companies. If a candidate worked at a successful company, that doesn’t mean they did good work there. If someone went to a state school, that doesn’t mean they’re not as smart. Limiting your search to candidates who have “prestigious” backgrounds can exclude exceptional candidates with core competencies, attributes, and track records of success that are exactly what the company needs. 

As Portia Raphael, Senior Director of Onsite Talent Center of Excellence at Insight Partners said in our recent CxO Session, "Let's really think about the roles that you're hiring for and where we can get those skill sets from. This person doesn't have to be a carbon copy of every other leader on your team."

When you use competencies instead of background to fill a position, you:

  • Assess a candidate's quality more accurately 
  • Broaden your candidate pool
  • Attract a diversity of perspectives that include, but aren’t limited to, demographic diversity
  • Stop hiring people who are like you
  • Are more likely to hire the most thoroughly qualified person for the job

It’s good for the company and for the candidates. 

Wondering how to do it? 

Try these five best practices to hire for competencies (not experience).

Design a consistent, cohesive hiring strategy 

Before you begin the process, decide how you’re going to source, vet, interview, and close in a way that ensures consistency, fairness, and diversity. Then determine how you want to position and communicate about the hiring process. The whole team needs to understand and be able to articulate how skills and competencies are the backbone of the process and your brand’s position.

Make an unquantified commitment to see a diverse slate of candidates 

Do not create your version of the Rooney Rule where you decide you need x number of this demographic and x number of that demographic. You’ll end up trying to put square pegs into round holes to make the numbers work. It’s disrespectful to the candidates and counterproductive to the company. Commit to a strategy that will naturally result in a diverse slate.

Create a structured interview process with consistent questions and a consistent panel

Take your job description and translate it into key competencies. Then, prioritize them. You’re going to want to say that all of the skills are important, but you’re never going to find that person. You have to prioritize. Now build your questions around the competencies and ask each candidate every question. The result: you’ve created a scorecard rubric that allows each candidate to be compared by the same competencies.

Rethink the “fit test”

Especially at the executive level, there’s often a fit test as part of the screening process that assesses how comfortably a person will fit into the team. It can include things like golfing, boating, skiing, or having a spousal dinner with the CEO. What if the candidate doesn’t golf, boat, or ski? What if they don’t want to share their intimate partner, or partnership status? If a fit test is needed as part of the hiring process, pick a more neutral activity. Get a coffee. Have a meal (without their partner). Go for a walk. Or even invite them to a team meeting.

Train your team how to talk to a full diversity of candidates

If you were hiring for a startup and were talking with a candidate who had only worked at large companies, you’d bring it up, right? Similarly, if you’re interviewing a woman or BIPOC candidate to join a company with very few, or no other women or BIPOC team members, you need to talk with them about it. 

The best indicator a candidate has for whether they should want to work at your company is the current team. Great people want to work with great people. If you're at the beginning of your diversity journey, they will notice the lack of others who look like them, so be prepared to address your DEI goals. The second best indicator is the conversations they have during the hiring process. Your team needs to be comfortable with their potential teammates, which means that they have to know how to talk about DEI topics with candidates. Talking about how to talk about diversity in the recruiting process is a great first step in preparing the team to perform at new levels. 

When you’re filling a position, you don’t need someone who went to a Top 10 school. You need someone who knows how to do A, B, and C. When you look for the actual skills you need the most and assess people in a consistent way for A, B, and C competencies, you open the pool to a diversity of candidates and will hire a person who is truly best qualified for the job.

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Lucinda Duncalfe, Founder & CEO of AboveBoard
Lucinda Duncalfe, Founder & CEO of AboveBoard

Serial entrepreneur, Founder/CEO of AboveBoard, an inclusive platform for executive search

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