What Should You Look for in a Hire?

Competencies have become the building blocks to determining success in an open role. When you identify competencies that are required for success in critical roles within your organization, you create a higher likelihood of job fit and success. Additionally, the chances of retaining that employee, due to their increased fit to the role increases and you are able to create a more structured and targeted approach to making selection decisions.

But how do HR professionals go about determining the competencies that will yield success in a given role? The answer to this question varies based on the position you are hiring for. It is not one-size fits all, and they are very dependent on the job. The technical components of the role must be considered, as well as the level of the role within the organization. Utilizing a methodical process can help you to arrive at the correct competencies to look for with each new hire.

Based on research by Caliper, the assessment and talent development company I work with, we have come up with some tips that HR professionals should seriously consider when trying to build a model for success for open roles:

1. Understand the current state of the position you are hiring for

It is important to have a thorough understanding of the role’s daily responsibilities and outcomes. Do this by reviewing job descriptions (and ensuring they are up-to-date) as well as asking incumbents to explain their responsibilities and daily tasks in detail. As a result, you may find, for example, that the HR leader in your organization is responsible for strategic oversight of succession planning as well as organizational change management. Some key competencies when hiring for a role such as this could include Strategic Thinking and Leading Change. If a candidate seems to have experience or potential in these areas, among other relevant competencies, they may be worth pursuing.

2. Identify any potential changes in the role in the next 1-3 years

It is important to think about how the particular role supports the strategy and future plans of your organization. Is anything changing in the industry that will lead to changes in this role? What will people have to do in this role for the organization to remain competitive? This is critical to consider as you identify competencies for a new hire so that you can incorporate future-thinking competencies into hiring decisions and build a team that can support company growth and success.

3. Focus on hiring for the “must-haves” but also consider “nice-to-haves”

Competencies for selection should focus on the most important aspects of the job, but hiring managers should also take note of the competencies that would be “nice to have” or that you would be willing to spend time developing in your new hires.

For example, in a sales role, a must-have would likely be the competency of “influence” and “persuasion.” If a potential new hire shows a strong motivation to persuade (whether through experience or through the results indicated in a personality workplace assessment), they may be a good fit. However, you may have concerns about their time management skills. Is this an area that you can develop in a new hire? Are there systems that could help support them in time management? If so, this does not have to be a deal-breaker in a hiring decision.

Along these lines, it is also important to look for a well-rounded set of competencies. Similarly, when hiring for a service role, you would expect a heavy dose of service-related competencies such as “customer focus” and “communication.” However, a service role is likely to also require an amount of “composure” and “resiliency” when faced with difficult customer situations. All aspects of the role should be included to create a complete and well-rounded set of competencies for a new hire, with a distinction between the key differentiating competencies and the ones that can be developed over time.

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4. Always act in accordance with legal employee selection guidelines

It can be easy to fall into a habit of selecting people based on your “favorite” competencies. Hiring someone with a strong ability to persuade people may seem like an appealing quality. However, it’s important to remember to focus on the competencies that are job-related and key differentiators between success and failure in the role. This will ensure that you are both hiring the best people for the role as well as protecting your organization from a legal perspective. Just because someone shows potential in a certain competency area, does not always mean it’s important for the role they are being considered for.

As an example, an individual may demonstrate high detail orientation and quality focus. If that person is being considered for a leadership role, would those be key competencies? It could, in many cases, be a detractor of success if a leader gets too much into the weeds. Someone with high quality focus would be better suited for an analyst or technical role.

Hiring decisions should only be based off of competencies that are job-related, and if a competency is not related to the job, one’s potential or performance on that competency should not factor into the hiring decision.

5. Consider the current business environment

While selecting for competencies based on the technical aspects and requirements of the role is the primary focus, we see some common themes that contribute to a successful new hire regardless of position or level within the organization. Some examples are the competencies of “adaptability” and “continuous learning.” In today’s ever-changing and fast-paced business environment, we find that those who are open to change and willing to adjust their behaviors and ways of thinking perform the best in their roles. As technology and business processes change, those who succeed are the ones who take responsibility for learning the new knowledge and skills necessary to maintain high performance.

Once you identify the target competencies for your new hire, you now have a model that you can constantly revisit during hiring – thus streamlining your HR process. And implementing a scientifically validated workplace assessment will give you insights into whether the individuals you’re considering for the role fit that model. Only then will you truly be able to hire and retain the best people for your organization – and look like an HR superhero.

Tara Gullans is an Industrial/Organizational Psychology Consultant with nearly 10 years of research and consulting experience. In her role, she partners with clients to understand their needs and provide recommendations and custom solutions. Her projects have focused on job analysis, competency modeling, structured interview guides, survey design, and statistical analysis. In addition, Ms. Gullans conducts research on Caliper products as well as topics such as leadership and personality. She was awarded a B.A. in Psychology with a Statistics minor from The College of New Jersey and an M.A. in Industrial/Organizational Psychology from Montclair State University. She is also a member of the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology (SIOP).

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