Using competency based interviews when hiring engineering talent
Adam Walker, director at Redline Group
In the UK, it’s estimated the engineering and high-tech industry will need 1.8 million new engineers by 2025 which has led to an ever-greater demand for engineering skills, especially with the right technical persona. However, with demand at its highest, hiring managers should consider looking beyond purely technical and design capabilities in order to secure the right candidate to join their organisation.
A competency based interview (CBI) can provide employers with a detailed insight into how an engineer may perform any given task and whether they’ve got the experience and skills required for a specific job role and/or environment.
As engineering covers such a broad term, often being used to describe a plethora of technical biased individuals with a range of skills covering design, science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), when it comes to competency-based interviews, there is a lot more that can be explored in order to identify the ‘right’ candidate.
With 46% of engineering employers reporting recruitment difficulties in 2017, and with the market expected to tighten even further in 2019, employers should seek to develop the recruitment process and enhance the hiring decision making. A ‘bad hire’ at mid-manager level could end up costing organisations more than £132,000.
Competency-based assessment is not as commonly used in the engineering and technology sector for selection purposes, however, it’s one of the most effective tools that can be applied during the candidate screening process to predict performance enablers and help an organisation manage talent and articulate a unified, scientifically valid understanding of a high potential talent pool.
According to the CIPD, competency-based interviews (CBI) were the most popular method of selection with 80% of employers expressing success using this methodology.
A competency-based interview places an emphasis on an engineer’s past situational or behavioural experience. Suppose you are trying to judge if an engineer has potential leadership skills, especially if the engineer can eloquently express their skills in this area. As a hiring manager, you should ask questions like: “Tell me about a time where you were faced with ensuring your team completed multiple project deadlines. What did you do and how did it turn out?” or “Tell me when you had to manage or resolve a conflict between two or more co-workers?” … “How serious was the conflict?” or “Tell me about a project you feel you planned for your team successfully?” … “What made it a success?”
The benefits of adding a competency-based assessment during the interview process range from eliminating bias in the hiring process to decreased employee turnover rates. Competency based recruitment and selection systems often empower hiring managers with additional information to make smarter hiring decisions. The selection process concentrates on the commitment to bringing clarity in selection and recruitment procedures. The competency-based approach negates gut feelings from any party involved in the recruitment or interview process as the selection procedure is governed by objective analysis.
Some of the benefits of using competency based interviews when hiring engineers:
- Hire engineers who ‘best fit’ the organisation culture
- Create a consistent hiring process
- CBI can be applied to other job roles within the business i.e. sales / marketing / HR
- Ability to measure the effectiveness of the interview and selection process
- Measure return on investment
- Improve staff retention
- Eliminate bias and increase diversity
- Improve team dynamic
- Experience more predictable outcomes
What competencies could you seek in engineering talent?
Every high-tech employer seeks engineering talent whose expertise lies in their chosen technical discipline, but other skills and competencies can be just as important, such as communication, organisational and interpersonal skills, innovative thinking, problem-solving etc. A potential engineering candidate must be able to draw upon real situations and examples to highlight those skills. e.g. Communication – may be critical to work with internationally based research & development teams or to work between cross-functional teams.
Skills that will usually be important to display in an interview for roles in the engineering field include:
- Ability to work in a team - Providing examples of a strong team ethic will be very helpful here since collaborative work is key in most engineering roles.
- Organisational ability - The ability to meet project deadlines whilst delivering a right-first-time design can be key to winning market share.
- Methodical approach - Costly mistakes are minimised when engineers approach projects with comprehensive planning skills. Short and long-term planning expertise is often vital.
- Problem-solving skills - Engineering is, of course, all about problem-solving. This vital skill and should be demonstrated in previous projects.
Often technical orientated decision makers focus entirely on technical tests and related criteria when making a hiring decision. Utilising competency-based assessment is arguably one of the most popular talent acquisition processes where the four pillars of success of any applicant – ability, skill, potential, and performance are judged on the same page.
A talent management mechanism that speaks a coherent language and can identify a talent pool who demonstrates winning behaviours which deliver on business goals every time becomes an unbeatable competitive advantage for any organisation and more high-tech businesses should ideally adopt some of these processes when hiring talent.
Redline’s research document ‘Competency Based Interviews for Engineers’ builds on the training course we have been running for many years, assisting engineering decision-makers to develop a broader framework of technical skills and softer competencies when undertaking an interview and hiring process.
Our aim is to highlight the benefits and assist the reader to think about ‘competencies’ and how they may be used to save organisations money by focusing their time with candidates that meet the benchmark on the competencies needed for success in the job whilst leveraging their recruiting talent in other ways.
How much time and resources could an organisation save if they knew ahead of time that the candidates weren’t the fit? Or how much more investment could be made in an individual via training, technical development etc. who today may not have all the technical skills but has the competencies to grow within an organisation. What separates top performers from everyone else in engineering and technical job roles are the competencies they possess and use to achieve great results.
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