Know Your Next Hire’s Core Competencies Before Going to Market

Kylie Cimmino
July 2, 2020

Finding The Right Candidate That Possesses The Core Competencies Necessary Is Not Easy

Are you familiar with the idea core competencies?  Are they clearly defined for the roles in your company?  Do you know what competencies apply to your current position?  These probably aren’t questions you have thought about, however they are important to consider when thinking about hiring for an open position.  Core competencies are the important abilities used to identify skilled individuals and organizations in comparison to others and should be a key part of the job descriptions you use in your hiring process.  

Once you’ve identified the need to hire you need to identify from where you will source your candidates. You will need to craft a job description that includes both the company core competencies and the core competencies specific to the role you are looking to fill.  Once you’ve created that job description it’s time to put it out to market.  You have some options – you can post to job sites like Indeed, Zip Recruiter, or Monster.  Maybe you look to local colleges and universities or social media sites.  You can even look into a recruiter if that better suits your organization and how it plans to hire.  

There is no one solution that fits every company or job profile, so the process may include a combination of the above to find the right people.  Explore all of your options, but understand this will not be easy and may take some time.  From wherever you choose to source your talent, a clear job description that includes the competencies specific to both the company and role should provide you with more quality candidates from which to choose?

What Are Core Competencies?

A competency is the “possession of a specific knowledge or skill.”  With that definition in mind,  core competencies would then be the most important knowledge or skills.  They are strategically integral in how organizations and individuals define themselves and set themselves apart from their competitors.  In the book Competing for the Future, C.K., Prahalad and Gary Hamel state that core competencies can be confused for “something a company is particularly good at”. In reality, core competencies are intangible resources that are linked to strategic management and setting an organization up for both current and future success.  Essentially a company should evaluate it’s needs and choose a few core competencies and strive to perfect them.  

Individuals should identify what skills are important in their field or position and begin to focus their development in those areas.  Neither a company or a single employee can be all things to all people, but by choosing where you focus, it gives you a specific area to excel.  By defining your core competencies, you are poised to stand out in a crowd and identify what is important for you, your company, and its employees as you provide a product or service and attempt to scale.  Having clearly defined core competencies for all the positions in your organization sets your company apart from competitors in your industry.

How To Determine The Core Competencies You Need in a Hire

When it comes to your organization, the question is simple – “What exactly do you do?”  Your organization most likely values and looks for competencies that are important to the organization as a whole.  Depending on your industry, you will likely identify skills within job descriptions you expect most, if not all, your employees exhibit.  

For example, if you are an accounting firm it’s important that your employees have a high level of financial acumen and an attention to detail.  If you are hiring for a daycare center, it’s important employees have patience and are resourceful.  Maybe you are a large organization and the most important skills and abilities are a bit more broad,  and you want all employees to have good verbal communication and problem solving skills.  

Once you have identified those competencies, clearly communicating them in job descriptions, company policies, and expectations create a better understanding of who you are as a company and how you require employees to interact with both internally and with external stakeholders.

Now that you’ve defined the core competencies for the business, it’s time to think about the specific roles for which you are hiring.  Each role should have different competencies that align with the focus and responsibilities for the work that needs to be completed.  

The first step is to identify the position you are hiring for.  With that in mind, ask what are the important skills and core capabilities that an individual needs to possess in order to be successful?  Is the open position entry level or more advanced?  Is the employee expected to operate autonomously or be collaborative?  Is the role administrative or does it require hands-on field work?  There are an abundance of questions to ask that will help you identify what the focus should be for each open position.  Generally thinking about what sets a great candidate apart from an okay candidate should help.  

Just because a person can do a job and is capable, it does not mean they will excel in a position.  The important thing to remember is the competencies chosen should be essential to the position and candidate’s ability to demonstrate the competencies are integral to their success, growth and promotion  within the company.

Examples of Job Roles & Core Competencies

You might be thinking that you understand the concept of core competencies and see why it is important to hire individuals who are aligned with them for your organization and its open roles.  There are a wide variety of competencies to choose from so you will want to keep your organization and the open position in mind when choosing specific competencies.

However, we have provided some general examples to provide a good starting point for discussion.

Administrative AssistantAttention to detail, flexibility, and time management.
Graphic DesignerComputer competency, creative thinking, and communication proficiency. 
LawyerAnalytical ability, persuasiveness, and logical reasoning.
General ManagerAbility to delegate, create effective teams, and motivate others.
CEOFinancial acumen, encourages initiative, and analytical ability.

These examples are not the be all and end all.  They demonstrate that the core competencies are directly connected to the needs and job responsibilities of the role within a business.  They are not just what someone needs to be good at, but skills and abilities that are performed at a high level, providing the organization the competitive advantage over its competitors.

How To Test For Core Competencies

Core competencies cannot be clearly identified through a multiple choice quiz given to candidates.  Depending on the competency, there are different ways to test for the individual’s level of skill and ability. Identifying someone’s competencies is done through work examples, assessments, and conversation.  An example of a candidate’s work product or deliverables can be indicative of their attention to detail, financial acumen, communication skills, or writing ability.  Assessing someone’s ability to work in a specific software can demonstrate someone’s specific skill level and their ability to troubleshoot and develop solutions within the technology.  

Abstract competencies should be assessed via conversation.  As part of the behavioral interview process, asking a candidate to give real-life examples of past behaviors, situations, and skills they have exemplified allows you a look into their competencies with actual proof of application.  

While someone may not be at the highest measure of a competency it does not mean they are not capable of reaching higher levels.  It’s important that while assessing someone’s core capabilities you also analyze their potential to develop those abilities further.  If someone has not had much practical experience or opportunity to grow their skills, you should not automatically discount them.   If you are willing to put the time and effort into a candidate’s professional development, you can mold someone’s basic competencies into the perfect fit for your organization. Intentional training, performance management and skill development may turn that candidate into a stellar employee.

Hiring is a daunting task for any organization and making a mishire is expensive.  However, by allowing core competencies to influence your recruiting process, your company should be set up to more effectively evaluate a candidate’s skills and abilities and their alignment with organizational needs.  Core competencies should not be the only tools you utilize, but are an integral part of business strategy and proper hiring processes for a company to be successful.  

If you are looking to identify the core competencies specific roles in your organization, reach out to us at Red Clover.  We’d love to have one of our SHRM-certified consultants work with you to help set your company up for success. 

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