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Hiring Success Based on Skill-Based Interviewing

All of us have either been through an interview or have conducted one. If it was a good interview, the interviewer used open-ended questions, specifically behavioral and situational questions. Questions should require a candidate to explain how they have reacted in the past to certain situations and how they would react in the future to common situations that may occur in the jobs we are looking to fill.
Situational and behavioral questions in an interview have their limitations though. As interviewers, we rely on what the candidate tells us, which may not correspond to what they are actually capable of. The only way to really determine if a candidate is capable of performing the job is to actually put them in a specific situation and see what the results are. Unfortunately, hiring every candidate to see how they perform is neither practical nor cost-effective. Skill-based interviewing is a method of interviewing that can give us much of the same results.
Skill-based interviewing is quite simply requiring a candidate to perform a task essential to the job they are applying for in order to show they are capable. Create a series of “tests” that a candidate must pass in order to prove they have the skills they have stated on their application or resume or earlier in the interview process.
Before developing skill-based interviewing of your own, be aware of two areas of concern. First, you cannot develop the interview in such a way that it is discriminatory. For example, if you require that porters be able to lift 30 lbs repeatedly, you cannot raise the limit to 60 lbs in order to keep women from getting the position.
Second, you cannot require a candidate to perform a task that provides a service to the company. If you want to see if a technician candidate can change the oil in a car, you cannot have them perform it on a customer’s vehicle. This would be a service provided to the company and would be compensable by law.
With these two factors in mind, you can easily develop skill-based interviewing of your own. To do so you must first determine what the “key skills” of the position you are looking to fill are. Key skills are two or three specific skills necessary to succeed at the job. To better describe this concept and illustrate the development of skill-based interviewing, we will use a sales position as an example.
For the sake of discussion, let’s say that when examining a sales position at your dealership, we discover that your best salespeople are good at making cold calls and good at “selling” the features of the vehicles. You need to determine if your candidates possess these traits and therefore design your interview around these skills.
For the first skill, making cold calls, provide the candidate with a sample script of how to perform cold calls at your dealership. It would describe the overall method and what you seek to get out of the call, ideally contact information and setting an appointment. After they have a few minutes to review it, you would dial a number at the telephone close at hand, pass it to the candidate and have them perform a cold call, repeating this another time or two while observing the employee. The person they would be calling of course would not be an actually potential customer but rather someone else, preferable a manager, within your company with whom you could compare impressions with afterwards.
If the candidate has no previous sales experience, this could be very challenging for them and it is likely they will not be very good at it. Even if they fail, you will have learned how they handle difficult situations and how adaptable they are, two very vital attributes in a sales environment. Those with prior sales experience should be able to easily perform this, especially if they have already stated they could. If not, you know they are not presenting themselves truthfully.
The second skill, selling the product, is one that I have checked for on many occasions. I have found it to be very effective to ask the candidate to show me to their own vehicle and then proceed to sell its features to me. Their knowledge of their car would be similar to, if not better than, that of an experienced salesperson who has studied the cars on your lot. The car itself doesn’t matter; it’s their ability to present it to us that is under consideration.
If they can highlight its features, probing for what I’m interested in while guiding a conversation to gauge my response to it, then they are likely to be capable of doing it with customers after some training. If they cannot describe their own car when asked, then I’ll find it doubtful they could on the dozens of varieties on our lot.
These are just two quick examples to show how simple skill-based interviewing can be. The same type of process could apply to any position. If you need an administrative assistant who is familiar with Microsoft Excel, then create a sample spreadsheet and ask the candidate to manipulate it while you observe. If you need a technician with transmission experience, take them to a car and have them walk you through each step in replacing a transmission including pointing out each part involved. If you need a lot attendant capable of driving a manual transmission, require them to do so in front of you.
By not relying on their descriptions of their abilities, but rather on actual results in performing these key skills you will have a much more realistic view of their capabilities in the job. Used in conjunction with situational and behavioral based questioning and reference checking, skill-based interviewing will likely find those candidates that are better qualified than you would have without it. Skill-based interviewing may require more preparation and more time to administer, but the results will speak for themselves.
Volume 3, Issue 1


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