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Employers, Look to Behavioral Competencies When Hiring

by Eric Baker
on 2016-07-12

Though there’s little indication that long-term, repetitive experience in a given role equates to strong performance in a similar role at a different organization, many companies continue to disregard intrinsic motivation and diversity of experience as factors in improving individual and team results.

Of course, certain skills require time to develop. In an era of declining workforce participation, however, it might benefit some organizations to look beyond standard hiring practices and consider putting less weight on experience and more weight on behavioral competencies. An investment in training high-potential, raw employees pays far higher dividends for your company than letting a so-so performer tread water indefinitely.

Last month, the President’s Council of Economic Advisers published this report showing a 60-year decline in male workforce participation in the United States, leading to a participation rate lower than that of nearly every other developed nation. According to Bloomberg, as many as one fifth of American adults between age 25 and 54 are “sitting on the sidelines,” despite expressing a desire to work.

A multitude of complex factors are involved that fall beyond the scope of a blog post, but some key conditions driving the downward trend are automation, globalization, lack of experience/education for in-demand positions, and the way the U.S. labor market is structured.

Automation technology is not going away, nor is increased globalization. Employers, on the other hand, may discover that not getting hung up on “5-7 years’ experience” could expand their talent-development options considerably.

Imagine you have two candidates for a corporate Project Manager role, but instead of looking at resumes, you must rely on a report of their respective behavioral competencies. Candidate A scored highly in Planning and Priority SettingInformation Seeking, and Quality Focus, behavioral competencies research has proven important in effective project management. Meanwhile, Candidate B’s results suggest critical limitations in those areas. With nothing else to go on, you would likely choose Candidate A. Who wants to spend half the day chasing the new PM around fixing mistakes and becoming frustrated at the disorganization?

In a reverse scenario, you must rely on resumes and don’t have access to behavioral competencies. Candidate A only has 2 years supervising a retail warehouse, while Candidate B has worked as a project manager in your specific industry for 8 years. You might dismiss the first candidate out of hand for lack of experience, thus missing out on the superior long-term performer.

This second scenario is the norm and plays out every day in the business world.

Long-term experience may not be that significant when you consider how many employees do just enough to get by or who are carried along by the effectiveness of others. At Caliper, we often have conversations with our clients about “experienced” managers who are ineffective but stay afloat thanks to the strong supervisors and foremen below them.

By changing focus from experience to behavioral competencies, employers aren’t going to singlehandedly improve workforce participation in a statistically significant way, but a philosophical shift might help move the needle in a positive direction and, at the same time, provide wider access to high-potential talent.