There are some terms you only hear stated in the negative—unkempt and unwitting come to mind, as does gross incompetence. That's unfortunate—or at least inconvenient—because in many ways the best candidate for most jobs is the one who demonstrates "gross competence" in all five of what are known as the primary workplace competencies. (See "LaborPool, DC VELOCITY, July 2003, page 43, for descriptions of the five primary competencies.)
But determining candidates' competencies in these broad areas is not as easy as grilling them about their familiarity with Excel or MS Office. To get an idea of someone's competencies, you have to put a lot of thought into your questioning process—both what you'll ask and how you'll ask it. What follows are some examples of ways to test for the five competencies.
1. Resourcefulness and problem solving skills: Everyone on your staff—from forklift operators to the vice president of distribution—must solve problems. To find out how adept a candidate is at problem solving, you can use "situational" questioning. That is, when interviewing candidates, relate a story that centers on a difficult workplace situation and ask them what they would do. Be sure to use open-ended questions, those requiring more than a one-or two-word answer. Look for candidates who exhibit the ability to think for themselves without over stepping the boundaries of their position.
2. Personal systems (the ability to multi-task and manage time effectively): You can use situational questioning here, or you can buy software designed to analyze personal skills and pinpoint talent gaps. You may find that some of the available software applications fit your requirements with no adaptation. But if not, customized programs are available as well.
3. Interpersonal skills and fit with the organization's culture: Obviously, to determine if a candidate will fit in, the hiring managers must have a good grasp of the organization's culture. Is it conservative or liberal? Buttoned-down or casual? Cooperative or competitive? One of the best ways to evaluate whether a candidate will fit in is to take him or her to lunch along with some key people from various departments. Use the meal to observe not only the interactions between the staff members and the candidate, but the candidate's reaction to the others' behaviors. Facial expressions, the candidate's participation in the conversation and body language will all provide insight.
4. Systems expertise (the ability to acquire, evaluate, interpret and deliver information effectively): The interview itself is a wonderful test of a candidate's ability to handle information systems because an interview is an information system in and of itself. The candidate's first priority is to deliver information about his or her abilities and experiences to get you to offer him or her a job. But the interviewer should also pay attention to the questions the candidate asks and the way the candidate manipulates the conversation's flow. For instance, if a candidate asks no questions at all, it could indicate a lack of ability or interest in acquiring information. That should tell you something about this candidate's systems expertise.
5. Technological stamina (the ability to learn new software applications): Again, the computer can do this for you. Basic software training courses are available online and on CD ROM. In as little as 20 minutes, the candidate can take a pre-test, go through computerized training and complete a post-test to determine how well he or she absorbed the information. Remember, you don't need to know everything; you just need an indication of the candidate's willingness and ability to keep up with the times.