Competency based interviews – Pros and Cons

January 4, 2019

There are methods and styles in which law firms choose to interview candidates, each with its pros and cons. CapeClarke legal recruitment are seeing a number of law firms electing to use the “competency-based interviews” in their interview process.

Examples of this particular line of questioning are “when was the last time you had to think on your feet” “give me an example of a time that you experienced conflict in the workplace and how you handled this situation”.

The question a lot of firms are asking themselves seems to be, in the present era, is this the best method of finding out the true potential of the candidate sat opposite you? This blog highlights some pros and cons associated with competency based interviews to help you decide whether or not this is the right method for you.

Pros of competency based interviews:

Perhaps the most prominent reason we chose competency based interviews is the fact that it is a ‘safe bet’. It is a very easy way to interview candidates in a PC and non-discriminatory way prompting a range of automated answers likely prepared pre-interview on the assumption that this format would have been employed.

Candidates who prepare for and follow the competency style will (in theory) be able to give you almost a live view into the candidates particular skillsets, achievements and experience as it helps use situations and particular scenarios to paint a more vivid picture for the interviewer to assess synergies which would help decipher if they are suitable or indeed qualified for the role on offer. Another added bonus is you are more likely to avoid any vacant, blank-faced expressions, having asked something they prepared for rather than asking an off the cuff question to throw them off!

Cons of competency based questions:

Do interviewers want to make it easy for candidates? To contradict the above point regarding avoiding off the cuff questions, it may actually be beneficial to ask questions that would prompt thinking on the spot. Competency questions don’t necessarily allow  candidates to illustrate and show their abilities to think on their feet. As such, firms may wish to formulate an interview that would incorporate a number of questions that cannot be prepared for, to test and challenge them in a pressured situation.

CapeClarke are noticing a trend, particularly in the legal market across our Leeds and Manchester offices, that law firms are competing with each other to attract top talent. This does throw up the obvious question, what constitutes top talent in the candidate space? And how do we assess this? An argument against competency based questioning is that it doesn’t look beyond past behaviour. This cannot accurately predict how the candidate will perform in the role as well as a strengths/attributes based interviews tend to highlight. Firms need to be conscious that although some candidate may have limited experience in a particular field, they may demonstrate a number of desirable qualities that would actually be better in the long-term for your team/department.

It would be impractical to think that there is a one-size fits all interview method as each individual is different and some may have hidden qualities that may not be drawn out in a traditional competency interview. Depending on the criteria and requirements of the role, it may be worth exploring a combination of a few different interview techniques to effectively assess each candidates merits in a variety of ways. A combination of conversational topics, pre-planned questions and of course a walkthrough of past experience could be an effective way to avoid discounting candidates that you would not consider by simply using the competency method and potentially losing them to your competition!

If you are a law firm or a wider business about to undertake legal recruitment within Manchester or Leeds in the coming months and wish to discuss any of the above, or a more bespoke legal recruitment strategy, please do get in touch with contact one of our dedicated consultants in either of our Manchester or Leeds offices on 0161 3000750 or 0113 2385965 respectively.

CapeClarke is a leading niche legal recruitment consultancy operating across Leeds, Manchester, Sheffield, Newcastle, Liverpool and London. Please feel free to check out our priority legal vacancies by clicking here.  Please note these legal vacancies are only a small selection of those we have been instructed on, so please get in touch if you do not see a role which looks suitable.

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