Build A Great Team On Competencies Not Skills

Clare Anderson
14th December 2020

Arguably, the biggest challenge in scaling a tech company is finding the right people. Many would say it’s harder than raising capital, finding or winning customers, or reaching product/market fit. If you’re facing the challenges of building out your team, one of the most crucial things to do is hire for competencies, not just skills. A competency is an attribute, knowledge or ability that contributes to an individual’s success in a role. It describes how someone undertakes activities and manages their personal and professional lives and is shown through things like decision making and strategic thinking. Integrity, intellect, drive, creativity and sense of humour are fundamental characteristics to look for as competencies. Other core competencies include communication, how people learn and work in a team and planning and organizing. Competencies are much broader and deeper than skills like Python, project management, SQL or public speaking and, in a lot of cases, they can be arguably impossible to coach or develop. If you hire people that are strong in the fundamentals of a role, they will adapt, grow and stretch as the company evolves. They’ll cope with whatever curveballs are thrown at them. Skills, on the other hand, become less relevant over time and if you’ve only hired on this basis, there’s a good chance you’ll have hired a candidate who is unable to adapt as the playing field changes. 


Traditional skills, such as work experience and degrees or diplomas cannot keep up with the rapid growth in technology and automation. New and existing jobs are being created and evolving all the time and are often hybrids of two or three positions. They may require new skills that require on-the-job training or soft skills that cannot be taught in a traditional training setting. In a recent survey by the World Economic Forum, most employers believe that more than half of all current employees will require significant reskilling or upskilling by 2022. If you have people with the required competencies, you’ll have a team that is able to learn and grow as you go.


So, how do you recruit without relying solely on traditional qualifications and skills? Competency-based hiring is the answer to building high performing teams. This is a technique that provides a well-rounded view of your candidates’s soft and hard skills. The process is simple and twofold:-

  1. Create a job profile based on the core competencies of existing employees in the role.
  2. Evaluate the candidate through psychometric testing against the job profile to then determine the interview questions and explore the areas where the candidate might not have been as successful.

You can then match their psychometric testing and interview answers against the job profile to determine their suitability for the position.


What exactly are the competencies you should be looking for in the hiring process? The Lominger Competencies is a useful list of 67 business-focused competencies. Make a shortlist of four to six that are exceptionally important in the role you’re hiring for and then make sure your hiring practices help you evaluate candidates against these competencies. Deloitte has also put together a really good report on the key competencies needed in the digital age. It evaluates the impact of automation on employees, companies and education and assesses which competencies the labour market will need in the future. It stresses the importance of finding staff who have future-proof competencies - which needs efficient talent management. This means developing a competency model which incorporates both your corporate values and the specific requirements for individual jobs. Identify the required competencies for a role and then use them both in the recruitment process for new staff and in the performance evaluations of existing employees. Greater use of data analysis in the recruitment process will also facilitate more accurate evaluations. 


A good example of hiring through competencies rather than skills is when you’re looking for a scarce skill like React Developer talent. Anyone who has needed this skill will know how hard it is to find. What to do? Hire on the competencies needed to become a React Developer. Look for a smart and passionate front-end software engineer or maths grad who wants to get things built that users love. If they have a track record of shipping user-facing software, all the better. If they’ve never used the React framework, they’ll figure it out if they have these competencies. Hiring right will get you people who learn in parallel as they reach for a milestone.


If you need help finding super-smart tech talent with the right competencies to help you scale quickly and cost-effectively, working with a remote team in a developing country could be the answer. For more detail around tapping into the best global talent with remote teams, download our eBook, ‘30 Hints & Tips To Get The Most Out Of Your Remote Team’. It will ensure you're informed and have the right questions to ask when considering the next step.


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