December 27, 2018

Competency-Based Interviews: One Criticism

By Juanjo Cardona

4 min

AssessmentsJob InterviewsMulti-Industry

Tackling one of the most common criticisms of CBI: by focusing on competencies, we are putting the stress on the past rather than in the future.


One of the criticisms placed on competency-based interviews (CBI) is that, by focusing on competencies, the stress is on the past rather than in the future. Consequently, CBI interviews are useful – the criticism goes – to identify candidates that are looking for a lateral career move: to apply their already acquired competencies in another organization and at a somewhat similar role. However, top talent is not looking for lateral moves but career progression. And here is where CBI interviews would fall short: their lack of focus on the future opportunity for professional growth. 


This is a fair criticism. There is, unfortunately, no single bullet assessment tool. However, we believe this does not diminish CBI interviews’ value nor disqualify them as a methodology.



“Incentives to grow professionally are not antagonistic of current competencies. There is not a continuum that separates the two as if they were opposites”



To put the focus in the future, we could use situational interviews – another structured form of interviews – to present hypothetical contexts and measure analytical or problem-solving skills from the interviewees under those situations. Insights gathered in situational interviews could complement CBI. But then again, situational interviews also present their shortcomings: mostly, there is no way to know with certainty how someone will behave in the future regardless of how precisely the individuals describe what they will do.


Another available tool, assessment centers, can also come in handy to help recruiters understand whether they are dealing with candidates that can motivate themselves by defining their own goals or are a good fit for their organization’s culture.


CBI interviews are designed taking into consideration the necessary competencies to perform successfully in a particular position. When confronting the required competencies with the actual competency levels candidates are bringing to the table, it is unlikely that a single candidate will check all the boxes. It is in such a gap where exists a growth opportunity for the candidates.


This might sound like code for accommodating candidates that are not top-notch, but it is not. A candidate that looks promising based in her ability to cope with the challenges thrown at her under the form of hypothetical situations might fall short from the expected performance if she is not able to tap in her own pool of experiences when the time comes. That is why it is essential, in CBI interviews, to get specific examples of how candidates behaved in the past.


Incentives to grow professionally are not antagonistic of current competencies. There is not a continuum that separates the two as if they were opposites, with candidates moving from one end to the other by trading more of one extreme for less of the other.






Let’s bear in mind that CBI interviews look at the recent past (last two to three years). Questions are not to focus on how the candidate was ten years ago, but on how she is as of now. That is a why it is important to be as detailed as possible when designing CBI interviews, so the interviewers have a clear understanding across the board of what we are aiming for.


Juanjo Cardona

Editor at

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