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Are you hiring for confidence or competence?


Do you remember your first interview? Did you nervously practice describing your professional attributes and skills? Or were you the type to “wing it” and channel some extra confidence to get you through, perhaps embellishing a skillset or inflating your experience? If you were the former, you might have been frustrated that no one took the time to understand your skills. Worse, if you were the latter, you may have been over your head if awarded the role.

Particularly in North American culture, confidence is often lauded and rewarded with high-profile positions. As such, it’s no surprise that candidates are encouraged to head into an interview and inflate their competencies with an attitude of self-bravado. However, as Susan Cain, the author of “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking” says, “there’s zero correlation between being the best talker and having the best ideas.”


Confidence and Competence – what’s the difference?

Confidence and competence are two often-confused words, particularly in talent management. IO-Psychologist and Author of “I, Human” and “The Talent Delusion,” Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic explains that “competence is how good you are at something. Confidence is how good you think you are at something.” Keeping this definition in mind, let’s return to the context of an interview. Consider this: Would you rather have an interviewee who exudes confidence? Or a competent one? You might say, “of course, I want a confident employee!” Rest assured – this doesn’t suggest that confidence is a negative trait; however, competence should beget confidence – not the other way around. The ideal candidate is authentically confident and competent – not just conveying false confidence for the sake of an interview.


Differentiating between Confidence and Competence in an Interview

While casual and unstructured interviews are popular in the recruitment process, it’s essential to recognize that simply relying on impressions in an interview has especially low predictive validity, i.e. interviews don’t tell us how a candidate will actually perform in their given role. In an informal interview, impression management can allow candidates to make themselves “look good,” and an overly confident interviewee can do this easily.

Impression management is an important human tendency to remember in the interview process and entails the process by which individuals attempt to control or influence the perceptions and impressions that others form about them. Simply put, it is the desire to present oneself in a favourable or socially desirable way, often to achieve specific social or personal goals. Again, impression management may contribute to the “tip of the iceberg” but likely won’t help you understand a candidate’s true competencies.


What are competencies?

In their textbook “Work Psychology: Understanding Human Behavior in the Workplace” (2020) Coyne, et al. define competencies as “the cluster of specific characteristics and behaviour patterns a job holder is required to demonstrate to perform the relevant job tasks with competence.”

While traditional interviews play an important role and can be a great way to assess an interviewee’s cultural fit, determining a candidate’s competencies is more challenging. Here is where it’s important to make another distinction: skills versus competencies. A great explanation is that of an iceberg, wherein skills and knowledge are the visible portion of the iceberg while competencies are less visible and lie beneath the surface.

The competencies required for a role will differ based on its scope. For instance, competencies for a salesperson may include optimism and extraversion. In contrast, the competencies for a Controller may include attention to detail and conscientiousness and a graduate student working in an intern program at a Law Firm may have to be flexible and engaged.


I understand the difference between confidence and competence – now what?

Recruitment is costly, and selecting the wrong candidate can cost an organization significantly. Per, the US Department of Labour states that a bad hire can cost your business 30 percent of the employee’s first-year earnings.

Here’s where assessments like POP (Predictor of Potential) can enhance the recruitment process and help gauge competencies. Within talent management, tools like PoP can help to identify individuals with the potential to excel in future leadership or high-impact roles. Generally speaking, POP can help assess competencies like leadership, adaptability, problem-solving, and interpersonal skills. Working with an external consultant who can facilitate and interpret PoP may help you to choose the right candidate the first time by defining and scoring your candidate’s competencies.



In Conclusion

Defining and assessing for competencies within the recruitment process is a key consideration for organizations seeking to build effective and successful teams. While confidence and competence are not mutually exclusive, it is essential to understand the distinction between them. The ideal candidate authentically combines confidence with the necessary skills and competencies for the role.

Traditional interviews, although valuable for assessing cultural fit and initial impressions, have limitations in predicting how a candidate will perform in a specific role. This is where assessing for competencies is crucial. Competencies encompass the specific characteristics and behaviours a candidate needs to excel in their job, and they are often hidden beneath the surface, like the submerged part of an iceberg.

To navigate the complexities of recruitment and reduce the risks associated with making a bad hire, organizations can turn to tools such as the Predictor of Potential (PoP). PoP assessments, conducted with the guidance of external consultants like X5 Management, can provide valuable insights into a candidate’s potential to succeed in leadership or high-impact positions.

In a competitive job market where hiring mistakes can be costly, carefully assessing a candidate’s competencies and fit via tools like POP, can significantly enhance an organization’s ability to identify and select the right candidates for success. Using evidence-based assessments, organizations can increase their chances of building high-performing teams that drive their future success.

Author Leanne Burrows is skilled in corporate communications, employee engagement strategies, and dynamic marketing strategies, creating meaningful and productive partnerships between HR and Internal Communications Teams. She is passionate about leadership, transparency, growth and change management. Leanne is currently pursuing a Masters in Organizational Psychology, Industrial and Organizational Psychology. In addition, Leanne is completing her Everything DiSC®️ Facilitator certification through X5 Management.

X5 Management offers an extensive list of communication, team development, leadership, sales, and service-related programs that can support any businesses training and coaching needs in any industry.

If your business wants to take advantage of the Canada-Alberta Job Grant so that you can expand on your sales and service-related training for your employees, let’s discuss your organization’s training needs in a complimentary Discovery Meeting.

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