Candidate competency evaluation

The decision to hire a new employee is often determined by just 45 minutes face to face contact. The candidate is also expected to make a career changing decision after the same amount of time in front of their new manager – if they are lucky. It’s no wonder that interviews are fraught with a fear of rejection – usually on both sides. To use the time wisely, a degree of structure is required and within that, when it comes right down to it, there are four key areas that need to be assessed when selecting a new addition to your team.


The knowledge and understanding of those skills required to do the job properly. The skills may be hard (technical) or soft (personal). Contrary to popular misconceptions (that usually include the term “geek”), an increasing number of roles in IT now demand a higher level of soft skills than they do technical. While software development or systems engineering roles may still require a very high level of technical skills, increasing interaction with non-technical clients demands the ability to engage and communicate effectively.


The ability and character to fit in well with the team, the organisation at large and most importantly the immediate supervisor or manager. Just as one bad apple can taint a barrel full of apples, an obtuse or difficult personality with a negative attitude can wreak havoc in an otherwise good team. Personality should not be confused with soft skills. A helpdesk support agent with an excellent telephone manner and superb communications skills can still be a challenge to work with or worse – to manage.


In terms of IT, experience is really a measure of the application of the skills learnt thus far. Experience adds value to a team and can often provide workable solutions to those tricky or difficult problems. It can also instill confidence in others when dealing with challenging issues or situations. While a wide range of technical skills can be learnt by an eager and interested individual, it’s the application of those skills to create solutions to problems that provides the depth we often describe as “experience”. Just as with technical experience, roles can help to develop important soft skills that enable a candidate to deal effectively with other people.


Usually the most overlooked yet underestimated characteristic of an individual. It was once described to me as “the ownership gene” and usually applies to finishing the job properly, supporting colleagues or helping out the manager or organisation in times of need. It’s commitment that causes people to offer their services in those all-hands-to-the-pumps situations that most IT support professionals live for. Commitment is contagious and is sometimes described as “a good attitude”. It also works both ways in that committed employees enjoy working for organisations that are committed to their welfare or personal development.


In the early days of MTR, to assess the four factors above, we came up with SPEC, a methodology we use to analyse candidates in those four key areas. We structured our interviews and referee reports around it and have used SPEC for ten years.

Assessing technical skills required of IT professionals can be difficult. A barrage of tests we have developed over the years helps enormously. However, the ever changing nature of IT determines that as new technologies appear, those on the leading edge of development usually have to back up their skills claims with some evidence of using those skills. Furthermore, years spent working with a technology doesn’t necessarily reflect how broadly, or deeply, an individual has been required to deploy a technical skill – which is where experience comes in. A candidate claiming to be an expert in a subject really has to back that up with evidence of employing that skill over a fairly broad range of challenges and situations and to some depth in solving difficult problems.

Assessing personality is far more challenging. Gut feeling seems to be used by most, while others rely on psychometric testing. Both can be flawed. However, the fundamental opinion by most people is that you are born with your personality and that’s how it is. In fact most people’s personality develops over time in certain key areas and as a result of experience gained in the work force. We often interview candidates who quite candidly admit to mistakes which they have learnt from and which have helped them to modify the way they think and behave. One only has to spend a short time with a very work-stressed individual to appreciate that work affects an individual’s personality. The effects of stress can be positive or negative and usually depend on environmental factors – but mostly the people they work for or with.

We have identified five key areas in which an individual grows during their career. The art of assessing that growth is to interview candidates in such a way that assesses whether they have reached a series of milestones in their development. We have used the C5 methodology since early 2010 and it has helped enormously in both confirming candidate suitability for roles in the Information Technology sector, as well as providing guidance to candidates in identifying the career path to which they are most suited. It has also been used very successfully to analyse the worth of both roles and candidates. Several hundred candidate interviews have helped us hone the tools and develop the methodology.

The ability to assess experience can only be carried out by an interviewer who understands the challenges and the achievements of an individual. It takes a Dwyle Flunker to interview another Dwyle Flunker. If you have worked in the role or close to it within the industry, you will understand a role’s trials, tribulations, motivations and successes. Getting to the very heart of what a person has done within a role entails understanding the environment, the context and the levels of responsibility. A good interviewer is able to take a candidate through their previous history and explore areas that are relevant to the role the candidate has applied for.

Finally, there is no point hiring a highly skilled person, with a wonderful personality and sheds full of experience if he or she can’t get out of bed in time to make the weekly Monday morning meeting. When a hiring manager makes the choice of candidate for a role they want to be absolutely sure that the candidate really wants the role and is prepared to show commitment to it. Matching motivations to opportunities, comfort levels to environments and career goals to responsibilities goes a long way towards finding a suitable match. Assessing how an individual really feels about a job opportunity occurs throughout the process. Subtle signs of a person’s willingness to potentially accept a role are often evident at interview – when assessing skills, personality and experience. A candidate’s willingness to commit to an organisation can also be affected by the hiring process itself. A professional, structured and timely hiring process goes a long way towards securing a new employee.