Are Competency Interviews valid for Graduate Assessment?

February 15th, 2013 by Sarah Green Leave a reply »

Within Zircon, we have a keen interest on whether or not competency or capability assessment is enough, or should we also look at how organisations can assess and develop strengths at work? A recent blog posted by Capp ( has raised the concern that due to the nature of competency-based interviewing for graduate roles, many talented and capable graduates may struggle to gain jobs. The heart of the issue is that graduates frequently face a “chicken and egg” conundrum, whereby experience is necessary to gain a job, yet a job is necessary to gain experience.

Any student who is considering the daunting prospect of finding work at the completion of their studies is aware of the difficult and competitive challenge they face. The most recent High Fliers research has clearly shown that in the current job market, graduates are expected to have gained experience through work experience prior to applying for graduate roles. Indeed, over half of the recruiters involved in the research warned that graduates who have had no previous experience at all are unlikely to be successful in their applications. A table summarising the responses of graduate recruiters, from the High Fliers research, can be found below:

Table 1:

So what are the difficulties facing students today? For one, competency-based interviews, which require candidates to prove their ability to perform a role well by illustrating they have done what is required through job-specific examples may unnecessarily exclude talented individuals. The issue with this method of recruitment is that if a graduate has never worked before, they will be unable to give such examples. Zircon concur with Capp and recommend that, rather than utilising competency interviewing, graduate recruiters consider using strengths-based recruitment, which focuses on the energy and motivation of a candidate, as well as their past experiences.

The second issue, raised more extensively in the High Fliers research, concerns the increased success rate of graduates at application following work placements. The research demonstrates that work placements are becoming increasingly important in graduate recruitment. Thankfully, many organisations are providing work placements, either through the University vacation periods, or more extensively for a 6 – 12 month period.

At Zircon, we are committed to providing opportunities to students and graduates through work placements. We provide four week unpaid internships for students wishing to gain experience. During their time here we give them holistic exposure to the area of work, providing them with hands on experience in a range of client and research projects. Furthermore, we have done extensive research on strengths, and use them as part of our work-placement interviewing. We utilise strengths as well as competencies to assess whether a graduate, or student, will be happy within our working environment, doing the work we do. We are proud that our interns have frequently gone on to achieve big things following their placements with us, with our interns moving on to companies and roles such as HR associate at GSK, and recruitment coordinator at Truphone. We continue to provide opportunities to hopefully make the job market a little bit less daunting, providing them with the chicken… or the egg.

If you would like more information regarding our internships, please contact us on 01737 555 862.

The Capp Blog. Accessed at on 16.01.2013
The Graduate Market in 2013. Accessed at  on 16.01.2013

Written by Katie Bissell, Trainee Occupational Psychologist

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