An HR Manager’s 3 Cs: Competency, Credentials, & Culture

You’re ready to add some new team members to your team–congratulations! But what should you look for in a candidate? Someone with many years of related experience? Or someone who has a strong educational background with training and certifications? Or maybe someone who fits in beautifully with your company culture?

It would be fantastic if there was a plethora of candidates who are highly educated and certified WITH many years of relevant work experience at great companies AND WITH such charming personalities that they’re all likely to become your new best friends. However, the reality is that there are many great candidates who knock one or two of these measures out of the park and would be great additions to your team.

Let’s look at these three consideration points–competency, credentials, and culture–and how you can evaluate and prioritize them for the particular position you’re filling.



What is competency?

A job seeker’s competency is their proven ability to perform the duties listed in their job description. In other words, the “means” to achieve the “ends.” Popular competencies include leadership, communication, and successful execution of job-related duties. Employees with high competency often can bring in great ideas and proven strategies from their previous work experience and implement them quickly in your company.

How do you evaluate candidates based on competency?

Interview questions that ask candidates to describe a previous experience (“Tell me about a time when you faced an unexpected challenge in a client presentation”), or present a scenario (“Imagine that a client is upset and refuses to pay for services. What would you do?”) aim to evaluate competency. It’s important to have a clear idea of the specific hard skills (job-related skills like programming or accounting) and soft skills (resourcefulness or poise) that the position requires so you can prepare questions that evaluate those skills. In addition to interviews, references can be a good source of competency information.

When should you prioritize competency?

Think about the amount of training you’re willing to dedicate to this position and the ramp-up period you’re willing to tolerate before an employee can operate at a high level. If you need someone to come into this position with prior experience and hit the ground running, it’s important to prioritize competency.



What are credentials?

Credentials are the education, certifications, job titles, and awards that job seekers have “under their belts.” Someone with degrees from the top institutions, membership cards from elite professional societies, desirable titles at leading companies, and other resume builders could be considered a candidate with great credentials. These types of candidates carry a strong professional reputation and can positively impact the brand of the company they work for, serving as a draw for clients, partners, and other employees or job candidates.

How do you evaluate candidates based on credentials?

Credentials are the most straightforward element of these three to evaluate since they are easily found in a candidate’s resume, cover letter, and online profiles. If the position requires a certain level of programming certification, specific medical degree, or number years of sales experience, that information is usually accessible without the need to meet with a job seeker.

When should you prioritize credentials?

It’s important to prioritize credentials for positions in fields like education, healthcare, accounting, and legal, where the candidate’s degree is imperative to their ability to perform certain tasks. A company may also choose to prioritize credentials for positions that are very outward-facing to their customers, partners, or industry leaders so they can leverage the employee’s background or status to elevate the company’s brand. For example, a technology company might benefit from advertising that their CEO is a former Microsoft employee since the Microsoft brand is well respected within the industry.



What is cultural fit?

Cultural fit has become a very popular way to evaluate candidates within the past 10 years. A candidate is a cultural fit if their personality, values, priorities, and general demeanor match or complement that of the current staff and/or the organization’s ideal culture. Personality traits might include friendliness, generosity, and hustle, and values might include experimentation and open communication. Companies that hire for cultural fit believe that they can always train an inexperienced employee to accomplish specific tasks but they can’t (nor do they want to!) train an arrogant employee to be kind or helpful.

How do you evaluate candidates based on cultural fit?

The most popular way to evaluate a candidate’s cultural fit is to simply spend time with them. Cultural fit interviews often look exactly like a conversation, with topics centered around what what the job seeker is looking for in a company, and what type of work environment or leadership style works best for them, and what hobbies or interests they have. The purpose of this conversation is to get a sense of whether the candidate would “fit in here,” and whether the interviewers like the candidate as a person. Google famously puts each candidate through their “Layover Test,” ranking applicants by who the interviewers would rather sit with at an airport bar during a six-hour layover.

When you should prioritize cultural fit?

The simple answer is that companies who highly value their company culture should prioritize cultural fit when evaluating candidates. Culture quickly erodes when a lack of competency leads to lost business, product failures, and inefficiency, so cultural fit isn’t a stand-alone evaluation metric. A group of very nice people that lacks the necessary talent or skills to accomplish its goals could cost you your business. However, if creating a company of out-of-the-box thinkers or honest communicators is important to you, you would be wise to hire people who embody these cultural values. Small businesses in particular can be positively or negatively affected by the personality and values of one or two key employees, so it’s important for these companies to prioritize cultural fit when evaluating candidates.


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