Understanding their competencies/criteria: what are they looking for?
'Task, thought, people'
You will encounter some interviews that are less structured and where the criteria are much less clear. With preparation, you can be in the best possible position to get your strengths across even when the interview process is less than ideal. Your homework in terms of 'what are they looking for' is even more important in this situation, as you may not be able to rely on being questioned in the relevant areas.
The 'task, thought, people' model is particularly powerful here. Even if the organization does not have (or is not willing to share) its competencies/criteria, it will be looking for attributes that cluster under these headings. Using the 'task, thought, people' model as part of your preparation, you can present information in a way that they will find easy to identify and digest. By using the model, you will give more rounded, more complete answers, even when questions are not particularly well framed. For more on this, see Chapter 7, on 'non-competency-based questions'.
- Task competencies: typically about operational delivery, results, implementation, plans, targets, getting things done.
- Thought competencies: typically about direction, strategy, creativity, problem solving, change, innovation, judgment, decision making.
- People competencies: typically about teams, collaboration, empathy, interpersonal skills, influencing, communication, personal development, motivation, coaching.
Here is a typical list of competencies used by an organization as part of its selection process. The organization has not clustered them in terms of task, thought, and people but, as you can see, it is quite simple to do this:
If you have access to the competencies in advance, you can prepare by doing this clustering yourself. This will pay off during the interview in terms of your ability to quickly identify the focus of the question. Once you have clustered the competencies you can start to think about your best examples and illustrations to get across the relevant attributes.
The table below gives some examples of organizational competencies that we have clustered for you.
Having the model in your head, you can shape your answers more effectively. Holding on to three ideas - task, thought, people - is a lot easier than trying to memorize and then reference a whole competency framework in 'real time'! The model lets you quickly identify that 'this is a task question' and pinpoint the key aspects of your style that you want to put across in your answer.
Take the following example:
“Can you tell us about a time when you had to plan something in detail; how did you go about it?"
This is a 'task' question; it is about operational delivery and the competency being explored is 'planning to achieve results', so your answer should play to this expectation, as follows:
"OK, well a recent example of my coordination of the Birmingham exhibition: when I'm planning I like to make sure that all factors are considered, so I drew up a detailed checklist which I then turned into a project plan. It contained the key dependencies and resources mapped against the time line. The deadline was quite tight so I did daily checking to make sure that the exhibition design team, the sales team and the venue team were all talking to each other that they were all operating to the same plan."
The emphasis in the answer is on the implementation steps taken - the tasks were performed (I considered all factors; I drew up a checklist; I turned it a project plan; I checked daily) - so that the questioner is reassured about approach to job planning.
Holding on to three ideas - task, thought, and people is a lot easier than trying to memorize and then reference a whole competency framework in 'real time’!
Suppose that you had given the following answer to the same question, this time giving a people-based answer:
"OK, well a recent example is my coordination of the Birmingham exhibition: when I'm planning I like to get the team together early, so we had a number of meetings where we agreed who was doing what. Everyone enjoys this process; it gets the creative juices flowing and it gives everyone a chance to contribute early on; I also made sure that I got the right people on the team with representatives from design, sales and from the venue. That way everyone knew what everyone else was doing."
On the face of it, this is not a particularly poor answer, but it does not fit the model that the interviewer has in his/her head; this makes it more difficult for them to quickly identify you as someone who knows how to go about detailed planning.
Your answer tells them that you give emphasis to collaborative, team¬ based work, that you are interested in whether people are enjoying their work and that you see the importance of communication; but that is not what they were exploring in their 'task' question. At the very least this means that they will have to refocus you and ask follow-up questions ~ if they are good at their job. If they are not, you will simply have missed the chance to tick this particular box.
Read my next post on Researching the Job Interview Situation