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The ultimate guide to hiring for behavioral competency (with examples)

November 29, 2022 - 15 min read
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    If you only evaluate job candidates based on their work experience and skill set, you could be missing an important piece of the puzzle. You might be overlooking something key to every employee: behavioral competencies. 

    Behavioral competency refers to the characteristics beyond a candidate’s resume. Are they a good leader? How do they communicate? Do they excel at building relationships and managing conflict? Are they proactive? 

    Answering these questions can help human resources make better hiring decisions. In fact, research has shown time and time again that personality-related competencies make a big impact on an employee’s performance and contribution at work.

    At BetterUp, we believe in potential. We know that behavioral competencies are skills that are often investments in reaching our fullest human potential. But we also know that they’re often overlooked, especially in the hiring process.  

    Let’s discuss what a behavioral competency is and the different types. We'll also talk about how you can assess behavioral competencies during the interview. 

    What are behavioral competencies?

    First, let’s take a minute to define what we mean by behavioral competencies. 

    It’s important to note that behavioral competencies are different from other types of competencies. These include:

    • Core competencies. This term refers to the distinguishing factors that give a company a unique edge over its competitors and contribute to organizational success. 

    • Technical competencies. Also known as functional competencies, these are the specific skills required to perform job functions — like knowledge of software.
    • Managerial competencies. This set of competencies are the ones required just for managers. Lower-level employees don’t need them unless they hope to become managers themselves.

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    The 8 types of behavioral competency

    Before you start assessing employees or prospective candidates for behavioral competencies, you’ll need to understand what you’re looking for. Everyone has a different perspective on this topic, but below you’ll find eight of the most common types of behavioral competencies for employees. 

    1. Relationship management

    This behavioral competency is all about a candidate’s interpersonal skills. Depending on the job, a new employee will have to juggle relationships with stakeholders, direct reports, fellow team members, and/or clients. Without this competency, an employee may not possess the self-awareness and emotional regulation needed for positive work relationships.

    2. Communication 

    Communication is one of the top soft skills needed in any work environment. Employees lacking in this area can end up causing workplace conflict and reducing the entire team’s productivity. By contrast, candidates with a strong competency in communication will be more engaged and able to collaborate effectively with teammates. 

    3. Leadership

    Leadership competencies show a candidate’s potential to properly manage a team and execute strategic plans. Great leaders exhibit behaviors that help them with problem-solving, decision-making, creativity, and time management — to name just a few. 

    4. Business acumen 

    If someone has business acumen, that means they can understand business issues on a deep level and take action on them. This is an important competency for employees, whether they are leading teams or just starting out. 

    5. Global and cultural effectiveness  

    Global and cultural competencies are essential for jobs that require candidates to communicate across geographies or cultures. Today, that’s more common than ever. Employees must be prepared to tailor their approach to a wide range of situations. 

    6. Ethics and values 

    A person with ethical and value-based competencies prioritizes doing what’s right, not what’s easy. In business, there are many opportunities to take shortcuts.

    Most likely, you’d prefer to hire someone that strives to live by a code of ethics. Plus, employees that are motivated by their morals and personal values help foster a culture of accountability and integrity.

    7. Analytical thinking 

    The ability to analyze information is essential for many jobs. Whether it’s a marketing coordinator or a software engineer, candidates need to make thoughtful decisions and use critical thinking on a daily basis. 

    8. Resilience 

    Resilience in the workplace is one behavioral competency that’s often overlooked. However, as the world constantly changes, adaptability and continuous learning are much-needed. Without these traits, employees are bound to become overwhelmed, burnt out, and frustrated at work.


    Examples of behavioral competencies

    Behavioral competency might seem like an abstract concept. What does it actually look like in action and in the workplace? 

    Let’s make things a little more concrete with these examples of behavioral competencies: 

    • Leadership skills might look like successfully managing and resolving a team conflict  
    • Resilience might look like having a growth mindset when you realize you need to learn a new skill to finish an important project 
    • Relationship management might look like using your emotional intelligence to provide constructive feedback instead of criticizing a co-worker 
    • Global and cultural effectiveness might look like using sensitivity in your communication with overseas clients, and as a result, building new levels of trust 
    • Fostering a sense of inclusivity and belonging in the workplace, especially when it comes to team management 


    Why behavioral competencies matter in the hiring process

    Understanding which behavioral competencies matter for your company can improve your hiring process. Instead of just focusing on hard skills, you can evaluate candidates holistically. 

    Mindsets and behaviors make a big impact on company culture and job performance. It’s important to hire for culture add versus culture fit to continuously foster diversity, innovation, and thriving teams. But it’s also important to ensure the people you hire are willing to adapt, grow, and invest in their own development. 

    For example, imagine hiring a junior employee without a relationship management competency — they would surely struggle to take feedback from their manager and collaborate with their team members. Their attitude could also negatively affect employee morale and satisfaction. But their inability to receive feedback well could also hinder the team’s ability to reach its goals. 

    Past the hiring process, behavioral competencies are helpful for performance management. If a new hire isn’t contributing in the ways you expected, you can evaluate what competencies might be missing. Then, you can use that information to help your employee grow or to make a better hire in the future. 

    How to assess behavioral competency

    Assessing behavioral competency can be a useful human resources management tactic. When you understand more about a new hire’s personality and attitude, you can be confident that they are the right fit for your company. 

    Determine which behavioral competencies matter most 

    When it comes to assessing behavioral competency, the best place to start is with a job description. Consider which specific competencies your future employee will need on a day-to-day basis, and stay focused on those competencies during the interview process.

    For example, if you’re interviewing someone for an entry-level role with strong leadership competencies, that’s great. But what about their attitude towards teamwork? In this case, someone with higher relationship management competencies will probably be a better candidate. 

    Give employees an assessment 

    At BetterUp, we use a science-backed approach to assessing skills and capabilities. BetterUp Labs has developed what we call the Whole Person Model™. This assessment measures things like key mindsets, behaviors, and competencies for personal and professional growth. 

    The Whole Person Model was designed to reflect behaviors that fall into these three categories: 

    • Behaviors that people can change 
    • Behaviors that directly or indirectly impact others 
    • Behaviors that are linked to individual well-being, effective performance, collaboration, and leadership 


    Assessments don’t always give you a full picture of an individual’s personality, but they can provide some guidance. Here are some of the most popular personality and behavioral assessments used by HR teams during the hiring process: 

    Ask situational and behavioral questions 

    Sometimes, interviewers default to asking questions about a candidate’s resume, work history, and future plans. While this is important, these questions won’t demonstrate a potential hire’s behavioral competencies. 

    Try to allow an interviewee to share how they responded to past situations or would react to hypothetical scenarios. Many candidates are familiar with this type of interviewing and are likely to respond with the STAR method. STAR stands for Situation, Task, Action, and Result and is a great way for you to understand how a potential employee has displayed different behavioral competencies in the past. 

    Sample behavioral competency interview questions

    Human resources and hiring managers can choose to conduct several different types of interviews. However, as we mentioned above, one of the best ways to uncover your candidate’s behavioral competencies is through the right interview questions. 

    Consider adding these sample behavioral questions to your interview roster: 

    • Can you tell me about a time you had to learn something new in order to overcome a challenge?
    • Have you ever dealt with an ethical dilemma at work? 
    • What is an accomplishment, at work or in your personal life, that makes you proud? 
    • Can you share an example of when you had a conflict with a coworker? 
    • Tell me about a time when you achieved something great by working with a team. 
    • What is the most difficult situation that you’ve had to overcome in your career? 
    • How do you motivate yourself when you are struggling to complete a task? 

    Prioritize behavioral competencies within your organization 

    By prioritizing behavioral competencies during the hiring process, you can become even more confident about your candidate choices. As a result, you’ll hire more employees who are ready to bring their best to the company each and every day. 

    After hiring, don’t forget to reinforce behavioral competencies throughout the onboarding process. When you tell your employees what they’re doing right, they’ll be more likely to continue those positive behaviors. 

    If you’re ready to invest in your workforce, consider BetterUp. With BetterUp, you can help reinforce and develop positive behaviors while also building resilience, engagement, and belonging. And that’s good for everyone. 

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    Published November 29, 2022

    Madeline Miles

    Madeline is a writer, communicator, and storyteller who is passionate about using words to help drive positive change. She holds a bachelor's in English Creative Writing and Communication Studies and lives in Denver, Colorado. In her spare time, she's usually somewhere outside (preferably in the mountains) — and enjoys poetry and fiction.

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