HR Guide – 09 – Interviews – D. Formal competition v 0.7 — 8 Comments

  1. Thank you so much for the guide! I have my first interview next week and your guide helped me to not freak out as I prepare for it. Hahaha.

  2. Had an interview today and was really hoping we were given 30 minutes to prep. Unfortunately we were not. They did however provide for each question the competency they were testing you on, it’s definition, and bullet points explaining what the competency could look like.

    • That’s just bad HR in my view. The only time that is useful is if you’re screening for a job that has a lot of comms opportunities, like with media, or even stakeholder outreach. THen, you don’t get prep in those situations, so if you want your interview to be similar, you don’t allow for the prep. Outside of that, it means HR is more concerned with timing and getting people through the process than they are with the right person. Sigh. Hope you were able to adapt!

  3. Is it possible to fail ONE question but still pass the interview over all? Or do you automatically fail the whole interview if you fail one question?

    • If I read your question literally, you don’t fail the whole interview if you fail one question, but the end result will likely be the same — failing one question means you likely fail one element, and every individual element has to pass, so you’ll be “out”. You’ll still pass on, say, the other three elements in the interview, but you’ll fail one, which means you’re out.

      In a more detailed answer, generally you don’t fail the interview if you fail a question, but it isn’t quite so simple to answer that. The old system was a global score — screw up in one place, ace another, and voila, you’re still in. You could compensate. Particularly as not all questions were weighted equally…so if you messed up a question worth 10 points but aced a written component worth 400, you would get a good score overall.

      Back in 2005, when they changed the process, it became necessary to PASS every *element*, but that doesn’t automatically mean every question. So, if for example, they were asking three questions in the interview marking Initiative, at the end they will combine all three scores to give you one score for Initiative. Or, alternatively, if they ask one question at the interview on initiative BUT they are also asking one in the reference check, then messing up the Q in the interview isn’t the end — it is only partially assessed at that point, so they would have to combine it with whatever you get on the reference check to see whether you pass the ELEMENT overall.

      But while most processes are encouraged to test some components more than once, most don’t as it is more complicated to explain when people “fail” as well as less of a winnowing process as you go. If you ask about initiative at every stage, then you can’t screen anyone out until the end even if they blow the question the first two times. It’s not done being assessed, even if you can’t even pass mathematically, so people have to stay in to the end. So, due to the complication and cost of interviewing everyone + ref checks for everyone, most processes will only repeat KEY components more than once, and even then, it’s often within the same part of the process (i.e. Question one of the interview tests oral + initiative, question two will do oral + personal suitability, question three will test initiative and personal suitability). But even doing that gets complicated for most referees to accurately score (and defend if they have to).

      So what do a lot of comps do? They ask one question for each element. Initiative is Question One. Personal Suitability is Question Two. Oral is a global score for the whole interview. Judgement is Question Three. And the questions they hand you will often tell you right up front what is being tested with that question.

      But this means that if you DO fail a single question, for most interviews they only are testing that element once, so you’ll fail that element, and you’ll be out of the competition. You can’t compensate somewhere else and “pass”.

      Last point, and it is a small nuance…even if you get to the reference check stage, it doesn’t mean you passed every element up until there. Lots of HR departments encourage managers to complete the reference checks for anyone who did the interview, just to complete the file. Part of the reason to do that is if someone missed a Q by one point in the Interview, and six months later decides to challenge it, then everything has to stop until that challenge is heard. On the other hand, if they know that the person failed Initiative in the Interview, but ALSO failed Judgement in the Reference Check, then they will keep going, knowing that even if the person challenges the score in the interview, it won’t make any difference in the long-run because they’re out for something else later too. Or they’ll keep going with the process if the person got 1 out of 10 on the element they missed, as the likelihood of overturning it is nil. It wasn’t part of what you asked, but lots of people think, “Hey, I made it to references, which means I must have “passed” the interview.” That’s not always true. It’s a good sign, but it’s not determinative.


      • Oh wow, they provide you with your ‘score’ for the interview after? Or do you have to ask for that?

        Thanks for all the great info.

        • If you “fail an element”, i.e. you get an email that says “You failed to receive a sufficient score on the following elements…A2 Initiative, PS4 Interpersonal Skills”, then you can ask for what they call the “informal discussion”. In the old days, they didn’t have that, and it was more formal. You basically had to appeal to have a conversation about why you got screened out. Instead, they introduced IDs after any screening element, and while it isn’t intended to give you your “score”, it often does. The real intent is to avoid silly administrative errors. For example, if you are screened out at the application stage, because you said “Quarterly Budget Reports” and it was asking you about forecasting, the ID conversation could be where you say, “I don’t understand…I said QBR, and they include this and this and forecasts, and blah blah blah”. But that organization doesn’t have the same terminology, so they didn’t know what QBR meant. At that point, they can still screen you out (you didn’t prove it in the application) or they can say, “Oh, well then, that’s an easy fix, and screen you in”.

          For me, the real uses of IDs are threefold:

          a. Correct admin issues — i.e. they reviewed your resume and didn’t see page 4 for some reason which was a simple screw up on their side, or it was coded / entered wrong somehow;

          b. Correct a potentially appealable issue — this is a bit hard to describe, but basically, if for example there was a fire alarm in the middle of your exam, and they didn’t give you more time, they should have and if you get all the way to the end for the appeal, it’s a virtual lock to be successful in a formal appeal, so they’ll correct the problem now — either give you more time, a chance to rewrite, pro-rate somehow, something to stop having to toss the whole comp at the end; or

          c. Get informal feedback on your performance.

          In this last element, they’ll usually have the conversation and say three things:

          i. Here’s what you said;
          ii. Here’s what we were looking for in an answer;
          iii. Here’s what we were looking for more of from you in the answer.

          Often, they will say, outright, we scored you as 4/10 on this one. They don’t have to tell you, but most managers will because if you ever appeal, you’ll find out anyway. And it gives you a scale of how far off the target you were. But they won’t give it to you in writing, only orally, usually.

          Now, there’s a piece missing in there…somewhere between ii and iii, some people use the informal to argue their way back into the competition on the basis that they weren’t scored properly. I generally think this is a complete waste of time, particularly if you’re screened out on more than one element. However, a colleague wrote for an EC-06 and got screened out at the application stage. Did informal, argued with them the details were actually there (you can’t “add anything” in the informal), and got screened back in. Wrote the written, screened out, another informal, another successful argument, screened back in. Did interview, screened out, did informal, screened back in. Made the pool and was pulled by someone else. Good for her, sure, but not the way the process is supposed to work and most managers wouldn’t have changed the screenings. HR actively encourages them not to, in fact. People used to be a bit looser with IDs, they’ve tightened up a bit.

          IMHO, though, the best use is to approach it simply as how to improve for next time. Even on applications. The screeners have information that you apparently didn’t have and thus you didn’t pass — asking for feedback is great. In fact, I blatantly say in my request, “I’m not looking to appeal or anything, I’d just like to improve my process for future processes” to dial down the stress for them. I have even suggested that if they want to wait until everything is all over, they can give it to me then, because then it is REALLY CLEAR I’m not looking for info to appeal. And they might be more open at that point, or they’ll have completely forgotten by then. Could go either way.

          One last point on scores, if you do get them. Remembering that you have to pass every element, it doesn’t matter whether it is out of 5, 10, 1000, it is virtually a binary world: 0 = less than the pass threshold, 1 = greater than the pass threshold. As such, most managers will rarely give you 6/10 if the pass mark is 10 — they’ll give you 4 instead. It shows “Well, you can argue a point or two but it won’t help you pass”. So you often see scores that look like 1,2,3,4,x,x,7,8,9,10 if 7 was the pass mark. No 5s or 6s (sometimes 5s but almost never 6s).

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