Hire Right! Competency-Based Recruiting in Business Aviation

Author By Steve Brechter

At some point in your career, you’ve probably heard similar comments from an aviation director:

“I’m grooming Joe to take my place.”

Or,“Don’t worry. I’ve got Bill lined-up to be my successor.”

It makes us cringe to hear such statements.

Because in far too many cases, Bill and Joe are in no way qualified for the position as aviation director.

Instead, they’re more likely to be the director’s long-time friends or golf buddies.

And, if they do land the coveted director position? Well, they may not succeed.

The Expectations of the Aviation Director Have Changed

Business aviation is changing by leaps and bounds.

These days, a flight department’s success is defined just as much by its ability to effectively function as a “business within a business” as it is in safely executing its executive transportation mission.

Today’s aviation leader needs to be just as comfortable walking through the halls of the corporate office as s/he is walking across the hangar floor.

So how do you make the best choices for the key positions in your flight department? How do you select and groom the right people to lead your organization to success?

In our example above, how do you evaluate whether Bill or Joe is a good match for what the department needs today?

The answer is to use competency-based recruiting.

What is Competency-based Recruiting?

Competency-based recruiting is the assessment and selection of a candidate based on clearly-defined attributes. These attributes are well-defined in order to objectively show that a candidate is qualified for the position.

For all the great things we do in business aviation, taking the time to define the success criteria for a key position—and then hiring against those needs—is often not one of them.

But here’s why it’s vitally important to use competency-based recruiting to fill every position within your flight department:

  • It breaks up the “good ‘ol boy” network and levels the playing field. Most of us understand the benefits of diversity to our organizations—and few ofus intentionally minimize it. But let’s face it, we’re most comfortable with what (and who) we know. However, if we truly want to select the most qualified person for a role, we need to use fair, outcome-based standards for assessing candidates. When your approach is based on competencies, it reduces bias and improves transparency.
  • It drives business results. When you identify and select against the key competencies aligned with business priorities, you can forecast a candidate’s potential performance (and likelihood of being successful).
  • It supports individual development planning. When you’re clear on what’s being measured, you can give clear and transparent feedback to internal and external candidates for their professional growth and development. Plus, it allows candidates, or those who may aspire to the position in the future to“self-assess.” They can ask themselves whether they have the ability (and desire) to achieve what’s outlined.

So what does competency-based recruitment actually look like? And how can you implement it in your organization?

4 Steps to Design a Competency-Based Recruiting Process

1.  Define Success

Let’s say you have an open role, or you’re thinking about succession for a key leadership position.

To start, spend some time answering the following questions:

  • What does success look like for this particular role?
  • What does the successful candidate need to achieve during their first year on the job for me to say they’ve “nailed it”?

Force yourself to be crystal clear about the purpose of the position and the key outcomes that must be accomplished.

This step is key. If you haven’t accurately defined the desired outcomes, then trying to match candidates to ill-defined measures will not be easy or effective.

2. Identify the Competencies You Need

After defining what success looks like, decide on the competencies you need in a qualified candidate.

In other words, what are the attributes someone would need in order to accomplish all the things you set out above? Which ones are the most important?

Some examples could include:

  • Strategic thinking/visioning
  • Analytical thinking
  • Managing innovation
  • Flexibility/adaptability
  • Personal excellence and self-development
  • Communication and influencing skills
  • Ability to develop and coach people (for managers)

Try to narrow your list down to about 4-5 of the most critical competencies that will have the greatest impact on business results.

You may develop a list of 15 competencies and think to yourself, “But all of these are important!” They may very well be.

However, the trap in assessing for everything is that you risk assessing for nothing very well.

It’s smarter to focus on the few things that you really need rather than a laundry list of everything required to execute a role.

3. Design a Structured Assessment Process

When identifying the requisite competencies needed for a position, you can design your selection and interview process very effectively.

Enlist a few trusted teammembers and create a game plan. You may want to assign each interviewer a few competencies to be “on the hook” to focus on.

Having some overlap ensures each competency gets explored by more than one angle. This helps you uncover better information.

For example, Maria could be assigned Competencies A, B and C; John could be assigned Competencies B, C and D; and Claudia could be assigned C, D and E.

With an overlapping competency review, each interviewer could each ask slightly different questions to probe on the same competency.

For instance, if your team is assessing a person’s ability to develop and coach people, one person might ask: “What employee development methods do you feel are effective?”

And then the other interviewer could ask: “What is your approach to assessing talent and making decisions to build a high-performing team?”

To keep the assessment process consistent and targeted, lay out the process framework. Clearly describe who’s involved so they know exactly what’s needed of them, and which criteria they should be evaluating a candidate against.

Be careful not to overwhelm the process with too many interviewers. We find that three stakeholders are just about right.

4. Evaluate Using Collective Feedback

After interviews have been conducted, get everyone together in a room (ideally within 24 hours) to discuss feedback on a candidate. You want impressions to be fresh in everyone’s minds.

Each stakeholder should rate the candidate on the competencies explored, and share their impressions from the interview.

The goal of this discussion is to ensure everyone shares their perspective. As a result, the team gets a well-rounded view of the candidate. What one person observes may not be what another picks up, so it’s important to hear from everybody.

This process empowers you to maintain objectivity and consider the most important criteria for the role. When you make the decision to hire, you can feel confident that you’re filling a key position with an individual who has a very high chance of success.

Competency-based Recruiting is a Win-Win

When your selection strategy is outcome-driven and competency-based, your chances of selecting the right individual are so much greater. Plus, you’re less likely to hire someone for a role that they’re not equipped to handle.

To return to our example above, is Bill or Joe the most qualified for the position? Well, that depends. How do they stack up against the competencies required for the role?

Your Turn

Do you use competency-based recruiting in your flight department? If so, share the benefits you’ve realized and we’ll share them in a future blog.

About our Guest Blogger

Caroline Palmer is an accomplished HR business partner with significant experience leading organizations through transformational change. Her expertise also includes talent management, leadership effectiveness and strategic marketing and communications. Most recently, she has developed and led the people strategy for a New York-based business aviation department within a Fortune 100 company.