What is the maximum number of competences I can test, without losing the focus?

This has to be one of the most frequently asked questions that assessment agencies receive from their customers. There is no one clear answer.

This article explains what type of competences are used to measure, which instruments can be used and what the best practices are with regard to testing competencies.

What type of competences are used?

First of all, there’s a big difference between levelled and unlevelled competence sets. Levelled sets use competences with broad descriptions, and are connected to varying levels of complexity. Unlevelled sets are aimed at describing competences as uniformly as possible. This results in these competences having a shorter and more precise description.

The need for multiple levels of complexity is often resolved by using different competences. For example; oral communication for most operational levels, power of persuasion for middle management and professionals, and strategic influencing for management and executives.

Which tools should you use?

We then differentiate between psychological tests and questionnaires on the one hand, and interviews on the other. First, the tests and questionnaires. We’ll use unlevelled competence sets. It is important to realise that your psychological tests and questionnaires (psychometric instruments) are used to measure the underlying potential. You don’t immediately notice the competence, but you look at the underlying potential. Using an online assessment platform and a broader assessment, you can map out enough signals from a series of competences, say 30 to 40, to collect interesting data. The amount will only increase, because the tests become more adaptive reducing the testing time required. You can then apply more tests. This development is happening quite quickly.

Then, the interviews. The limiting factor is in good in-depth questioning of competences during the interviews, or in observing the assessment exercises. You need to assume that you can assess around four competences during a STAR interview. You also achieve around four per assessment exercise. Imagine you conduct 2 interviews or 1 interview and 1 assessment exercise. In this case, you can collect evidence from eight competences for their proficiency level. You select those eight competences based on the result of the psychometric tests, then the only question that remains is for how many competences you find it acceptable to make a verdict based on potential. Four? Five? Six? You also want to have interview information or assessment observations for most competencies.

Best practice

We try to guide our customers based on 12 competences. In this case you gain information from interviews and/or live assessments using a standard selection process based on 2/3 of the competences. Fourteen is also an option but, ideally, no more than that.

Don’t forget to first set up a position oriented competence profile. We know that 12 competences are sufficient to clearly define the position.

More competences lead to an over-differentiation. Imagine you’re going to conduct development interviews with an employee. In that case, you want a clear profile.

I.e. from various perspectives. What is the optimum number of competences? Our advice is to aim for about 12. This gives you sufficient nuance and depth. You can also evaluate most of them using interviews and/or assessments. And the psychometric tests will provide you with information for all of them. Another advantage is that you can limit the number of tests and questionnaires used. This is a major benefit from the candidates’ perspective.

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