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Looking for a new Job? What are 'Competencies' & Why are they Important?

Updated on June 19, 2015
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Professional and Adj. Professor in I/O Psychology & Technology. Passion in Research of Data Applications and Human Technology Integration.

Why Competency-Based Recruitment?

The competency framework or model is aligned to the agency’s strategic thrusts, ensuring that each employee is able to contribute to organization-wide goals.
The competency framework or model is aligned to the agency’s strategic thrusts, ensuring that each employee is able to contribute to organization-wide goals. | Source

Skills, Knowledge & Behavior

Skills may include specific abilities needed to complete a job function such as running a Windows based server, manipulating a database, communication with internal and external clients and operating specific types of equipment. These are all examples of skills that a candidate may need to posses, prior to entering the organization. Knowledge is category that includes an individual’s expertise in field, this can range from investments, accounting, clinical science and technology. Behavioral competencies are those in which individuals display in their day-to-day lives, such as professionalism, punctuality and resourcefulness (Peregrin, 2014).

Competency Based Job Descriptions

Northwestern University provides a model on which an organization can integrate the traditional job description with the competency based model (2004). This model includes many of the traditional elements of job descriptions over the years including job title, scope, job summary, minimum qualifications and preferred qualifications. Additionally, Northwestern University (2004) indicates that the competency based job format will include minimum competencies and preferred competencies. Ultimately, hiring managers can simply review and revise older models of job descriptions by highlighting the desired and required competencies, making the task much less intimidating than perceived. Competency based job descriptions are a starting point in a strategic direction of creating, implementing and sustaining an effective talent based management system. By applying the competency based job model to an existing, traditional job description, the advantages of applying the competency model will become clear and evident. Analyzing the job purpose, duties and skills, provides a foundation on which to create and highlight the competencies for a any position. Additionally, these competencies will provide performance requirements of the skills, knowledge and attributes a candidate must posses.

Competency scores are more predictive of success on the job.

Instead of using just one primary style, competencies are frequently underpinned by secondary styles which also load positively on each competency score.
Instead of using just one primary style, competencies are frequently underpinned by secondary styles which also load positively on each competency score. | Source

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Benefits to Organizations and Job Candidates

By breaking the competencies into two core components, it allows for a more organized and aligned modeling process. The two core competencies noted by Peregin (2014) are position-specific and organizational competencies.

There is a job purpose, duties and a skills/qualifications section. However, the competency-based model would assist in ensuring that candidates are selected based on their behaviors and attitudes to successfully apply the skills and knowledge in the position. This is beneficial to the organization and the candidate, as the expectations of performance are clear, there is an inherent framework to establish goals and identifies competency gaps that be developed for employee promotions.

Example 'Competencies' for a Project Manager

To provide the five necessary competencies for a project manger position, it is important to understand the roles and responsibilities. This includes the three sections typically listed on the job description. The first section is the ‘job purpose’. The job purpose may state, “Accomplishes project objectives by planning and evaluating project activities”. The 'job duties’ provide a picture of specific project objectives this position will be expected to meet. These duties include human resource objectives ranging from recruiting, training, coaching and disciplining. All of these specific tasks require interpersonal and communication skills to be effective. ‘Communication’ would be a key core competency to identify in this position. The performance statement could read as:

Key/Required Competencies


-Displays an ability to effectively communicate verbally, electronically and in writing.

-Organizes information and data from multiple sources, prepares reports and presents findings.

Due to the nature of a project manager position relying on multitude of communication platforms with various levels of employees, communication should be a key and required competency for the position. Without effective communication skills, the employee would not be able to articulate information from one source and prepare in a report to reflect the same message in a more restrictive manner. Additionally, communication in the form of emails, phone calls, written reports and interviews will be a requirement of the position, due to the nature of the vast amount of human resource duties from recruiting, selecting and interviewing candidates. Enforcing policies and procedures may require written communication to employees and formal reports.

The next objective is the ‘operational’ objective. This objective may state that the project manager “Achieves operational objectives by contributing information and recommendations to strategic plans and reviews; preparing and completing action plans; implementing production, productivity, quality, and customer-service standards; resolving problems; completing audits; identifying trends; determining system improvements; and implementing change”. This objective underlines the ‘communication’ competency again, as being a key to success in this position. However, by requiring the project manager to apply and synthesize a deep knowledge of human resource planning by incorporating the HR recruiting process with the implementation of goals, change, audits, problem resolution and identifying trends. These are skills that require the knowledge of HR and ability to critically think, forming recommendations by identifying trends, determining system improvements and change implementation.

Key/Required Competencies


-Deep knowledge of HR policies, procedures and enforcement in areas of recruiting and training.

-Advanced knowledge of HR analytic models, system enhancement and change management.

-Foundational application of Microsoft Office 2010, specifically with Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Access.

The ‘financial’ objective within a typicall project manager job description indicates the employee must meet “financial objectives by forecasting requirements; preparing an annual budget; scheduling expenditures; analyzing variances; and initiating corrective actions”. These duties can be seen in the previous competencies highlighted, but due to the nature of the financial functions coupled with HR planning knowledge and direct involvement in the recruiting process, another competency should be added. This competency is called ‘organization/efficiency’, mainly needed to frame the ability of a candidate to multitask, perform under pressure to meet various deadlines and maintain a level of organization to prioritize work.

Key/Required Competencies


-Strong ability to complete multiple tasks simultaneously

-Optimal performance working under pressure, within multiple deadlines and prioritizing work.

-Able to identify areas of possible systems streamlining and organizational processes.

-Ability to organize and maintain various types of financial data to prepare annual budgets, expenditures and create financial forecasts.

In addition to the previous duties noted, a project manager is likely to be required to participate in educational opportunities, maintain professional contacts, keep an up-to-date working knowledge of human resources and project management, add value to the organization through job accomplishments and accomplishing new requests. These are duties related to maintaining a demeanor of professionalism and leadership. As noted by Peregrin (2014), professionalism and leadership are behavioral competencies focused on relationship-oriented behaviors.

Key/Required Competencies


-Maintains an active role in professional organizations and promotes self-growth through educational opportunities.

-Identifies key professional contacts in the industry and maintains a relationship with contacts on an ongoing basis.

-Participates in professional functions, attending seminars and strives to enhance department growth.


-Provides ethical guidance in a variety of environments and situations.

-Manages, plans and implements employee development models, recruiting processes and organizational efforts

-Motivates employees at multiple levels in the organization, while providing mentorship and relationship building.

-Ability to cascade organizational and departmental visions, missions and changes in a proactive manner that encourages employee participation and teamwork.

By applying the competency based job model to a traditional job description, the distinction becomes immediately evident, noticeable and measurable. These competencies provide the expected attitudes and behaviors that underline the required knowledge and skills that an employee is expected to display, in this example as a project manager.

A Quote from Mark Twain


Competencies indicate Leadership, Growth & Success

Thus, when creating and writing the competencies for a position, the vocabulary and measurements are indicative of the leadership framework in which the organization is modeled. It is recommended that when recruiting transformational leaders, job postings should include words such as motivate, inspire, collective goals (departmental or organizational goals), teamwork, etc… These are terms providing a perceptive reference that indicates to a prospective candidate that the organization values the relationship-oriented behavior over task-oriented behavior. This is indicative of a transformational leader, opposed to a transactional leader, as the terms are inclusive and promote growth, development and ultimately profitability.

Not only does adding and highlighting competencies to a job description provide the necessary expectations and measurements, but can indicate the organizational culture and the value placed on recruiting a specific type of leader. In today’s society of a globalizing work force and ever changing landscape of business environments, relationship-oriented candidates in leadership positions are not just important, but becoming a requirement for organizational survival.


Den Hartog, D. N., Caley, A., & Dewe, P. (2007). Recruiting leaders: an analysis of leadership advertisements. Human Resource Management Journal, 17(1), 58-75. doi:10.1111/j.1748-8583.2007.00021.x

Northwestern University (Sept. 2004). Guidelines for Writing a Competency Based Job Description. Retrieved from

Peregrin, T. (2014). Practice Application: Competency-Based Hiring: The key to recruiting and retaining successful employees. Journal Of The Academy Of Nutrition And Dietetics, 1141330,1332,1337,1339-1331,1335,1337,1339. doi:10.1016/j


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