What are competencies, why are they so important nowadays? How are competencies used in HR and how can individuals use them to their advantage?

  1. Some years ago when executives and managers talked about the type of employees they wanted to contract for their businesses they spoke of skills and qualifications. These words are still used but have been overshadowed by the term competencies. Competencies are a concept taken on board by HR departments to measure a person’s appropriateness for a particular job.

  2. In simple terms a competency is a tool that an individual can use in order to demonstrate a high standard of performance. Competencies are characteristics that we use to achieve success. These characteristics or traits can include things like knowledge, aspects of leadership, self-esteem, skills or relationship building. There are a lot of competencies but they are usually divided into groups. Most organisations recognise two main groups and then have numerous sub groups which competencies can be further divided into.

    There has been a lot written about competencies. It is easy to see how people can become easily confused by what a competency actually is. It is also essential that people in the world of business have a clear understanding of what different competencies are and, in particular, which competencies are of interest to them — either as an individual interested in self-development — or as an employer looking for the best candidate for a job.

  3. Competencies can be divided into two distinct types; technical competencies (sometimes referred to as functional) and personal competencies. As the name suggests, technical competencies are those which are related to the skills and knowledge that are essential in order for a person to do a particular job appropriately. An example of a technical competency for a secretary might be: “Word processing: able to word process a text at the rate of 80 words per minute with no mistakes.” Personal competencies are not linked to any particular function. They include characteristics that we use together with our technical competencies in order to do our work well. An example of a personal competency is: “Interpersonal Sensitivity: Demonstrates respect for the opinions of others, even when not in agreement.”

  4. As can be seen from the examples above there is a particular way of expressing a competency. First the competency is given a title; for example “word processing”. Then a brief indicator or explanation is given as an example of the person’s aptitude in that competency; for example “able to word process a text at the rate of 80 words per minute with no mistakes.”

Many organisations identify a set of generic competencies which they require in all or selected groups of their staff. These are personal attributes and behaviours required in the workplace.

The recruitment and selection of professionals and managers is one of the most significant and costly investments an organisation can make. Risks can be high, and the cost of a bad hire can have a tremendous impact on time, money and company culture.

A competence and competency-based approach to recruitment and selection of professionals and managers can help your organisation make it an effective and successful investment of time, money and expertise.

Such an approach will help ensure that:

  • the organisation is clear regarding the competencies and skill sets required by the job

  • the selection processes encourage a good fit between individuals and their jobs

  • managers and staff have the required skills and competencies

  • individual competence and competencies are matched to the requirements of the position, the fit of the person with the immediate team, the overall cultural fit, and the particular challenge

  • a good process can also support and sell the decision internally if it is determined that an external candidate is the best choice for the position.

This topic examines examples of different competencies and competences, competency frameworks and analysis techniques.

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