Competency-based job description

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In human resource management, developing competency-based job descriptions is one way to define participant roles while still allowing for evolution. Like well-written typical job descriptions, competency-based job descriptions list job title, job description, key responsibilities, and requisite and preferred education and experience. What competency-based job descriptions add is a focus on less tangible behavioural competencies.

These qualities are numerous, and elaborate systems developed by human resource consulting firms and are available for assistance in developing competency-based job descriptions and related evaluative methods. A few examples of behavioural competencies are leadership, interpersonal communication, multicultural sensitivity, initiative, teamwork, and flexibility. Linked to each competency are indicators of how effectively employees meet each requirement. Enunciating behavioural competencies facilitates personnel selection, role comprehension, and performance evaluation.

Definition of Competency[edit]

According to the Oxford Dictionary, competencies are: “the knowledge, skills, abilities, personal characteristics and other “worker-based” factors that help differentiate superior performance from average performance under specified circumstances. Competencies are identified to clearly define the essential functions of the job.”[1][2]

Core Competencies[edit]

Core competencies are the set of skills which are crucial to a business, in order for them to gain a competitive advantage in their market. Senior managers are unable to manage every single aspect of their business, including the competencies needed to maintain a strong business. This means that they must come up with a set of competencies which truly affect their competitive advantage, as this will save them time in the long run when it comes to hiring employees.

Hamel and Prahalad[edit]

Hamel and Prahalad’s main idea was that over time companies will develop key areas of expertise which are unique to that company and crucial for their long term growth. They said the core competencies should not be seen as being fixed; these competencies should change in response to changes in the company’s business environment. This is because over time, the business will evolve and new opportunities will arise and so the same must happen to the core competencies. Hamel and Prahalad came up with three questions which businesses must consider when identifying their core competencies:

  1. Are the competencies difficult for competitors to imitate?
  2. Do the competencies provide potential access to a wide variety of markets?
  3. Do the competencies make a large contribution to the consumer benefits?

Hamel and Prahalad were extremely successful and ended up publishing a best-selling book about their observations: 'Competing for the Future' .[3]

Elements of Competency-based job description[edit]

  • Job title – title that is used to refer to the employees position in the company e.g. Project Manager
  • Relevance of position – statement about how the position supports the company (with its business plan and objectives)
  • Major responsibilities – list of the main activities that the individual must undertake on a day-to-day basis
  • Critical criteria – standards and qualities that candidates must have in order to be considered for the job
  • Preferred criteria – qualities that the company would like candidate to possess but are not crucial in the day-to-day activities of the job
  • Reports to – who their manager is[4]


There are 4 main reasons why competency-based job descriptions are crucial to businesses:

  1. They provide crucial information for assigning the correct title and pay grade for the job
  2. They make it easier to recruit candidates as the process becomes more efficient
  3. Means potential candidates have a complete understanding of the duties and responsibilities they are to undertake
  4. Finally, the competencies identify the essential functions of the job[5]

Differences between competencies and description[edit]

Many hiring managers fail to differentiate between job description and job competencies. Some do not allocate enough time to properly state the job competencies needed to future employees and this can result in problems for the companies in the long run.

Table showing the differences between job description and job competencies[edit]

Description Competencies
States job title and the department which is hiring Are a key element in the job description
Defines the position the job holds in the hierarchy of the business Describes the skill, knowledge and attitudes that are needed by the future employees to perform their work
States the responsibilities of employee and who their subordinates are The competencies have a major impact on employees job performance
Includes needed education, training, experience and job competencies of potential candidates They show what managers consider to be the skills required to accomplish the work tasks assigned to the role
States tools future employees will use to perform their daily tasks, e.g. computer software Job competency assessments are performed to identify the skills needed


Job descriptions and competencies allow potential employees to identify the skills, qualities, experience and training needed for a certain job. The information in the job description and competencies is included in the performance requirements which form the performance reviews. Businesses rely on job descriptions and competencies to create training programs for their employees whereas employees use these to obtain the skills required for them to get a promotion or pay rise![6]

Small Businesses[edit]

Small businesses struggle a lot more than larger businesses when it comes to employing people for jobs. It is much better for them to use competency-based job descriptions as they differ from standard job descriptions because they emphasize the worker rather than the work. Competency-based job descriptions decrease the chances of the employer hiring the wrong person for the job. [7]

To ensure that staff are placed properly within a small business, they must create a detailed job description. For a small business it is crucial that they hire the right number of people. This is because, if they hire too many people it could lead to money being wasted on staff income (wages are the highest costs to business). As well as other issues, as the saying goes: “too many cooks spoil the broth”! On the other hand, if they hire too few people, it could lead to inefficiencies and large costs for the small business in the long run.

The best approach for small businesses will be to have a job preview, assess whether individuals are capable of learning the skills needed by the company. This will help filter out those candidates who will not be suitable for the job. If possible, small businesses should use experienced individuals in the hiring process, these individuals will know if the future employee will fit in to the culture of the company as well as if they possess the relevant skills.[8]

Competency Life Cycle[edit]

The competency life cycle consists of 4 phases which aim to develop and enhance individual and organisational competencies. The different phases are:

  1. Competency mapping – this phase is there to provide the company with a summary of all the crucial competencies needed in order to fulfil its targets (outlined in the business plan), outline the job requirements and the group needs. This phase also defines the required skill level for each job profile
  2. Competency diagnosis – this is based on the current employees in the company. This outlines the present proficiency level each employee possesses. The company will perform a ‘skill gap analysis’, which defines the gap between the skills the employee currently has compared to the competencies needed for their job
  3. Competency development – this phase deals with development of training/activities the company provides to employees to fill the skill gaps found in the previous phase
  4. Monitoring of competencies – an analysis of the results of the competency development phase[9]

Competency Analysis[edit]

In order to conduct thorough competency analysis, one has to gather information from various sources. These sources are known as job content experts (JCEs) and they have a good understanding of positions in companies. JCEs are usually the people who manage the position one is looking to fill. The first step of the competency analysis is to accumulate detailed descriptions of the tasks which make up the job: ‘task analyses’. This is done through a range of data collection methods:

  • Job observation: observe people already in the job and ask them to describe what they do etc
  • Incumbent interviews: conduct interviews with people already in the job, asking each individual the same set of questions. The questions should be based on their key responsibilities, problems they need to solve/ difficulties they face, skills they feel are needed for success etc
  • Critical incidents meetings: meetings with JCEs, getting them to provide examples of times employees have been extremely efficient or inefficient
  • Competency vision meetings: meetings with ‘visionaries’, those who know about the future of the company. The reason for these meetings is because the hiring manager is looking for an employee who will stay for the long term and an employee who will contribute to the future success of the company

Once the data from these various sources has been analysed, a list of the competencies needed for the job description can come together, completing the competency analysis.[4]


There are many benefits of using competencies in organisations:

  • Competencies help a business distinguish their top performers and their average ones. This is useful information for managers when it comes to giving out bonuses
  • As competencies are linked to business objectives or business strategies, aligning the two is more effective and convenient for the business, making it more streamlined
  • Identifying and using core competencies to create goods & services results in major contributions to the companies competitiveness
  • Businesses who use the competency-based approach will generally have a more flexible workforce, with individuals who are extremely well trained and this should result in a successful performance from those employees
  • Staff turnover is reduced if competency-based job descriptions are used, as candidates whom are best suited for the role are hired[10]


However, there are also some negative aspects of competency-based job descriptions. They can be extremely time consuming, as it takes a long time to gather the data needed to decide which competencies are relevant for the job profile. This process can also be very costly and not all businesses may have the funds available to carry out the competency analysis. The analysis also requires staff with specific skills, which certain businesses may lack.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ -, -. "Oxford Dictionaries: language matters". Oxford Dictionaries. Retrieved 23 October 2014. 
  2. ^ Collins English Dictionary (14th ed.). Glasgow: Collins gem. 2006. p. 113. ISBN 978-0-00-720877-7. 
  3. ^ Riley, Jim. "Core Competencies". tutor2u. Retrieved 23 October 2014. 
  4. ^ a b "Competency-based job descriptions". Retrieved 21 October 2014. 
  5. ^ -, -. "Guidelines for Writing a Competency Based Job Description". -. Retrieved 20 October 2014. 
  6. ^ Nordmeyer, Billie. "The Difference Between a Job Competency & Description". Heart Newspapers. Retrieved 20 October 2014. 
  7. ^ Ashe-Edmunds, Sam. "Competency Based Job Descriptions". Demand Media. Retrieved 27 October 2014. 
  8. ^ "Competency Based Organisations". From job based to competency-based organizations 15 (1): 9. 21 Nov 2006. Retrieved 27 October 2014. 
  9. ^ -, - (2006). "Information Management & Computer Security". - 14 (1): 54. Retrieved 27 October 2014. 
  10. ^ Hawkes, Candace; Weathington, Bart. "Competency-Based Versus Task-Based Job Descriptions: Effects on Applicant Attraction". p. 193. Retrieved 27 October 2014.