Differences Between Skills & Competencies

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“Success is getting what you want. Happiness is wanting what you get” is a Dale Carnegie adage that serves as mantra for many business people. But today, achieving professional success may be less about burning the midnight oil and more about identifying the skills and competencies that set you apart from others in your company and industry and doing the work necessary to acquire them. The first step in accomplishing these goals is understanding the difference between a skill and a competency.

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Employers define a skill as a learned attribute, reports HRTMSJOBS, a maker of job description management software. For example, an employee learns the appropriate way to use a particular software product, such as Word, or to operate a particular calculator to accomplish a particular work objective.

A competency differs from a skill in that a competency consists of learned skill, acquired knowledge and developed behavior. For example, good communication requires presentation and language skills that can be learned, along with cultural awareness and innate patience when interacting with others. According to HRTMSJOBS, problem solving is a competency, as is communication and professionalism. Because a competency is a set of characteristics that are particularly effective in certain business settings, they are often used for employee performance evaluations.

Each job is best performed by the person who has those particular skills and competencies. For this reason, companies refrain from making a general statement that every employee must have a certain set of skills or competencies in the hopes that the attribute set will lead to success in all cases. Instead, each company creates a job description that lists the skills and competencies that a specific job candidate will need for a specific job. The company uses the job description to solicit job applicants, who, in turn, use the job description to determine if they're a fit for the job. Following the candidate’s application, recruiters, interviewers and hiring managers perform the initial evaluation of each applicant and their fitness for the position based on the description.

When an employee assumes one position, rather than another, it’s likely his perception of the importance of one competency versus another will vary, according to a survey of more than 332,000 employees by behavioral statistician Joseph Folkman in a 2014 Forbes article. The employees opinions are reflected in Folkman's reporting that the relative importance of some competencies, such as the ability to collaborate with co-workers, and a balance of competencies are important regardless of a person’s organizational rank or position. According to Folkman's survey, the set of competencies an employee should emphasize change as he moves up the organizational ladder and according to the job, personal skills and assignments. This finding seems to reflect the tendency of companies to consider desirable traits as position-specific, rather than company-specific.

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