Most of the time, especially in human resources, we often interchange the words ‘skills’ and ‘competencies’ but in order to accurately measure and predict an employee’s ability to perform on the job, it’s best to know and understand the difference between the two.
‘Skills’ and ‘Competencies’ Defined
Skills are the specific learned abilities that one needs to be able to perform a given job or task well. In short, skills measure the “what” and identify what types of abilities are needed by employees to be able to perform a specific task. Skills can be further categorized into two: soft skills and hard skills
Hard Skills: Refer to skill sets that can be taught and easily identified. Examples of these skills include data analysis, programming and typing speed.
Soft Skills: Refer to subjective skills or “interpersonal skills” that are harder to quantify. Examples of these skills include: time management, flexibility, and leadership.
Competencies on the other hand refer to a broader concept. By definition, competencies are the combination of skills, knowledge and abilities that are exercised to effectively perform the duties of a job. Unlike skills, competencies measure how these 3 components (skills, knowledge and abilities) are applied to be able to do the job well.
We’ve already defined what skills are, let’s define the other two components to better understand what consists of a competency:
Knowledge: Refers to facts and concepts that are gained from experience.
Abilities: Refer to the capacity to perform something based on one’s values, beliefs and emotions.
Based on the definitions above, you can easily distinguish the two by noting that skills measure “what” your employees need to have to be able to accomplish a task while competencies will show you “how” these skills and other aspects are applied to be able to do the job successfully.
Here’s an example on how these two are applied:
Let’s say you are looking at hiring a Marketing Professional in your organization. The skills (the what) you will be looking for are PowerPoint presentation skills, writing skills, graphic design skills or research skills. and the competencies (the how) you need to identify are communication, analytical thinking and strategic planning.
Another important distinction of skills from competencies is that skills can be developed and learned through training or can be acquired through experience. While competencies take a longer time to develop but could be essential most especially when you need to determine your organization’s key drivers for success.
Which one is more important? The answer depends on which aspect of an employee’s performance you are trying to identify and measure.
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