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It’s important to not confuse skills with competencies when seeking top talent

By Tallys Moreth


In the business and labour market context, there is the term competency which indicates a set of characteristics of an individual that helps them perform their job duties. It is an element of differentiation and companies usually seek to hire talent with already developed professional skills. However, many companies invest in training their employees, so that new skills are acquired, which contributes to the success of the company. What are competencies and skills?

Confusing these two terms is quite common among professionals of all kinds, especially when looking for a job and these two words are used in virtually every job posting. It is normal for these words to be used synonymously even by human resources professionals and recruiters. However, even if the differences are subtle, understanding what differentiates one expression from the other is important to really understand who the professional is that the organization is looking to hire when posting a job vacancy.

In his book Recruitment and Selection in Canada, Victor M. Catano stated, “Competencies have also been defined as groups of related behaviours, rather than the KSAOs, that are needed for successful job performance in an organization.” It is important to understand that Catano makes a correlation between competencies and the KSAO acronym (knowledge, skills, abilities and other characteristics). Nowadays the most in-demand professional competencies are resilience, focus on results, entrepreneurial spirit, agility in decision making, empathy, self-knowledge, negotiation and conflict resolution.

Resilience. One thing is a fact: everyone makes mistakes. This is not a defect, but a part of human nature. However, the way mistakes are faced makes all the difference within the professional scope. If an individual spends too much time thinking about how and why a mistake was made and who is to blame, stop there. The job market looks for someone who focuses on the solutions and learns from their failures, not someone who cares about justifying mistakes. That is being resilient.

Focus on results. Rather than performing tasks impeccably, it is essential to produce results. Whether they are short-, medium- or long-term projects, being able to focus on results is one of the most valued competencies at the organizational level.

Entrepreneurial spirit. This competency means that the professional must take care of the company as if it was their own. For that reason, it is relevant to present ideas that improve daily activities and facilitate processes and procedures. Usually, the entrepreneur is characterized as an individual with a high level of positive thinking (they believe in their efforts and the possible results), confidence and courage (they’re able to find motivation in order to face any type of fear) and organization (an entrepreneur has a defined plan or vision, and works in a smart manner to accomplish that vision).

Agility in decision making. The frantic pace of today’s corporate world forces the professional to be more dynamic; able to make accurate and fast decisions that have a positive effect on the organization. The positive side of this accelerated rhythm is that the individual is encouraged to use their abilities to feel, think and act without hesitation, which is a great exercise for self-confidence and creativity.

Empathy. Working in a company normally means dealing with people: managers, supervisors, customers, suppliers or co-workers. Therefore, dealing with interpersonal relationships is something that cannot be avoided. Empathy is the capacity to establish a connection through intellectual or emotional identification. Whether in a large corporation or in a small co-working space, connecting a bit more with co-workers is a way to improve the organizational atmosphere and routine. It is no longer acceptable to ignore the feelings and problems of other people.

Self-knowledge. Everybody has weaknesses and strengths. It is impossible to be perfect in everything. Therefore, the professional needs to understand their own limits and sources of motivation. If an individual has a high level of self-knowledge, their work will be more compatible with their behavioural profile. Regardless of the area of expertise, self-knowledge is an important asset for any professional or human being.

Negotiation and conflict resolution. Negotiation is a way for people to limit themselves or eliminate their differences. Negotiation is a process of relationship that aims for an understanding between the parties involved. It can be simple or complex, fast or time-consuming, with two or more individuals.

The renowned professor of leadership and organizational psychology at Claremont McKenna College, Ronald E. Riggio states that decision making and conflict management should also be included in the top 10 leadership competencies in this century.

A recruiter must be able to differentiate skills, abilities and competencies. Skills are characteristics that a person acquires to perform a role or function, while competence is broader and consists of the joining and co-ordination of skills with knowledge and attitudes. Although these terms are used interchangeably, they have different meanings, and competencies define the requirements for job success in terms broader than skills. Think of skills as one of the three parts that compose a competency; the other two are knowledge and attitude. Someone very skilled does not necessarily mean someone very competent. A person may have skills, but not have the necessary competence. A competent professional is somebody who is able to perform their job function as required.


Tallys Moreth is a human resources specialist with a focus in strategic management.




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