Skills and competencies – what’s the difference?

by May 30, 2024

Skills and competencies –  But what’s the difference?

Skills and competencies are often used interchangeably in the job search and hiring process. However, there are some key differences

 

The terms “skills” and “competencies” are often used interchangeably in the job search and hiring process. However, there are some key differences so it’s important to understand what they are.

Definition of skills

Skills are specific abilities or expertise that we can learn, practice, and measure. They are typically task-orientated which we can demonstrate and employ in a range of tasks. They can improve with practice, training and experience, and in some cases can be quantified.

There are two types of skills – hard skills and soft skills. 

  • Hard skills

Hard skills are the abilities that we need to perform a specific role and carry out a function which are learned and measurable. This can include basics such as driving a car or heavy goods vehicle, language fluency, knowledge of specific software programmes, medical procedures, accounting or policy regulations and legal systems.     

  • Soft skills

Soft skills refer to interpersonal transferable skills which can be employed in a wide range of roles across multiple functions. They are the cement that holds hard skills together. We can learn or hone them, but are more difficult to measure. We need these skills to communicate and work successfully with others, as well as to manage our time and resources effectively. They also include the ability to navigate change, resilience, problem-solving, critical analysis and conflict resolution.

The Belgian-American psychologist Esther Perel suggests that usually:

“people are hired for hard skills, but fired for lack of soft skills”  

 

skills and competencies

Definition of competencies

Competences (or competencies) are broader than skills. They cover a combination of knowledge, skills, abilities, and behaviours that allow a person to perform tasks successfully in wider range of contexts.

This can include:

  • Leadership competencies:  covers skills such as communication, strategic thinking, team building, and emotional intelligence.
  • Cultural competencies:  understanding of cross-cultural differences, and the ability to interact effectively with people from a wide range of backgrounds.
  • Professional competencies: these skills help employees succeed within an organisation or industry.
  • Functional competencies: this means proficiencies that help individuals be more successful in their specific occupational roles. This can be H.R, marketing, engineering, or logistics.

Some competencies can be more specific to particular roles or environments, and integrate several elements such as specialist knowledge and skills.  Other competencies can be more general around attitude and behaviours. They can develop over time (but not necessarily) and be demonstrated in specific professional environments.

Worth a read: Leadership in Crisis. Lonely at the top.

Difference between skills and competencies

Here are the differences between skills and competencies:

  1. Scope:
    • Skills are narrower and more specific.
    • Competences are broader and more holistic, encompassing a range of skills, knowledge, and behaviors.
  2. Assessment:
    • Skills can be easily observed and measured (e.g., through tests, and demonstrations).
    • Competences are assessed through performance evaluations, taking into account how skills, knowledge, and behaviors are applied in a given context.
  3. Development:
    • Skills can be developed relatively quickly through training and practice.
    • Competencies require ongoing development through a combination of education, experience, and reflective practice.
  4. Application:
    • Skills are applied to perform specific tasks.
    • Competencies are applied to manage situations and fulfill roles effectively, often requiring the integration of multiple skills and knowledge.

Understanding the distinction between skills and competencies is important for personal development, as it helps individuals and organisations focus not only on acquiring specific abilities but also on developing the broader capacities needed for effective performance in various roles and contexts.

Competence development

Developing competencies tends to be more complex and challenging than the development of a specific skill. Excelling at them is more nuanced and they can be more challenging to assess especially as learning or honing leadership capabilities requires a number of skills in different areas.  They might be hard skills – learning how to make a compelling presentation can be accomplished by taking an online course. But to deliver that presentation well as part of a compelling leadership strategy will take much longer and may require mastery of voice projection, powerful body language, and creative writing. 

This holistic approach requires ongoing learning, self-reflection, and adaptation to different situations, making the development process more intricate and multifaceted than merely acquiring isolated skills.  

 

 

Need help developing your career?

To find out how we can help with your career development contact 3plus via info@3plusinternational.com

 

3Plus welcomes any writers to join 3Plus as a Staff Writer. If you are an expert in Job Search, Career and Mentoring or just want to share your experiences, contact us! We would love to give you a voice!

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