How to Better Understand and Use Competencies for Career Development

Key Definitions & Categories Helpful for Your Personal Career Development Plan

Find out here key definitions for and categories of competencies for career development and how these apply to your personal career development plan.

Definition of competency

Competencies for career development can be defined as knowledge, skills, experiences, abilities and personal characteristics such as attitudes and values. They are all required to be successful in a position, department and company.

They are further defined below:


Knowledge is usually gained through education and learning. It can also be gained through on-the-job learning.

It is often described in terms of qualifications, pre-requisite training, certification, etc required for the position.

You need to know this to establish if you have the pre-requisite knowledge to apply for a position.

If you are changing careers then this information will help you establish if you need to plan on acquiring the knowledge or if you can move into the new career with the education and learning you have already received.

Keep in mind that to work in certain professions you will need formal mandatory qualifications such as going through medical school. On the other hand, certain professions have an overlap and it might be easier for you to change careers without having to again go through formal schooling. An example would be moving from Finance to Purchasing or Administration.

You should factor this in as you review your competencies for career development.

Skills, experiences and abilities

Skills, experiences and abilities are gained through work and on the job training.

They can be broad, deep or a combination of both depending on your area of work.

Most positions have a requirement for people to enter in at a certain skill level. This is known as the entry level competencies for career development.

Once you start working in a job you get to develop and hone your skills. As a result, your skill level increases over time. At a point in time the skill level starts to plateau unless you keep developing yourself through exposure to new challenges, responsibilities, etc.

If you considering a career change then you need to start looking at your skills, experiences and abilities and which of those are transferable to the new career.

The skill and competency assessment process will help you with this. If you have a lot of transferable skills then great. If not, then you need to put together a plan to acquire the competency for career development.

Attitudes and values

Such competencies for career development tell you the "how" of doing the job.

In other words, they tell a person what sort of behaviors they should be trying to demonstrate in their job done.

Some examples are: being a team player; communicating openly and honestly; having integrity in everything you do; respecting for diversity; having a genuine concern for others; having a mindset of developing others; taking initiative; and so on.

These are just some examples.

You should be aware of this and reflect on where you come out with respect to the attitudes and values that are required to perform well in a job or career.

I have seen many times when people had everything except the attitude and they either failed in their job or were not selected during the recruitment process.

If you have a gap then work on it - the dividends will be huge!

Competency categories

There are usually two broad competencies for career development categories used by most organizations. They are:

  • Leadership competencies, and
  • Functional or technical competencies

It is important you understand these so you can be more effective in your career development.

Let us look at each of them below:

Leadership competencies

Leadership competencies for career development apply to everyone although some companieshave a differentset for different levels. They define what sort of behaviors the company expects from itspeople in their day to day work and interaction with others. They also define theleadership attributes that the company expects from its people.

Some examples are: Teamwork, Developing others, Open communication, Focus on deliveringresults, Problem solving, Respect for others, etc.

Leadership skills along with attitudes and values are important competenciesfor career development.

They have also been referred to as Emotional Intelligence.

It has been well proven that your technical competencies for career developmentwill get you only to certainlevel in an organization. After that you will need to use your EmotionalIntelligence to get through the regular challenges that face leaders.

Interestingly, if you look around and compare the leadership competency for careerdevelopment acrossjobs, areas and even professions they do look similar. As a result, if you are strongin this area then it is an asset that is transferable across jobs, areas and evencareers!

It is well worth your time understanding this competency for career developmentcategory and spending timedeveloping it.

Functional or technical competencies

Functional or technical competencies for career developmentare specific to the area of work or specializationand usually vary across departments and professions.

For example, the Finance area will have a set of Finance relatedcompetencies, the Engineering area will have a set of Engineering related competencies andso on.

They define what specific functional or department knowledge, skills and experiencesare necessary to be effective in a position.

This is one area where you need to pay particular attention particularly during yourformative career development years.

If you choose to stay within a particular area or department and specialize then youneed to consider how you will be developing those competencies within that area.

If you are considering a career change then you need to think about which of yourtechnical skills and competencies are transferable to the new area of work. If you havegaps then you need to think about how to close the gap.

Competency descriptors and levels

One last point related to skills and competencies that you need to understand is the level of the competency and how it is described.

The competencies for career development whether they be a leadership or a technical competency is typically defined by descriptors.

Descriptors help you understand in more detail what is expected of you.

They are also written in a way to indicate increasing complexity, i.e. someone joining a company straight out of University will perform at an entry level versus someone with several years of experience performing at a higher level.

The best way to understand this is to ask your manager for a complete list of descriptors for the competencies in your job. You will be able to see where you are in the competency level (e.g. entry, medium or high) by reading the descriptors. Ask your Human Resources staff for further assistance if you need someone to explain it to you in more detail.

Understanding this will help you do a more effective gap analysis.

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