The Value of Competency-Based Job Descriptions

This blog post will look upon a recent CBC article that speaks about how competencies are different from credentials and provide a basis for why implementing a competency-based HR strategy will benefit any organization. The article demonstrates a kind of dichotomy between theoretical capacity (credentials) and functional competency (experience). One specific quote from the CBC article will be analyzed: “When most employers advertise a job, they do so by asking potential employees for a particular credential, like a degree or certificate. The problem is that a credential only identifies what a person has been taught or trained to do. Competencies, on the other hand, are what a person actually knows, understands and can do. This quote says a lot of things, namely:

  1. There is a perception that credentials imply that someone can do something in particular;
  2. That because someone has attended school, this must imply they are good at something;
  3. That credentials are being misunderstood as good ways to identify skilled employees; and
  4. That credentials are in some way misaligned with the curriculum and skills learned in professional and academic programs.

There are a few additional problematic assumptions made in the quote cited above. For one, if someone has university or academic credentials, this often implies they have a strong basis in theory or ‘book smarts’ about how something functions. This doesn’t necessarily mean this same person has no experiential or ‘functional’ competency in a particular area. Generalizations aside, asking for credentials as a part of the hiring process is still ubiquitous in job applications posted by employers.

My argument is to say that both are necessary. It is good to have a job candidate with both relevant credentials and experience. The issue is, though, that employers have a hard time deciding how to figure out if someone is competent from an application or interview while credentials cited on a CV are obvious immediately.

So, how can an employer find out if a candidate has both of these qualities?

The answer is in defining job descriptions according to a competency-based framework. Functional competencies are designed to find out and describe what it is that makes someone truly competent in a particular job role. By defining these competencies in a specific way, the expectations of competency will become clearer as will job descriptions as a result. If functional competencies are well identified and stated in job descriptions, the result will be a higher quality of applicants for specific jobs who have the requisite experience to do the job.

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Tags: competency mapping, competency-based learning, competency-based training, educational trends, performance management, performance standards, skill certification, skills development