Skills vs. Competencies: What’s the Difference?

What is a skill or competency?

Skills vs Competencies | Why being competent is more important? | Skill Development

Types of skills

Two types of skills include soft skills and hard skills. Here are the differences between these types of skills, with examples for each:

Soft skills

Soft skills refer to the nontechnical skills that individuals possess. These skills arent industry-specific, meaning they can apply to a broad range of roles in most occupational fields. For example, interpersonal skills like communications, conflict resolution and active listening are soft skills because they relate to how individuals work rather than to their technical knowledge of specialized industry operations. In many workplaces, employees who have soft skills use their abilities to work well with others, manage their time and resources effectively and motivate themselves to solve problems and overcome challenges. Here are some examples of common soft skills:

Hard skills

Hard skills are the technical abilities that professionals need to perform their role in a particular industry. These skills often include knowing how to use specialized tools or equipment to complete a goal. It can also involve having other types of specialized industry knowledge, such as how to work with certain types of software, use a particular coding language or apply a specific technique. For example, a software engineer needs technical skills related to programming languages and software design to perform in their role. Here are a few examples of hard skills:

What are skills?

Skills are strengths or proficiencies that individuals gain through training and experience. In the workplace, professionals apply skills to achieve results. For example, a manager uses leadership skills to guide and motivate the members of their team. Leadership skills can include proficiencies in abilities like communication, delegation, time management and problem-solving. Many workplaces include a list of key skills they prefer in candidates applying for specific positions. When candidates know their skills and can express how they plan to apply their skills to the position, it helps hiring managers decide whether they have the right abilities for the role.

What are competencies?

Competencies are sets of demonstrable proficiencies and abilities that individuals use to achieve a goal or complete a task. They typically combine skills, abilities and knowledge and can include the specific behaviors an individual carries out to succeed in their position. For example, patient care skills are often a core competency for professionals in health care. For candidates looking for a job in the health care industry, communicating their competencies in patient care may involve identifying specific skills that contribute to their caregiving, along with any personal attributes or behavioral habits they use when serving patients.

Types of competencies

Types of competencies typically comprise three categories. These categories include behavioral or life skill competencies, functional or technical competencies and professional competencies. Here are descriptions with examples of these different types of competencies:

Behavioral competencies

Behavioral competencies are a group of skills and habits that individuals use to manage their daily and personal needs. These competencies, also called life skills, include a combination of abilities that allow individuals to meet demands in their daily lives. Life skills involve hard skills like cooking and budgeting, along with soft skills like communication and relationship building. When individuals develop effective behavioral competencies, they build good daily habits that contribute to their overall health and wellbeing. Having the ability to perform essential tasks allows individuals to function independently while meeting their personal needs.

Examples of skills that contribute to behavioral competencies include:

Functional competencies

Functional competencies are the everyday skills that professionals need to succeed in their roles. Also called technical competencies, these are the proficiencies that employees need to function in their positions. For example, a financial analyst needs a specific set of skills to make up their functional competencies. These skills may include financial literacy, analytical ability and knowledge of specialized computer software. The combination of these skills contributes to their overall functionality in the workplace. A professional applying for a financial analyst job can show their functional competency by addressing the skills they have that make them suited for the role.

Here are some other functional competencies:

Professional competencies

Professional competencies are the skills that help employees succeed within an organization or industry. While functional competencies involve proficiencies that help individuals succeed within their given occupational role, professional competencies are more general and relate to the combination of skills employees use to perform effectively and advance in the workplace. For example, a doctor needs skills like clinical proficiency and medical knowledge to succeed in their role, but they also need a wider set of professional skills like networking and industry awareness to excel in their field. Gaining more general professional competencies can lead to industry advancement.

Here are some skills that contribute to professional competency:

Skills vs. competencies

While professionals need both skills and competencies to succeed in the workplace, these types of proficiencies have different applications and scopes. Here are some of the key differences between skills and competencies:

Focus

Skills and competencies differ in their scopes and focus. While skills are more specific in defining exact abilities, competencies have a broader focus and comprise many skills. Skills tend to be less detailed and express a more narrow range of focus. For example, problem-solving skills refer only to the set of abilities that contribute to understanding problems and devising strategies for overcoming them. This is a narrower scope of focus than competencies, which incorporate sets of skills that contribute to a larger area of strength.

As an example, a doctor may include problem-solving skills within their functional competencies. Doctors need to use problem-solving skills as part of their treatment planning skill sets. Along with problem-solving, this skill set involves assessment skills, communication abilities and knowledge of clinical outcomes. Combined, these skills make up a larger set of skills that all contribute to a single functional competency.

Job search emphasis

Skills and competencies may have different workplace applications, especially during the job search process. While some employers publish skills-based job listings, others may use competency-based job listings. A skills-based listing may emphasize specific skills that an employer expects from an ideal job candidate. These types of listings may be more common for entry-level positions where candidates may have less experience developing industry-specific sets of competencies. By comparison, competency-based listings may use more comprehensive descriptions to gain deeper insight into how the candidates competencies showcase their skill sets. This type of listing may be more common for mid and senior positions.

Path for development

The pathway to development for competencies is typically more intensive and takes longer than the pathway for skill development. Since competencies involve a set of behaviors, abilities and proficiencies, they often take longer to develop. Professionals looking to gain competencies may need to train specific skills that contribute to their overall competency within a particular area, or they may train multiple skills included in a competency at once, taking longer to complete training.

It may take less time to develop skills since theyre typically more narrow in their focus. For example, learning a technical skill like how to use spreadsheet software may require the candidate to take a semester-long certification course. After completing the training, the candidate is likely to have gained proficiency in the specific skill.

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