Skills vs. Competencies: What Are the Key Differences?

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 1 April 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Many job recruiters use the terms "skills" and "competencies" when they're writing job descriptions. Employers often expect candidates to have specific skills and competencies that apply to their position. Understanding these terms can help you better display your abilities to employers and increase your chances of getting a job or promotion. In this article, we focus on the difference between skills and competencies, describe how to highlight skills and competencies throughout your job search and explain how to develop them and advance your career.

Differences between skills vs. competencies

Here are the differences between skills vs. competencies:

Skills

Skills are abilities you can learn through study and practice. Skills can help you perform specific tasks and improve your performance in a distinct area or subject. Different roles require different skill sets when handling their daily tasks.

Skills comprise two subcategories, hard skills and soft skills. Hard skills are technical knowledge that you can learn through dedicated training and practice, such as bookkeeping and coding. Soft skills are transferrable skills that you can use in different fields and jobs. They relate to your personality and experience and can affect your work style. Creativity, problem-solving and organisation are typical examples of soft skills.

Related: Hard Skills vs. Soft Skills: Key Differences and Examples

Competencies

The term "competencies" incorporates more than just skills. It also refers to an individual's ability, knowledge and behaviours. Competencies can describe how a person performs certain tasks successfully. For example, your ability to improve business processes is a competency rather than a skill. Competencies also have three subcategories:

  • Behavioural competencies: These are interpersonal skills that can help individuals manage and solve challenges encountered in daily life, such as motivating their team members and resolving conflicts.

  • Functional competencies: Functional competencies are skills and attributes that help you complete your tasks effectively. For example, one functional competency of an HR manager could be their ability to provide adequate training to their employees.

  • Professional competencies: These are competencies that are important to specific professions. For example, an HR manager may have competencies that include negotiating benefits and distributing payslips.

Here is a list of some common competencies:

  • Detailed-oriented: the ability to pay close attention to details when working on projects and to minimise the chance of making mistakes

  • Collaborative working: the ability to successfully work with your team towards a common goal

  • Data management: the ability to organise and store the data created and collected by an organisation

  • Computer literacy: the ability to use computers and related technology efficiently

  • Multitasking: the ability to perform two or more tasks simultaneously

  • Effective listening: the ability to fully understand what colleagues are communicating

Related: What Are Core Competencies? (Including How to Develop)

Examples of skills and competencies

Here are two examples that help you better distinguish skills from competencies.

Programmer example

Programmers use specific programming languages, such as JavaScript, to develop projects. While this skill is important, programmers may also require additional competencies to make them more competitive. These competencies could include analytical and creative thinking abilities, which can help them write code and solve problems more effectively.

Builder example

Employers may look for a builder to construct houses or other structures. They might want a builder who can repair roofs or handle carpentry. These two are the skills that a builder has, but employers also consider the quality of the final product. They may want their candidates to have strong communication and problem-solving skills to understand their needs and choose the right building materials. In this case, communication and problem-solving skills are competencies.

Highlighting your skills and competencies

It's important to highlight your skills and competencies when searching for jobs. Below are some tips on how to highlight them at different stages of the job search:

On a resume

A resume is an important document for highlighting your skills and competencies during the job search. Resumes are usually only a single page, and considering the length limitation, you may have a separate section for your skills and briefly mention your competencies. You can first make a list of all your skills and competencies. To find out your skills and competencies, you can:

  • review your past achievements

  • ask your friends or previous colleagues about their experiences working with you

  • create a list of activities that you enjoy

Once you have the list, read the specific description of the job advertisement to understand what skills and competencies the employer is looking for. You can then tailor it to suit the position you're applying for. These are some of the options for positioning your list of skills and competencies:

  • under the personal statement part of your resume

  • above the qualifications section

  • below the qualifications section

  • to the side of the qualifications or experience sections

In a cover letter

A cover letter is a document that many candidates include with their resumes. These documents are often a good opportunity to contextualise your skills and introduce your competencies. While you're writing your cover letter, you can mention how you used the skills and competencies in your resume to complete tasks in your previous jobs. You can also describe how you plan to use them in specific scenarios. This can show your employer that your skills fit well with the position and you understand the role's responsibilities. For example:

In my current role as a senior marketing executive at Better Way Software, I've been able to manage the challenges that I've encountered independently. I am familiar with different marketing strategies, such as search engine optimisation and conversion rate optimisation and have leveraged my knowledge to refine Better Way Software's digital marketing strategy. I've successfully increased their customer base by 300% in two months.

Related: What Is a Cover Letter? (With Template and Example)

During a job interview

During a job interview, the hiring manager is likely to ask questions about your skills and competencies. For example, they may ask:

  • How did you gain the technical knowledge you need to do your job?

  • It says on your application that you have experience with a certain computer software. Can you describe a typical project that you've used this software on?

  • Give me an example of a challenging assignment or project you've encountered. What was your role and how did you solve the problem?

  • What new skills have you learned over the past year?

  • Have you developed any new programmes previously?

You may describe how you apply those skills at work. For example, when you're answering the question "Have you developed any new programmes previously?" You may describe what steps you took to develop and implement that programme. You can also showcase your problem-solving skills by explaining how you overcame challenges during the development stage.

Related: 6 Common Interview Questions About Teamwork (With Answers)

How to develop skills and competencies

Here are a few things you can do if you want to develop your skills and competencies:

1. Identify your areas of improvement.

Before you start anything, you can first set tangible and realistic goals for yourself. You may review your previous experience and explore what you can improve. For example, if you find it difficult to get things done on time, you can consider improving your time management skills. Once you have your goals, you can conduct subsequent research and make plans to improve them. Developing and improving your skills and competencies is a long and complex process. Try to set a few milestones when you're drafting your plan to monitor your progress.

2. Enrol in a class

You could also learn new skills by enrolling in training courses or workshops. They are ideal for people who want to acquire new hard skills, which may be challenging to gain without experience. Some companies may also offer their employees training subsidies to cover all or part of their tuition costs.

3. Find a mentor

If you receive constructive feedback and reflect on your progress regularly, you can improve faster and more efficiently. An effective and professional mentor can give you helpful feedback and share tips and knowledge with you based on their experience. You can find a senior employee in the organisation to be your mentor by arranging an informal meeting with them. Politely ask them if they can help you with this.

4. Complete on-the-job training

Many companies organise training events and workshops to improve the skill set of their employees. If there are specific skills that would be helpful in your daily workflow, reach out to your manager to find out if there are any opportunities for training and development. Also, if you find that your colleagues have a particular ability, you can ask them how they gained those skills.

5. Seek more opportunities

Adequate practice is also important to acquiring and improving skills. For example, if you want to improve your teamwork ability, you can find projects which require you to work closely with your colleagues. If you think that you're not good at clearly conveying messages, you may seek more opportunities to give presentations in front of your team. These new experiences allow you to use or practise your new skills in different contexts. Over time, you can be more familiar with how to utilise your skills in different situations.

Please note that none of the companies mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

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