Competency FAQs

What are competencies? How do they differ from KSAs or KSABs?

Competencies are measurable or observable knowledge, skills, abilities, and behaviors (KSABs) critical to success in a job.

  • Knowledge is the practical or theoretical understanding of a subject.
  • Skills and abilities are natural or learned capacities to perform acts.
  • Behavior is a pattern of actions or conduct.

How do I determine which competencies are important to a job?

Look first at the most critical duties and functions of a position. Determine the competencies needed to effectively perform those duties and functions. This process is called job analysis, and it provides information that can be used in recruitmentassessment and selection,employee performance management, and more. 

How many competencies should be identified for a job?

The number, type, and level of competencies depends on the nature and complexity of the work duties. All relevant competencies may be listed on the position description (PD) form or job analysis record. From the complete list, select competencies can then be used for recruitment, performance management, and training plans. 

What are 'mastery levels' and how I do I determine them?

Mastery levels are one way to further describe and evaluate competencies. They are not required, but may be helpful when the same knowledge or skill is needed for related jobs, but at different levels of depth, scope, or application.

For example, an entry-level job in a series may require general knowledge of policies, rules, and principles of a subject. The journey-level may also require knowledge of best practices and theory related to that subject. The senior-level may also require knowledge of emerging trends or case law related to that subject.

Knowledge and skill mastery levels are often determined by the level of independence, the complexity of issues addressed, the political sensitivity of key stakeholders, and the potential impacts of failure related to a job.

Unlike knowledge and skills, behaviors are typically not described or evaluated in term of mastery levels. Rather, a set of behavioral standards is described, and people are evaluated based on how consistently they demonstrate those standards.

Similarly, personal characteristics covered by state and federal discrimination laws should not be described in terms of mastery levels without consulting vocational and Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) experts.