Difference Between Job Descriptions and Competency Models

Job descriptions are often equated with job competency models. While similar in content, there are important differences. They serve different purposes and are developed in different ways. Here is a comparison of the two documents.

Job Descriptions
• Title of position
• Department
• Reports to (to whom the person directly reports)
• Overall responsibility
• Key areas of responsibility
• Qualifications (skills and experience required)

Applicatons: recruitment, compensation structure, performance management (establishing job standards and goals), training.

Example: Project Manager

Job Competency Models (Workitect method)
• Title of Position
• Major responsibilities
• Performance criteria for each responsibility
• Qualifications (competencies: skills, knowledge, and underlying characteristics* required)
• Behavioral indicators (specific ways of demonstrating the competency)
• Links between main responsibilities and competencies

Applications: talent management, succession planning, performance management (evaluating characteristics used to meet or not meet job goals), assessment and selection, training and development.

Examples:  Project Manager, Executive, Account Rep, Call Center Manager, Human Resources Profesional

*A job competency is an underlying characteristic of a person that results in effective and/or superior performance in a job. The characteristic may be a motive, trait, skill, self-image, or body of knowledge.   The Competent Manager, Boyatkis, 1982

Some organizations have combined the two documents and have added required competencies to job descriptions. The advantages are that it reduces the number of HR forms that are needed and makes the list of required qualifications more complete. The main disadvantage is that data needed for talent management, development, and succession planning is usually incomplete.

Regardless of where the competencies are listed, the most important determinant of their effectiveness is how they were identified. A description of the process creating competency models can be found on pages 5 & 6 of Integrating HR & Talent Management Processes.


Can a generic off-the-shelf competency model be used?  Don’t jobs with the same title require pretty much the same competencies in all organizations?

Each organization has its own culture and “way of doing business”. Even for jobs with identical titles, job success in one organization will require some competencies that are different in another organization. Even a small difference could be critical. This is why we only build custom models, or teach internal consultants how to build their own models.

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This entry was posted in About Competencies, Building Job Competency Models, Competency Modeling and tagged , , , , , , , by Edward Cripe. Bookmark the permalink.

About Edward Cripe

Ed has over thirty-five years of experience helping companies effectively utilize their organizational and human resources. His experience includes senior consultant roles with Merit Group, Inc., Kaset International/Achieve Global and McBer/Hay Group, plus corporate positions as director, training, organization development and quality for Ryder System and director, human resource consulting, training and organization development for the Bendix Corporation (now Honeywell International). He also worked for NASA as a Presidential Interchange Executive. Co-author of “The Value-Added Employee”. Ed holds a M.B.A. degree in Human Resources and Organizational Behavior from Indiana University and has completed doctoral level studies at the University of Michigan.

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