Competency Model Definition

A competency model is a framework for defining the skill and knowledge requirements of a job. It is a collection of competencies that jointly define successful job performance.

Competency models are widely used in business for defining and assessing competencies within organizations in both hard and soft skills. They represent a key component of recruitment and hiring, as well as talent and performance management activities of HR departments.

Competency assessments often help form the basis for training programs and learning content, both formal and informal.


Competency models have emerged as valuable tools employed by human resources and training departments to define skill and knowledge requirements of specific jobs, to assess competencies and performances, and help set business strategy.

The models can be created for specific jobs, job groups, occupations, industries and organizations. In certain areas such as sales and leadership, necessary competencies have been extensively studied and a broad consensus reached regarding specific skills, attitudes and behaviors needed to succeed.

Another reason for the growing popularity of competency models is their role in revealing strengths and weaknesses, which benefit the training function.

Models can take on a variety of forms, but typically include several principal elements:

    • Specific competencies and definitions, such as being a team player.
    • Descriptions of activities or behaviors linked to each competency.
    • A diagram of the model.

Organizations typically employ the frameworks by arranging knowledge and skill requirements into specific categories, such as personal effectiveness, academic, technical, industry, occupational, management, and workplace competencies.

The rapid growth of internet-based technologies is also contributing to increased interest in competency modeling. For example, organizations can embed success profiles in talent management processes, learning portals and training processes used to communicate and refresh content.

Developing a Competency Model

Effective models also form the basis for linking competency with organizational strategy, an important best practice, training consultants advise. They also enable organizations to link expertise with HR processes, evaluation and often productivity goals.

The Competency Model Clearinghouse, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor, recommends that organizations seeking to build competency models follow a five-step process:

  1. Gather background information. That includes cataloging existing resources, organizing resources, comparing contents to the building blocks framework, and determining commonalities for an industry model.
  2. Develop a draft competency model framework. Identify themes and patterns in the information, and relate the information to content areas.
  3. Gather feedback from subject matter experts. If possible, select experts from across geographic and industry sub-sectors to gain the broadest perspective.
  4. Refine the framework. Add or delete competencies as appropriate.
  5. Validate the framework. This essential step ensures acceptance by the target community of users.

Experts also recommend that the models receive sponsorship from senior leaders, aligned to the company’s business strategy and culture, based on research and tied to talent management practices.

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