How does a Competency Model Fit in a Job Description?

Posted September 24 2013
By Jim Graber, PhD

The short answer to this question is, very well! Most job descriptions don’t add much value; competency models can significantly strengthen them.

There are dozens of different formats for job descriptions. We have seen some that fit on one page, and others that are twenty pages long. Virtually all job descriptions have a list of job responsibilities, but besides that common denominator, there is a great deal of variety.  Recently, the term “Job Profile” has gained in usage.
Ninth entry in a seventeen part introductory series on competency management:
  1. Why does the world need a competency toolkit?
  2. What’s a competency? How do they differ from KSA’s? 
  3. What are the main types of competencies?
  4. What is integrated talent management, and how do competencies relate?
  5. What’s the business case for competencies?
  6. Why are behavioral indicators so important?
  7. How are behavioral indicators created?
  8. What’s competency modeling?
  9. How does a competency model fit within a job description or job profile?
  10. Different approaches to competency modeling
  11. Principles of competency modeling
  12. Job role competency modeling
  13. Job family competency modeling
  14. Decisions to be made before a competency modeling project
  15. Organization core competency model
  16. Preparations for a Competency Modeling Project
  17. 20 Competency Modeling Best Practices


Although often used interchangeably with “Job Descriptions”, some define a job profile more narrowly (e.g., Bersin Research states “Job profiles define the required skills, competencies, certifications, work experiences and other attributes required for success in a particular job or role.”)


Call them what you will, job descriptions or job profiles can potentially provide considerable benefit to individuals and organizations. To name just a few of their functions, they are:

  • Essential for recruiters and candidates during the staffing process
  • The foundation for creating equitable organization compensation structures
  • Important for directing employee career development
  • The single most important tool for establishing validity and legal defensibility of human resource processes

And yet, for all the lip service given to job descriptions, they don’t receive the same respect and attention that they received in past years. Why not? I believe that they just didn’t live up to the hype of all the benefit they would provide, and organizations are rightfully very selective these days in how they spend their valuable, limited time. As we make our rounds from one organization to the next, the few organizations that can lay claim to up-to-date job descriptions are truly the exception; more commonly, we are told that job descriptions are old and inaccurate, but clearly not a priority.

Although many HR practitioners may still think that job descriptions are the sine qua non of human resource systems, organizations are not legally required to create job descriptions, at least in the United States, and increasingly alternatives are being considered. Some organizations are starting to consider replacing job descriptions with their annual goals/performance plans. Other progressive organizations are suggesting that job descriptions are too restrictive, and that organizations would be better served to focus on unique people descriptions built around the unique skills of each individual.

Our “beef” with many job descriptions is that they simply don’t go far enough in describing a job, so that they aren’t as good a tool as they could be for employees or organizations. We are not advocates of 10-20 page job descriptions; for most people, 1-2 pages is sufficient and much more palatable, although we do advocate using short and long forms so that the information needs of HR professionals can also be met. We also believe that carefully constructed competency models provide so much value that they belong on both the short and long formats. A complete job description should, at a minimum, answer these three questions:

  1. What will I do (list of key job tasks), and why (to achieve what).
  2. What do I need to bring to the table to do the job (Competencies, Education, and Experience)
  3. What is the definition of excellent performance (Job results and/or Job Standards).

It is important to understand the tasks associated to a job, but competencies provide some tangible benefits that lists of job tasks cannot. Competency models:

  • Provide a clearer path to high performance
  • Are usable in almost every area of HR, from initial selection to eventual transition to new jobs or organizations
  • Stay current longer that lists of job tasks
  • Are more easily linked to organization strategy and culture

It all boils down to creating a tool that provides value in today’s climate, and a job description with a competency model is a job description on steroids. Only, it isn’t cheating; it is adding muscle that we need in today’s job descriptions.


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