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8 Questions to Map Your Skills and Competencies & How to Tell the Difference

#5 Career Foundations Series (Go Back to 4)

“This degree sucks!” Jen told me. “I spent 5 years getting my undergrad, and I can’t even use it! I think I need a master’s.. everyone has an undergrad.”

Jen’s experience is the same one a lot of students have. She felt that she had NOTHING to offer that would get her a job, which was especially frustrating after spending years getting a psychology degree. She was trained to think that degree=job, and now she had the degree and couldn’t use it.

This sucks. Feeling like this… SUCKS!

I’ve been writing a series of posts on how to get a job, including my 4 pillars of career-building (taken from watching a ton of leaders getting jobs).

In case you didn’t read that post, the four pillars of an AMAZING career on your terms, of getting the opportunities and money you want, are these:

  1. Your Brand: How people perceive you as a professional–whether they read your resume, check your LinkedIn profile, or hear you speak.
  2. Your Social Capital: Your network and the relationships you have that will launch your career.
  3. Your Competencies: The things you’re good at, like managing people, resolving conflict, overseeing a project, or curing a disease.
  4. Your Skills: The specific skills you have (usually hard skills), like coding, web design, photography, or welding. (Often your competencies involve using your technical skills.)

When I graduated, I didn’t know the difference between skills and competencies. Truth be told, I didn’t know there was a difference.

Today I want to talk about competencies and skills: what’s the difference, how to map and use them, and how to get more! (Let’s not forget, more competencies and skills means more jobs.)

Competencies and skills are VITAL for career-building, but I believe they are developed over time. So let’s start with a bit of a definition.

Competencies Definition

Your expertise and knowledge of a specific domain, giving you the ability to do good work in that area and to use your skills to rock at it! It’s the knowledge and behaviors you’ll need to do a job well, usually gained through learning and experience.

Examples of Competencies

Anatomy, Management, Policy, Dentistry, Engineering, Digital Marketing, Research. These are all examples of competencies from widely different fields, but each requires a body of knowledge and experience gained over time.

Skills Definition

A specific expertise that you’ve learned that can be put to work to help you succeed in your area of competence (often divided into “hard” and “soft” skills).

Examples of Skills

Leadership, Coding, Welding, Writing, Speaking, Critical Thinking

Skills vs. Competencies. What’s the difference?

I like to think about competencies as the area of your expertise and skills as the specific tools you need to be successful in that area. Competencies are broader than skills. If your competency is the sandbox, your skills are the shovels and pails!

Here’s an example. When I worked for the government, my competence was immigration policy. I knew the world of immigration, but also how government works, how decisions get made, etc. My skills were writing, editing, researching, interpersonal, and more!

  • If I went to lead an immigration non-profit, I’d have the right competencies, but I’d need new skills: management, budgeting, leadership.
  • If I went to work for a tech company, I might have the right skills–writing, editing, and research, but I’d need a new competence.

How to map and use your skills and competencies

Can I tell you something I’ve learned? Unlike your brand and your network, skills and competencies take a long time to develop. Competencies take the longest.

So if you’re trying to change careers or get your first job, developing competencies might be the WORST plan! We develop competencies by going back to school, of course. But we also develop competencies through jobs we work–our experience.

Skills are a bit different. We learn some of them on the job. We might just HAVE some by virtue of our personalities (ie. leadership or interpresonal skills). OR, you might choose to develop skills to make your more hireable–this is the basic premise of micro-credentials, online courses, and a whole bunch of upskilling opportunities.

The best things to do with your skills and competencies is to map them. Take stock of what you know and can do… There are three basic ways to do this…

  1. Sitting at home alone making a list (ok to start with).
  2. Reading job postings: Read lots. Go search on LinkedIn. Take stock of the skills and competencies you need.
  3. Network: By talking to people, by having informational interviews, you will discover skills and competencies you didn’t know you had! People will tell you what they do, and you’ll say- “Hey! I can do that!”

The place to start is always with what you got. You probably have enough skills and competency to get hired for a job somewhere. Start by mapping out what you got and figure out where it will apply.

How to develop a skills growth plan

If you’re unemployed right now, looking for work, planning to develop new competencies is a total waste of time. You just can’t develop one in the next month.

You can learn and grow new skills, although even this takes some time. If your vision takes you to a career field you DON’T YET have the skills for, you MIGHT want to try to develop some. But be careful. Don’t count out the fact that an employer might pay to you develop them.

Go and read some job postings. If your chosen job requires digital marketing skills, you can start to learn those on the side today. If it requires budgeting, you can take a course in that.

I’ve written some posts on upskilling that might help. Start here: 11 High Income Skills You Can Teach Yourself:

How to grow competence

The two best ways to grow competence are through education and experience.

  • Education: If you are trying to get into a field that a baseline of education is necessary (ie. medicine, pharma, biotech, engineering) you’re going to need to include education in your competency plan.
  • Experience: Most competence should be developed on the job, and you should get paid to do it. That’s why having a vision is so necessary. If you don’t know where you want to go, you’re going to hopefully get lucky with competencies. If you develop a clear 10-year plan (remember lesson 1), you can grow your competencies intentionally. If you want to be a CEO in 10 years, you might need to work in sales or HR right now. If you want to found a company, you should work for a startup. If you want to work remotely, you should focus on developing competencies that can be done remotely (writing, research, creative, etc.) instead of things that need to be done in person.

By taking stock of your skills and competencies, mapping what you’ve got and making a plan to gain what you don’t, you are well on your way to having a career on your terms.

8 Questions to map your skills and competencies

4 Questions to map your competencies

  1. What do I know a lot about?
  2. What could I talk about for 20 minutes without preparing?
  3. What did I learn during my formal education that can be applied?
  4. What field or area do I have credentials or recognition in?

4 Questions to map your skills

  1. What can I do that creates something? (ie. coding, writing, graphic design)
  2. What parts of me do I use that helps me in everyday situations (ie. people skills, leadership, teamwork)
  3. What have I learned to do that not a lot of people know? (ie. budgeting, project management, organization)
  4. What software, programs, or digital tools do I know how to use? (ie. Adobe, WordPress, Ruby on Rails, R or Python, SQL, Elementor, Google Analytics)

Conclusion

Your competencies and skills are part of what will help you get hired and launch a career, but they’re not everything! Make sure to read the other posts in this series to learn our system for getting whatever career you want!

Now Read: 10 Informational Interview Questions That Changed My Career!

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