A company’s core competencies equip them with the essential skills and personality traits that make them unique and successful. Think of them like a “secret sauce” of sorts, turning bland corporate structures into thriving, distinct communities.
However, to harness the power of that secret sauce, you need to understand the ingredients first. Namely, what are your staff competencies? If you don’t know those, hiring is like rolling dice.
Competency models standardize recruitment, evaluation, and skill acquisition. The result of focusing on core competencies when hiring? You can boost staff retention, attract the right personalities, and gather the essential skills needed to offer superior value in, well, whatever you offer.
Ready to rationalize recruitment and solve the skills management puzzle? Use our list of 30 core competencies to build an elite-level competency model that vibes with what makes you unique.
TL;DR — Key Takeaways
While entire organizations have core competencies, personal core competencies are the skills, knowledge, or qualities employees need to meet a company’s core strategic requirements.
A company’s competencies set it apart from the crowd. Unique competencies allow businesses to provide superior customer service or deliver low prices without diluting quality. In the best cases, organizational core competencies match unique corporate strengths with employee skills.
Core competencies relate to role requirements or personal qualities. They may be essential for individual jobs or critical for all employees. Competencies range from basic to advanced, depending on proficiency levels and seniority.
Choose core competencies to meet strategic needs. Too many competencies can make models unmanageable, while too few won’t capture enough information. 8-12 competencies suit most positions.
Use core competencies in recruitment, performance evaluation, and assessing internal skills gaps. HR teams can use targeted skills testing platforms like Toggl Hire to ensure employees or job candidates have the required abilities.
What are core competencies?
Core competencies are qualities, knowledge, or abilities required for employees to perform at their best. They define what makes employees or companies unique and irreplaceable.
Managing core competencies creates workforces that meet organizational goals, giving companies a competitive advantage. For instance, by delivering excellent customer service or maintaining exceptional products.
Competencies are closely related to skills but aren’t identical. Core competencies are applied skills and combine specific workforce capabilities with proficiency levels. Looking for candidates with the most in-demand skills and proficiencies enables HR teams to find ideal employees.
If you prefer to work mathematically, core competencies = skills + proficiency levels.
Working with that formula, we can also identify two main types of core competence:
Organization-wide core competencies are essential for all employees. They’re core capabilities selected to achieve a company’s strategic objectives. Examples could include empathy and conflict resolution for customer-facing services.
Functional core competencies relate to individual roles. Every role requires employees with unique capabilities. For example, a finance manager should be well-organized, adept with financial software, and have robust cross-departmental communication skills.
With this information in mind, you’re probably thinking, “Great! But how do you choose competencies that improve business performance without making the recruitment process unnecessarily complex?”
Thinking about business and personal core competencies is a good starting point. This approach simplifies each role and focuses on organizational aims.
Business core competencies
Business core competencies focus on improving a company’s competitiveness. They’re the skills, products, or abilities that allow companies to serve their target audience better than their competition, like value or buying power.
We’re all familiar with how this works — even if you’re unaware of it consciously. Retailers often foreground value as a core competency, promoting highly competitive prices to build market share. Others make customer service or product support their defining quality.
Personal core competencies
Personal core competency refers to human capital. They represent the stock of skills and capabilities needed to outperform competitors.
Personal core competencies make teams or workforces distinctive. For example, marketing team competencies could require creativity and problem-solving expertise, experience in social media engagement, and storytelling flair.
Why core competencies matter
Core competencies are an essential business strategy. Used wisely, they empower HR teams in the following ways.
Core competencies aren’t just individual skills that are nice to have. They ensure every hire or training course aligns with organizational needs.
Companies use competency models to change strategic direction as market conditions shift. For example, if a company’s products are becoming obsolete, they may switch focus from customer service to problem-solving and technical innovation to attract more customers.
Monitoring core competencies also identifies critical skills gaps. Monitoring (and closing) skills gaps enables companies to stay adaptive and competitive.
A skills analysis, for example, might reveal that a company needs a Python developer or AI technician. Assessing competencies adds resolution to the recruitment requests. HR teams can find skilled technicians with relevant market experience or personal qualities — not just technical skills.
A company’s core competencies, when well-defined, help refine recruitment efforts. They help hiring managers separate exceptional candidates from the crowd and make HR functions more systematic.
HR managers can assess employee performance against exact requirements and company-wide needs. Core competencies also make succession planning easier, as strategic data helps identify potential promotions and helps reduce the risk of bad hires.
Employees develop core competencies to build skill profiles that align with business needs. This helps them work smarter and more effectively.
Workers can develop their skills to meet the core requirements of more senior positions, while HR teams also create programs to improve employee skills or abilities, fostering a culture of personal improvement.
Finally, a company’s core competency model has general benefits, like giving the business a competitive advantage and ensuring success.
Just think about it — companies rely on skills and productive teams. Core competencies match recruits with positions, so every employee fits the organization’s core needs. Even better, when individuals are well-matched to roles, they’re happier and stay for longer.
30 core competencies examples
Now that we know a bit about what a core competency is, let’s dive into the nitty-gritty and look at a few examples of core competence to help you build competency profiles for use in the hiring process.
One thing to remember: core competency levels vary from basic to advanced. We’ve included some guidance about what to look for at different levels among this list of the most important core competencies. However, the exact requirements should match your strategic needs.
💡 Detail-oriented people are accurate, punctual, self-organized, and generally highly professional.
At a basic level, detail-oriented workers meet deadlines and produce work with few errors. Advanced qualities include organizing project teams to get the most out of every participant, assessing project requirements, and creating detailed plans.
💡 Motivated employees have an inner drive to expand their abilities and take on more responsibility. They require little prompting from business managers to deliver their best work.
In general, highly motivated workers are proactive and seek additional tasks to improve their knowledge or understanding of a topic. At higher levels, workers with motivational competencies seek more responsibility, like voluntarily signing up for training courses and embracing new challenges.
💡 Adaptable employees deal with changing role responsibilities and support other team members as needed. They build resilience within an organization by possessing competencies for many roles.
At the basic level, adaptable employees possess multiple skills that (hopefully) match up to organizational roles. High-level adaptability involves managing change as conditions evolve. These types of employees help identify changing business needs and act accordingly.
💡 Employees with a creative mindset have the confidence to apply innovative solutions to critical problems.
Innovators are keen to explore new ideas and techniques. They apply creative thinking to handle challenges. Advanced innovation involves continuous learning and the ability to exploit emerging technologies. Those with a strong innovative core competency might explore many ways to achieve goals and never rely on a single approach.
5. Time management
💡 Employees with time management as a core competency meet project deadlines, organize tasks efficiently, and understand how to prioritize critical tasks.
Basic level time management involves executing tasks within a pre-defined time limit. These types of employees require little input from managers to organize their tasks and set realistic deadlines they follow through on. Advanced time management is more organizational in nature, like analyzing how departments and workers use time to optimize internal processes.
If organizational skills and meeting strict deadlines are super important to the role, include a time management skills test as part of the interview process. It helps assess applicants’ time management, task prioritization, and goal-setting capabilities.
💡 Employees with teamwork as a core competency can seamlessly work within a team to achieve common goals.
Team-oriented workers support others and promote a healthy working atmosphere because they understand their responsibilities and carry out duties as directed. Advanced competencies involve fostering teamwork, like working to build relationships within teams and bridging the gaps between departments within the same organization.
💡 People with strong problem-solving skills can implement strategic solutions and communicate strategies to colleagues with ease.
Most employees are able to identify problems as they arise and notify managers. More advanced problem-solving skills involve identifying and solving problems with minimal input from others or even anticipating problems before they arise. In the best cases, an employee can detect patterns of similar problems and create proactive strategies.
💡 Communication as a core competency ensures someone can provide accurate and understandable information to others.
Any employee should be able to explain simple information clearly. Those with outstanding verbal and written communication skills likely participate in discussions within teams or departments and liaise with individuals across the company and external organizations. Advanced communicators speak to enterprise-wide audiences and likely have strong public speaking and persuasive communication skills.
9. Willingness to learn
💡 These employees are open to continuous learning. They seek to improve their skills at every opportunity.
Basic-level employees build skills for a single role, while intermediate competency for this kind of team member involves seeking more advanced knowledge to use in future challenges. Higher-level employees constantly refine their skills to reflect external developments.
💡 Persuasive employees can convince others to change their course of action or assume a different perspective.
Basic persuasion involves communicating ideas clearly or even, at a higher level, negotiating with colleagues and influencing team policies. Advanced employees promote complex strategic goals at a senior level and can convince others to accept the disruption of business activity in pursuit of organizational success.
💡 Resilient individuals deal positively with adversity. They learn from mistakes and prevent similar situations in the future.
Resilient employees don’t allow setbacks to affect performance or motivation. At an intermediate level, resilient workers support other colleagues during crises, while those with higher levels of resilience motivate teams or departments despite serious problems. Great managers build resilient teams, prepare for incidents or stresses, and help colleagues navigate difficult periods.
💡 Empathic employees are able to immediately identify with the emotions of colleagues or clients and see their points of view.
Basic empathy involves supporting others as a part of everyday life. Those with empathy at the center of their core capabilities, however, actively listen and easily detect or defuse emotional problems. This competency is related to an organization’s culture, too. Empathetic employees help create a welcoming and inclusive culture.
💡 Employees with leadership as one of their distinctive competencies have the confidence and skills to guide colleagues, enabling and encouraging others to develop their skills while meeting organizational objectives.
Leaders support and guide fellow team members. More advanced leadership demonstrates the ability to cultivate skills and build team capacity, while higher-level leaders are trusted mentors for recruits. They usually set the tone and direction of departments or companies.
💡 Negotiators understand how mutual agreement leads to outcomes that serve every party.
Basic negotiators join discussions and offer opinions. Mid-level competencies in negotiation help bring team members together for mutually beneficial ends or negotiate between departments. Higher-level negotiators handle organization-wide disputes or resource allocation.
💡 Employees who are results-oriented focus on achieving results for the organization or team.
Most employees routinely achieve their goals and gradually move on to more challenging tasks. More results-oriented employees go beyond that baseline to deliver exceptional value in their daily work. At the most advanced level, results always exceed expectations and align with organizational goals.
💡 Employees with strong storytelling skills turn organizational strategies or products into compelling narratives. The stories they tell promote trust and build loyalty while supporting the overall brand identity.
Storytellers translate brand guidelines into content for external audiences, often leading to successful marketing campaigns. Exceptional storytellers develop new ideas to enrich the brand identity, help shape the brand narrative, and consistently seek new audiences to exploit business opportunities.
💡 Customer-focused people perceive the practical and emotional needs of customers. They listen to customer feedback and promote the company in a way that meets customer expectations.
You’ll know someone is customer-focused if they’re able to use active listening to shape marketing narratives around customer requirements (which is just as important to successful marketing as anything else). Advanced employees study customer behavior patterns and develop a detailed knowledge of the organization’s audience.
💡 Creative employees approach each challenge with fresh eyes and are willing to try something new if existing approaches fail.
Creative people can solve small-scale tasks independently and with a bit of flair. Medium-level creativity extends to larger projects and requires workers to adapt to challenges in unique ways for each project. Advanced creatives craft brand stories and pilot organization-wide initiatives — always avoiding pre-defined ideas and applying their initiative.
Creativity is notoriously hard to assess since it’s so subjective. When evaluating an employee’s or candidate’s creativity, look for originality, flexibility, and relevance. The last one is particularly important, as it relates to how valuable creative ideas will be when implementing creative solutions.
19. Realistic goal setting
💡 People who excel at setting goals understand individual, team, and corporate limitations. They consider available resources and time and develop plans with those limitations in mind.
Basic employees set sensible, well-defined goals, while more advanced workers set clear goals for teams or departments. Higher-level employees are adaptable and able to assess what’s realistic for the business. They set clear guidelines for junior colleagues and match employee activity with resources.
20. Building relationships
💡 Employees with relationship-building competencies adopt practices to strengthen and maintain productive relationships.
It’s important that all employees be able to establish strong relationships with clients and colleagues and build trust through regular contact. Advanced employees manage high-value contracts and generate consistent returns from client relationships. They build strong internal teams and prioritize relationship maintenance daily.
💡 Employees with multitasking skills easily handle more than one task or project simultaneously. Intelligent time management and planning enable them to complete tasks on deadline without diluting quality.
Strong employees can manage more than one task without sacrificing quality. Advanced multitaskers manage project portfolios or different departments, while senior employees take on management, analysis, and communication roles to guide different areas or members of the organization.
22. Conflict resolution
💡 Employees with this competency identify, defuse, and resolve disputes between colleagues.
Whether a miscommunication regarding cloud storage or frustration over a missed deadline, everybody should be able to listen to their colleagues and participate in group discussions to resolve disputes and ensure smooth teamwork. Higher-level conflict resolution competencies allow workers to negotiate sustainable resolutions while also understanding the roots of conflict.
💡 Responsible individuals shoulder the burdens of risk and expectation and admit mistakes when they occur.
Responsible employees actively seek roles with greater responsibility. They take action to mitigate risks without compromising productivity. At higher levels, responsible employees are decisive and able to defend their decisions. They’re comfortable dealing with constant change and make effective leaders.
💡 Being analytical means being able to process large amounts of information efficiently. The best decisions derive from considered judgment based on sound analysis.
These days, it’s no huge ask for employees to handle large amounts of data or written material (it’s just the nature of the technical world we live in). Strong analysts can translate that raw data into action and ideas. They possess the ability to identify patterns, apply appropriate metrics, and use analysis to improve working practices.
25. Entrepreneurial spirit
💡 These types of employees achieve business goals and act autonomously and creatively to exploit market opportunities.
You don’t need everybody to have an entrepreneurial spirit, but this helps if you’re running a small business or are hiring a leader, as these employees understand how to make products appealing to customers and can weave compelling narratives to build market share and drive success.
💡 Decisive employees avoid excessive deliberation or escalation to senior colleagues. Decisions are evidence-based and followed up with necessary resources.
A “good” employee understands when to take action. They resist the urge to seek approval for routine tasks. A “great” employee, however, defends their decisions when challenged and has a meticulous yet efficient decision-making process.
27. Stress management
💡 Strong employees prioritize mental well-being and manage workloads to minimize stress. They understand sources and support others to maintain a healthy working environment.
It’s okay (and sometimes necessary) for employees to challenge managers if they impose excessive workloads. Strong employees with stress management skills are capable of designing group dynamics to reduce stress and encourage productivity. At the highest level, these employees implement strategies to provide support and resolve the sources of stress before problems arise.
💡 Workers with high levels of integrity meet high ethical standards in their working lives.
Basic-level employees treat every task with the same level of detail and follow company guidelines about privacy and trust. Higher level integrity usually looks like complying with confidentiality laws or promoting compliant behavior throughout the organization.
29. Conceptual thinking
💡 Conceptual thinkers are skilled at grappling with abstract problems. They translate strategic ideas into practical actions that achieve business objectives.
Basic-level conceptual thinking involves assimilating project goals and applying relevant ideas to achieve them. Intermediate-level thinking involves detecting patterns in working practices, production, or customer relations. Advanced conceptual thinkers use analytical skills to develop strategic plans that address strategic problems.
💡 Employees who take initiative prefer to act autonomously to get the job done.
Even the most junior employees know how to carry out tasks autonomously. Intermediate-level individuals with this core competency, however, identify problems and apply solutions that fit project guidelines. At higher levels, employees need very little guidance and can define their workloads accurately to meet strategic objectives.
How to identify core competencies
Before choosing employees with the right competencies, you must find out what those are. There are various ways to identify an individual’s core competencies during the hiring process.
Some companies use questionnaires with simple queries like “How good are you at resolving conflicts?” However, simple questions deliver simple feedback. Instead of your boring, run-of-the-mill interview questions, we find the two methods below to be much more efficient and effective.
Competency-based assessments simulate workplace situations and objectively measure candidate competencies.
Assessment tests plot responses of job seekers against role responsibilities and require candidates to complete a series of tests for role-based competencies. For example, candidates for a marketing manager role may test for storytelling, teamwork, time management, and conflict resolution.
HR teams use the information generated by competency assessments to shortlist or select individuals with the right competency mix. Tests are the same for all candidates, ensuring objective treatment and minimizing unconscious bias.
Alternatively, you can manually assess core competencies via interviews or email. While much more tedious, there are two ways to do this.
One option is asking candidates to evaluate their core competencies. The other way is structuring interviews to uncover core competencies related to the role.
In both cases, think hard about what competencies to look for. Remember that core competencies meet the following rules:
They’re relevant across many sectors or products
They contribute to customer or organizational benefits
Similar methods apply whether you enquire about competencies or request self-assessment. Dividing competencies into three categories is a good starting point. Ask about:
Functional competencies: Skills or qualities needed to carry out roles
Personal competencies: Skills or qualities that define the individual’s personality and attitude
Leadership competencies: Skills or qualities that enable individuals to manage others and meet objectives
Within those three categories, define how each core competency relates to your business. For example, a marketing analyst may need functional research skills, a customer-focused and entrepreneurial personal approach, and leadership skills like conflict resolution and responsibility.
Keep the list of required core competencies as short as possible. 8-12 competencies usually capture the information we need. Now, follow the checklist below:
✅ Request details about how the individual demonstrates their competency levels in work settings.
✅ Ask them to grade their competence and how they landed on that score.
✅ Enquire about how candidates work to actively improve their skills to gain more mastery.
This method applies to self-administered questionnaires and interviews, but it’s also a good idea to combine self-assessment with skills testing. Tests should verify that candidates are as competent as they claim to be.
How to use core competencies in hiring
As mentioned, understanding and hiring for competencies makes recruitment more systematic and reliable. Competencies help you plug skills gaps and upgrade your workforce. Fortunately, there are several ways to integrate them into everyday recruitment processes.
Role-based competencies make it easier to write job descriptions that convey core requirements more clearly. When you highlight competency levels, candidates instantly understand the hard and soft skills they need to be successful applicants.
And finally, at the interview stage, job competencies match candidates and roles. Recruiters can employ behavioral, situational, and career-oriented questions to explore how well candidates measure up in real-life situations.
HR teams should analyze roles within the organization, define core responsibilities and workloads, and create a register of essential and desirable skills for every role. Departmental experts can then supply role-specific feedback, resulting in super-accurate competency profiles.
This enables more efficient workforce planning and ensures HR teams can focus on upskilling to address issues related to skills gaps. When managers understand what qualities the ideal employee needs in each position, they can work with employees to acquire the competencies needed for senior positions.
Nobody loves performance evaluations. But they aren’t so bad when you emerge with useful information and learning opportunities. Using core competencies as a benchmark creates clarity for employees and boosts general job satisfaction.
Uncover competencies with Toggl Hire
Core competencies are the key to efficient hiring and solid employee performance. More than just essential skills, competencies consider an individual’s proficiency level and place skills in an organizational context — ensuring each hire is capable of helping achieve company goals.
As we’ve seen, building a core competency model for your organization is essential, but it’s equally important to assess skills when putting models into practice. Recruiters can use the Toggl Hire skills test library to assess proficiency levels for various roles, qualities, and skills.
The very best part? Creating an account is completely free, so you’ve got no reason not to explore our library and discover the most effective way to source the skills you need.
Juste loves investigating through writing. A copywriter by trade, she spent the last ten years in startups, telling stories and building marketing teams. She works at Toggl Hire and writes about how businesses can recruit really great people.