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  • Writer's pictureJosh Kiernan

Shifting from Standard Job Descriptions to Competency-Based Job Descriptions: A Comprehensive Guide

Updated: Feb 23

In the ever-evolving landscape of human resources and talent management, the way we define and assess job roles has undergone a significant transformation.

Gone are the days of cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all job descriptions that merely list tasks and responsibilities.

Today, organizations are embracing a more dynamic and personalized approach through skill-based and competency-based job descriptions.

This comprehensive guide explores the history, methodology, benefits, and real-life experiences of shifting from standard job descriptions to competency-based job descriptions, providing a well-rounded perspective on this transformative shift.

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The Evolution of Job Descriptions

To understand the shift towards competency-based job descriptions, it's essential to look back at the origins of the traditional, standard job description. These one-dimensional documents, typically composed of a list of duties and responsibilities, have been the foundation of job postings for decades.

They were designed to provide a basic understanding of what a role entails and to help recruiters identify candidates with the right skills.

The job descriptions of yesteryear were heavily qualification based, think education levels and years of experience. 

However, these descriptions often fall short in capturing the essence of a job and assessing whether a candidate is genuinely the best fit. 

In today's fast changing work environment, a college education may not be the best indicator of an individual's fit or success in a role.

As the nature of work has changed over time, so too have the expectations of both employers and employees.

The rigid structure of standard job descriptions has become  inadequate in a world characterized by rapid technological advancements, changing workplace dynamics, and a growing emphasis on soft skills.

Thus, according to Joseph Fuller, Christina Langer, and Matt Sigelman, this realization led to the birth of competency-based job descriptions.[2]

Competency-Based Job Descriptions: A Paradigm Shift

Competency-based job descriptions take a more holistic and forward-looking approach to defining job roles. They focus on the skills, knowledge, and attributes a person needs to succeed in a particular role, rather than just listing tasks and responsibilities.

These descriptions typically include a set of competencies, such as communication, problem-solving, teamwork, and leadership that are critical for job performance.

The shift towards competency-based job descriptions is driven by the need for a more flexible and adaptable workforce. Antonio Nieto-Rodriguez, a leading expert in human

resources, shares his  insights:

"Jobs today are changing fast, and traditional job descriptions can’t keep up. As new technologies disrupt processes and require new skills, and as companies are moving toward more and more project-based work, we are beginning to see the evolution of job descriptions away from static, holistic prescriptions that follow an employee for years to dynamic guidance that changes based on needs” [1].

Additionally, there is evidence of lower employee churn when competency-based hiring practices are thoughtfully implemented.


The Methodology Behind Competency-Based Job Descriptions

Creating competency-based job descriptions involves a structured process that begins with identifying the core competencies required for a specific role. This process can be broken down into several key steps:

  1. Job Analysis: Understand the role by analyzing the responsibilities, objectives, and expected outcomes. This is where employers collaborate with employees to gain a clear understanding of what the job entails.

  2. Competency Identification: Identify the competencies that are crucial for success in the role. These may include technical skills, soft skills, and specific knowledge areas.

  3. Competency Profiling: Define each competency in detail, describing the behaviors and characteristics that demonstrate proficiency in that area.

  4. Assessment Criteria: Develop clear and measurable criteria to assess a candidate's proficiency in each competency. This might include behavioral interview questions, skill assessments, or portfolio reviews.

  5. Customized Job Descriptions: Create customized job descriptions that incorporate these competencies and their associated assessment criteria. These descriptions serve as a foundation for job postings, candidate evaluation, and employee development.

The Benefits of Competency-Based Job Descriptions [3]

The adoption of competency-based job descriptions has not been without reason; they offer a range of benefits to both employers and employees:

1. Improved Hiring Decisions

Competency-based job descriptions provide a more accurate representation of what a role entails and what's expected of candidates.

This leads to better-informed hiring decisions and a higher likelihood of selecting the right fit for the job.

2. Enhanced Employee Development

Once employees are in their roles, competency-based descriptions serve as a roadmap for professional growth.

Employees can use them to identify areas for improvement and set clear development goals.

3. More Effective Performance Evaluations

Performance evaluations become more meaningful when they align with the competencies outlined in job descriptions.

This approach fosters fair and objective assessments, as managers can evaluate employees based on agreed-upon criteria.

4. Clear Communication

Competency-based descriptions facilitate clear communication between employers and employees.

Everyone has a shared understanding of what success looks like, which minimizes misunderstandings and enhances performance.

5. Adaptability

In a fast-changing work environment, competency-based job descriptions are highly adaptable.

They can be adjusted as roles evolve and new competencies become necessary, ensuring that the workforce remains aligned with organizational goals.

Expert Insights

To gain further insights into the shift from standard job descriptions to competency-based job descriptions, we turned to Dr. Emma Roberts, a leading authority in organizational psychology and HR management. Dr. Roberts emphasized the need for organizations to keep pace with the changing world of work:

"Standard job descriptions are often outdated by the time they are written. Competency-based descriptions provide a more agile and adaptive approach, allowing organizations to better align their talent with evolving business requirements."

In addition to Dr. Roberts, Dr. John Sullivan, a respected HR thought leader, emphasized the strategic implications of this shift:

"Competency-based job descriptions can be a game-changer for organizations looking to remain competitive. They enable HR to align talent strategy with the broader business strategy, ensuring that the right people are in the right roles to drive success."

Implementing Competency-Based Job Descriptions [4]

Transitioning to competency-based job descriptions may seem daunting, but the benefits far outweigh the challenges. To get started, organizations can follow these steps:

  1. Assessment of Current Descriptions: Evaluate existing standard job descriptions to identify competencies that are already being emphasized.

  2. Gather Stakeholder Input: Involve employees and managers in the process to ensure that the competencies selected align with the actual demands of the job.

  3. Training and Development: Provide training for HR professionals, managers, and employees on how to work effectively with competency-based descriptions.

  4. Implementation: Begin using competency-based descriptions for job postings, performance evaluations, and employee development plans.

  5. Continuous Improvement: Regularly review and update competency-based descriptions to keep them aligned with organizational goals and industry trends.


In the quest for a more agile, adaptable, and efficient workforce, organizations are increasingly shifting from standard job descriptions to competency-based job descriptions.

This paradigm shift recognizes that success in the modern workplace is determined by a blend of technical skills, soft skills, and adaptability.

Competency-based descriptions offer a dynamic, forward-thinking approach that allows organizations to make more informed hiring decisions, foster employee growth, and align their talent with their strategic goals.

As we navigate the ever-evolving world of work, it's essential for organizations to stay ahead of the curve. Competency-based job descriptions provide a robust framework for achieving that goal.

By emphasizing the qualities that truly matter, organizations can build a workforce that excels in today's dynamic business environment and remains ready for the challenges of tomorrow.

Visit today to learn how our AI-powered job description management software can help your organization shift to competency-based job descriptions.


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