Finding a Job in HR: Competency Models

Part of what can make a search for a job in HR successful is whether or not a candidate possesses the necessary knowledge, skills, and ability (KSA’s for short) in the profession overall. Whether you are a recent graduate from a Human Resources focused program, or a seasoned practitioner in transition, how can you gain a sense of whether or not what you learned/know is in-line with the principles of the profession? One of the way in which to do this is by utilizing competency models.

How can Human Resources practitioners utilize competency models to find HR jobs?

Before we answer the above question, it may help the reader to have a clear understanding of what a competency model is. A competency model is a tool by which an organization describes and defines which forms of behavior and skills are necessary to perform a function, and at what level. To simplify the previous sentence, a competency model highlights what an organization considers important from its members.

Competence (or competency) is the ability of an individual to do a job properly. ~ Wikipedia

With that, let’s look at a few examples of competency models from various HR focused professional organizations.



Here we have a screenshot from a recently released PDF of the competency model (entitled, Elements for HR Success) for members of the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM). SHRM is the largest HR organization in the world, with over 200 thousand members in over 140 countries.


Below is a screenshot from an competency model called The HR Profession Map. It was created for members of The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD). For HR practitioners outside of the United States, CIPD is the world’s largest Chartered HR and development professional body. Organizationally speaking, they provide a similar function as SHRM.


World at Work is a professional organization which focuses on total rewards, such as compensation, benefits, and work-life effectiveness. They have roughly 65,000 members worldwide. Below is a snapshot of their competency model, called the Career Excellence Model. It was introduced in April of 2013.


When properly designed, a competency model allows individuals to gain a few insights:

  • What KSA’s are considered critical to an organization. This ties into it’s culture; what it values, how they expect members to perform and conduct themselves, and what KSAs they encourage or discourage.
  • How those KSAs contribute to organizational success. A competency model should tie into the strategic goals of the organization. If individuals members are inline with, and are fulfilling the expectations of the organization, then the organization’s strengthened as a result.
  • How gaining or improving in certain KSAs can allow an individual to gain further mastery in a function (for example, going from an entry level role to a more senior one).

I purposely chose competency models from organizations created to represent those in the Human Resources field. First, because from a practitioner standpoint it can be useful to see how these representative bodies view what’s important, independent of industry and other outside considerations. Second, it provides a way for HR practitioners to benchmark their skill set, allowing them to make clearer decisions on how they want to develop as professionals. For example, someone who’s currently in an entry level position, knowing what attributes are expected at the managerial level may help them to figure out what additional resources may be needed in order to reach that competency level.

While not every company has or advertises a specific competency model, they oftentimes share content that fulfills a similar function, such as a mission statement or job description. For those seeking jobs in Human Resources, understanding a company’s competency model allows for the same potential for insight and competitive advantage as understanding SHRM’s, CIPD’s, or WaW’s. Being able to successfully interpret and speak to the behaviors and values a company defines as important can provide a way to stand out from other candidates.

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