Hiring for Competence

Knowing the key competencies required to work in your company is a foundational element of hiring the right people.

In a post entitled Hire Wisely, we looked at the differentiating between what can be taught on the job and what the candidate has to bring with him or her already. Much of the latter comes down to what are commonly known as “soft skills”; what I prefer to call Competencies.

What can be taught

As mentioned previously: most technical skills can be taught.

This doesn’t mean that you get somebody with zero previous experience for a highly technical role. But it is important to recognize that technical skill is one of many attributes to place on the hiring scale, and depending on the impact of other competencies, technical experience may be more or less of a factor. Understanding exactly how much of this technical skill can be taught once the candidate is hired, and what that ramp-up time will entail, is part of your hiring mix.

Product skill, on the other hand, really can be taught from scratch.

Whether you sell a physical product or a service, the particularities of your approach can be fully transferred to a new hire through proper training and induction in the early days.

What can be enhanced

Plenty of competencies can be sharpened through ongoing coaching.

Note that I use the word “coaching” rather than “training”. Allow me to explain:

None of us is born with a natural affinity to loyalty, or collaboration, or productivity and work ethic. We all learn these attitudes and competencies over time. All this to say that yes: anything can be taught.

As an employer, however, it is not for your time and resources to teach these to your employees, if their natural demeanor is the opposite. Rather find somebody that already exhibits these natural attributes and then continuously coach them to refine them and channel them correctly.

Understanding the importance of personal and leadership competencies to particular role will help you put those on your hiring scale will determine the importance of the technical skill of candidates, as well as the focus for ongoing training of your employees. Knowing what qualities the candidate must already have is essential to making correct hiring decisions.

What can not

Be taught or enhanced?

Willingness to learn, and a predisposition towards particular competencies. Your hiring scale must also include the important of willingness to learn, as balanced against all the things that the employee will, in fact, have to learn in the role.


Know what truly is important to the role, in isolation of everything else.

For example: managerial publications and blog will always tout “collaboration” as an essential skill in the workplace. It is, but for certain roles within measure. Any working adult must know how to properly interact and share information with colleagues, however if the role requires individual decision making and productivity, it may behoove you to find a candidate who prefers working in isolation.

Ensure you apply the competencies to your workplace and the needs of the role.

And a parting note: you can not properly do this without having written your company Guiding Principles. A post for another day.

To Do:

  1. Start with your company Guiding Principles, or full Values list. 
  2. Review the job spec for your new role and make two lists showing technical skills required, and competencies required.
  3. Assign a weight to those requirements based on what can be taught and what can not.