Workplace Core Competencies: What Are They and Why Are They Important?

Every group of living beings possesses a combination of skills that differentiates them from other groups.  As individuals, we also hold skills that distinguish us from other humans.  Lacking those differences, we would be identical automatons with only our basic survival proficiencies.

Core Competencies - employees at desktop computer - man smiling

Core Competencies for Business

Interestingly, core competencies also apply to businesses.  The collective skills of all its members focus a company on an area.  The person who runs a bakery would likely be a terrible landscaper, just as an accounting firm wouldn’t build very good computers.

Something distinguishes your company from even your closest rivals.  Your business’ core competencies are usually defined by a unique approach to puzzle-solving, finding solutions that elude others.  It goes beyond mere ability and into the realm of creativity.

Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just “saw something.” That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things—Steve Jobs

Does Boeing™ make a better aircraft than Airbus™ or Bombardier™? Yes and no, depending on your application.  Bombardier still makes the world’s most trusted jet platform (Learjet™) for Fortune 50/500 companies.  There are alternatives from other manufacturers, but can you name even one?  Learjet is one of Bombardier’s core competencies, and everybody knows it.

Core Competencies for Employees

Let’s use the concept of automotive sales as a simple case in point. An employee’s core competency would be the ability to up-sell, familiarity with contracts, what constitutes legal identification, data entry, an excellent memory for what vehicles were currently available, overt friendliness, and a helpful attitude.  Anything less would make them a bad hire in that position.

Each individual position will have a list of specific core competencies, despite the industry it inhabits; however, there is much more to the story. Psychologists, for example, must have empathy and be good listeners—you can’t fake that—and if you try you’ll just burn out in a couple of months.  In other words, you can train and educate an individual with a body of knowledge relevant to the job.  You cannot, however, train people to be more empathetic and understanding if it’s not in their nature.

The message here, is that some core competencies can be obtained, simply because they require discovering new knowledge.  Others are innate, meaning they’re fundamentally associated with aspects of personality; yet, this does not necessarily indicate that acquiring new thinking or behavioral patterns is entirely or hopelessly out of the question.

Related: How Employers Can Help Bridge the Skills Gap

Common General Sought-After Core Competencies

It is the responsibility of the applicant to research a position and determine what the core competencies are before they apply.  Then they must delineate their skills to highlight the proficiencies applicable to the job.

For most job candidates, these are the most common skills that employers seek, although some may be relevant to certain work environments and not others.

  1. Leadership & Teamwork Skills
  2. Decision Maker
  3. Results Oriented
  4. Responsible
  5. Problem Solver
  6. Self-organization Skills
  7. Career Commitment & Motivation
  8. Industry Awareness
  9. Trustworthiness & Ethics
  10. Appropriate Technical Skills

Résumé readers and employment interviewers will seek to uncover these traits through interpretation and questioning.  Applicants will be scored on how well they fulfill the requirements.

Nevertheless, for the benefit of those specifically navigating the business sector of the job market, there are a general set of related core competencies, as exclusively addressed by Edward J. Cripe and Richard S. Mansfield, authors of “The Value-Added Employee”.

Frequently-Sought Core Competencies in Business

  1. Establishing Focus
  2. Providing Motivational Support
  3. Fostering Teamwork
  4. Empowering Others
  5. Managing Change
  6. Developing Others
  7. Managing Performance
  8. Attention to Communication
  9. Oral Communication
  10. Written Communication
  11. Persuasive Communication
  12. Interpersonal Awareness
  13. Influencing Others
  14. Building Collaborative Relationships
  15. Customer Orientation
  16. Diagnostic Information Gathering
  17. Analytical Thinking
  18. Forward Thinking
  19. Conceptual Thinking
  20. Strategic Thinking
  21. Technical Expertise
  22. Initiative
  23. Entrepreneurial Orientation
  24. Fostering Innovation
  25. Results Orientation
  26. Thoroughness
  27. Decisiveness
  28. Initiative
  29. Entrepreneurial Orientation
  30. Fostering Innovation
  31. Results Orientation
  32. Thoroughness
  33. Decisiveness
  34. Self Confidence
  35. Stress Management
  36. Personal Credibility
  37. Flexibility

Can a Person Develop Core Competencies?

Certain skills, absolutely!  For example, if you can understand Microsoft Office™, and it interests you enough to acquire proficiency, then you can gain that core competency.  There are a myriad of skills that can be honed in upon through training; and if the desire to do so is there, the quest will be that much easier.  Written communication is also another instance of a learnable skill.  However, even some of the less tangible competencies can be improved upon through self-discipline and perseverance, so don’t lose hope if a few don’t initially appear to be within your immediate forte.

Related: The Importance of Skilled Business Writing

Essential skills to get job

The Takeaway

Core competencies are what situate you or a business apart from others; it defines you in contrast to your competitors; and, most importantly, it funnels your market segment directly into your business.  This exclusive skill-set characterizes your brand, regardless of whether you’re a worker, manufacturer, or a service provider.  It is not a suit that can be donned in the morning and doffed at night.  It is the essence of both you and your business; it is what makes you, you!


Fred Coon, CEO

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