A Competency-Based Approach to Workforce Recovery: Help for Job Seekers

October 8, 2020 in ,
By Paul Bresnan, Marni Falcone

Of the many challenges presented by the pandemic, one is economic. The US economic landscape has changed sharply. Some industries, like hospitality and travel, have been adversely impacted, while other industries like cybersecurity and e-commerce are surging.[1] This 2-part blog will describe how job seekers and organizations can capitalize on a tumultuous job market by employing a competency-based approach. Part 1 will discuss strategies for job seekers to identify and leverage their existing skills to explore new career options. Part 2 will discuss how organizations can re-evaluate their recruitment and hiring practices to acquire diverse, high-performing talent that may exist outside of their typical talent pipeline.

Industries that have been negatively impacted are faced with the difficult decision of reducing large portions of their workforce—the number of unemployed persons has almost tripled from 6 million in July 2019 to 16.3 million in July 2020.[2] Many people now out of work have few job opportunities in their current industry. On the other hand, organizations in surging industries have ramped up hiring to meet new demand, tapping out their typical talent markets. If you are a job seeker in an industry that is struggling, you are likely feeling stressed about the viability of your future in that field. While this uncertainty can cause anxiety, it does provide an opportunity to take a step back, re-evaluate your career choices, and explore opportunities that can capitalize on your skills in new industries. This could be a period of reinvention!

Step 1: Take Stock of Competencies

When looking to explore options outside of your industry, you should first evaluate what skills you have acquired from your work experience. These are known as competencies. Competencies are knowledge, skills, abilities, and other characteristics needed to perform a role on the job.[3] Instead of evaluating your skills in terms of specific tasks that you completed in your work experience consider the underlying skillsets required to perform those tasks—or your competencies. Competencies are generally broader and speak to qualities that can be applied across a variety of settings and tasks, making your experience more easily transferrable to other careers. 

For example, consider the job of an event planner—an occupation hit hard by social distancing guidelines. Event planners perform tasks such as meeting with clients to gain an understanding of the event’s purpose and goals, ensuring the event stays within established budgets, ensuring vendors are paid, and coordinating logistics and services, including technology and equipment, food, drinks, transportation, lodging, etc.[4] On the surface, these tasks sound like they are very specific to event planning and may not seem like they transfer to other industries or occupations very well. However, when you look deeper at the competencies required to perform those tasks, it tells a different story. Event planners need to be proficient in competencies such as customer service, planning and organizing, communication, budgeting and finance, influence and negotiation, and contract management, which transfer very well to many different industries.

Step 2: Find New Job Opportunities that Fit

Once you have identified your competencies, you can start to look for career opportunities that align with them, even if it is in a completely different industry. It is important here to think outside the box, since you may discover an opportunity that you have never considered before.

When looking for opportunities, using your competencies as keywords can help you find other industries and positions where your competencies align. Don’t be discouraged by industry-specific tasks, functions, or duties you may see in a particular posting. Rather, focus on the underlying competencies or skills listed in the job posting. Revisiting our event planner example, competencies like planning and organizing, budgeting and finance, and influence and negotiation all transfer well to a variety of positions—like the role of a project manager. Therefore, a good approach could be to look for project manager positions in surging industries, like cybersecurity.

In your search, you may find that your current competencies align with a job you have identified, or you may see that there is not a complete overlap—which is more likely if you are switching industries. And that’s okay! This is a great opportunity to invest in yourself with training. Nowadays, you can learn at little-to-no cost online. Informal resources like YouTube and online academies such as Coursera or Udemy are great options to pick up a new skill or learn a new program. Demonstrating the initiative to improve your skills in your downtime can only make you more attractive to employers.

Step 3: Articulating Competencies in Resumes and Interviews

Aligning your competencies to the requirements of a new occupation is half the battle. You must be able to highlight those competencies to potential employers—especially if you are coming from a different industry. The first steps are to do your research. Review the company’s website and any other information so you have a clear picture of what an employee in that position will be doing. Consider conducting informational interviews with individuals in similar positions. Use your network or other social media avenues to connect you. The more you know about your target position, the better you will be able to articulate how your competencies connect to the competencies required by the position.

In your resume, describe the competencies you have used to be successful. This could be a featured competencies section at the top of your resume or dedicating space within the summary of your work history for competencies that you have used in a particular position. For interviews, brainstorm potential questions employers may ask and be prepared to articulate your competencies in your answers. LinkedIn provides interview preparation resources with sample questions you can use. Again, avoid describing your work history in specific tasks, but rather focus on your competencies and articulate how they can be leveraged to perform the tasks in the new position. Be transparent and acknowledge that while you may be coming from a different industry, you are confident that your skills will transfer well and provide examples of how that might look. This is where pulling from your background research will shine through to employers.

While this has been a challenging time for everyone, it can also be an opportunity to pause, grow, and make a change. Stay tuned for Part 2 of this blog where we will offer suggestions to organizations for how they can use a competency-based approach to attract highly qualified talent from outside their industry.

[1] 30 Industries Seeing a Surge in Demand Due to the COVID-19 Pandemic – ResearchAndMarkets.com. (2020, April 06). Retrieved September 25, 2020, from https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20200406005311/en/30-Industries-Surge-Demand-Due-COVID-19-Pandemic

[2] Employment Situation Summary Table A. Household data, seasonally adjusted. (2020, September 04). Retrieved September 25, 2020, from https://www.bls.gov/news.release/empsit.a.htm

[3] Campion, M. A., Fink, A. A., Ruggeberg, B. J., Carr, L., Phillips, G. M., Odman, R, B. (2011) Doing Competencies Well: Best Practices in Competency Modeling. Personnel Psychology, 64, 225 – 262.

[4] McKay, D. (n.d.). Event Planner Job Description: Salary, Skills, & More. Retrieved September 25, 2020, from https://www.thebalancecareers.com/event-planner-525613

Paul Bresnan is an FMP Consultant and Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. When he isn’t helping clients wrestle with technology to advance their human capital function, he is probably doing something physically active. Hiking the trails in the Shenandoah is a recently discovered physically distant activity he has taken up. 

Marni Falcone is an Engagement Manager on FMP’s Management Team and an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. When she isn’t leading competency development, assessment and implementation projects, she loves spending time with her family, taking a Barre3 class, or rooting for her favorite sports teams.