What is competency based assessment?

How do you know how good a person’s business skills really are?

The show was in effect a form of competency based assessment and is a good place to start your understanding on what it is and how it works. Like the show, competency based assessment seeks to determine whether a person can do a task or group of tasks and how well they can do them. It recognises that the most accurate way to determine a person’s competence at something is to assess them using their knowledge and skills in an on-the-job situation.

This was the question posed by the TV show The Apprentice. For those not familiar with this show, a group of people competed over a series of weeks to become the winner. Each week they were assigned real world business related tasks to complete. Their performance was then judged by the host of the show and a group of business savvy advisors. Each episode one person was eliminated until the final winner was determined.

Every job requires a specific set of knowledge and skills. This varies depending on the type and complexity of the job. A competency based assessment process provides a way of building the skills and knowledge people need to perform their job. Similarly, the TV show The Apprentice was not just an assessment exercise. It was a learning process for the contestants. Beyond this winning the show meant gaining a role where you were an apprentice and would be able to learn further from an expert. Like the show, competency based assessment isn’t just an assessment exercise. It is a process of assessment, learning and re-assessment.

A typical competency assessment process

There are different approaches to competency based assessment. One typical approach is explained in the diagram below.

An Ongoing Process

Competency assessment is an ongoing process in which knowledge and skills are continually built. This is particularly important in today’s fast paced dynamic world. Being able to understand current capabilities and develop new ones is critical to stay ahead of the curve.

But it’s not just new skills that need to be developed. Competency levels can be used to define different stages of expertise. This is useful for individuals as they progress through career from novice to expert. For companies, competency assessment can provide a great foundation for a succession planning process.

If you’d like to continue your learning about competencies and competency assessment, see the recommended articles below. You can also find more in our Learning menu.

To determine competency needs organizations must ask themselves what skills and capabilities they need in order to carry out their strategic plan. The answer to this question defines the competencies required.

A number of approaches are used by organizations when defining competency needs. One approach is to define a core set of important competencies needed by everyone in the organization. Another is to define a core set needed by everyone and an additional set needed by leaders. A more detailed approach is to define role based competencies.

Competency management ensures that organizations are staffed with people capable of carrying out its strategic plan. It helps to safeguard companies from skill shortages.

Organizations with excellent use of competencies are 51% more effective in raising performance.1



The first step in competency based assessment is for a person to conduct a self-assessment.  This could be as simple as completing a competency assessment form (see our sample form or it might be as detailed as a collection of evidence that they can perform some skill).



While a self-assessment may be sufficient for some processes, many require an assessor to also assess an individual. This usually requires completing a competency assessment form and in some cases reviewing the evidence a person has collected that they can perform a skill. For more robust competency assessment processes an assessor may observe a person performing some skill on-the-job.



An assessment will identify the areas where a person is already competent and the areas in which they need development. Using this information a development plan can be created.



A good approach to a person’s development plan is to include a mix of on-the-job and off-the-job learning. For instance, shadowing an expert, attending a training course or special assignments. See our article on the 70:20:10 approach to learning for more information.



If development needs were identified a person will need to be re-assessed once learning has been completed. Once the assessment has successfully completed a person is deemed competent and in some cases awarded a certification.