What is a Competency Assessment?

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis

Competency assessment is a review or testing process geared toward rating the skill, productivity level, and natural abilities of an individual. Some businesses also use competency assessment tactics to measure the success and effectiveness of a department or even entire organization. Competency assessment, whether for individuals or for an organization, can help measure the strengths and weaknesses of a subject, which in turn may dictate a future course toward improvement.

Businessman with a briefcase
Businessman with a briefcase

When measuring individuals, competency assessment is often used in hiring practices and performance reviews. Depending on the size of the business, the process may be carried out by an immediate supervisor, or may be the job of an entire human resources department. Competency assessment may be used to create targeted programs for employee performance improvement, or may help winnow out individuals with superior skills for promotion.

There are many different elements that may be used to perform a competency assessment. Personality tests are sometimes used to measure characteristics such as leadership, coping strategies, and organizational skills. Face-to-face interviews may help examiners get a more in-depth sense of the personal strengths and weaknesses of a worker or applicant. Tests can also be designed to measure specific knowledge, such as computer literacy, safety skills, or company protocol. These may be oral or written examinations, or they may be practical tests that require real-time action to measure competency at a task.

For jobs that include a high degree of stress, one segment of a competency assessment program may involve a psychological analysis by a licensed mental health professional. Jobs with a large physical component may require applicants to prove competency through a full medical physical or various strength and skill tests. While these tests may seem somewhat invasive, they can garner important information about the suitability of a candidate and the degree of risk that will be undertaken by putting a person in a high-stress position.

Competency assessment can also be done to measure the skill and effectiveness of a department, team, or entire business. In some cases, businesses will hire outside counsel to create an independent analysis. Tools for measuring competency on a large scale may include comparing real behaviors to company mission and protocol, observing the flow of cooperation and chain of command between departments, and reviewing training procedures throughout the organization. Using workplace-wide competency assessment can help highlight holes in the efficiency and effectiveness of a business that are easy for insiders to miss, and may help improve company image and performance overall.

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis

With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica is passionate about drama and film. She has many other interests, and enjoys learning and writing about a wide range of topics in her role as a wiseGEEK writer.

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Discussion Comments


I need to fill a managerial role at my company and I have about 7 people that I think would be qualified to do the work. I have assessed their experience and they are all roughly equal. Does anyone know of some sort of leadership competency assessment that I could give them to judge how well they would do as managers?

@clippers - I think all employers would like to hire experience employees, but the simple fact is that if you are going to keep a staff you need to be willing to train people and let them work on the job.

If more businesses required competency assessments they would struggle to find staff that met their standards. Most people move up through the job market, not laterally. Sometimes you just have to take a chance on people.


I am kind of surprised that more companies do not require some form of competency assessment. With most jobs you fill out an application, have an interview, and start working. You are never actually asked to prove that you can do the work you are being hired for.

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