What is a competency test? – 6 things you should know

What is a competency test
What is a competency test – Photo by Andrea Piacquadio @Pexels.com

What is a competency test?

A competency test or competency assessment is the formal measurement of an employee’s capabilities mapped against the requirements of their job.  

The CIPD defines them as behaviors and technical attributes that someone must have to perform effectively at work.

Competencies are usually established by human resources professionals for each job role.

But as learning & development professionals, we shouldn’t just leave it to HR.

We need to be comfortable discussing competencies and their implications for our training products and services.

Implementing a competency test before training helps you identify the levels of performance of an individual by comparing someone’s skill or knowledge against the job description. 

This of course where your training interventions and training recommendations will make sense to your client. 

So far so good. Now let’s look at how they actually work.

How do they work?

The right test measures what someone is doing (the behavior) as well as the level to which they are actually performing (the skill).

[You probably already know all about the importance of behaviors and skills from completing a Train the Trainer course. ]

This is then compared with expectations for that role. The results give you an idea where gaps or deficiencies exist. 

For example, running a competency assessment in a new hire’s first 100 days (and sharing results with them) helps highlight what job excellence looks like.

When it’s used during onboarding, it can help to significantly shorten time-to-competency (TTC). 👍

And that really matters because an employee’s feeling of competence has a direct impact on their engagement and satisfaction.

Competency Test
The right person with the right skill in the right job – Photo by Jonathan Borba:

Why do competency tests matter?

As a professional training consultant you know how costly workshops and trainings can be.

Some people need skills development more than others, true?

You possibly encounter people who don’t belong in your workshop and wonder why others aren’t being trained at all.

When training is not properly mapped against competencies, the outcomes can be hit or miss. 

Imagine that your client needs to hire highly-skilled people in order to stay competitive.

They might want to hire and develop people with high levels of business acumen as a competence.

Imagine that your client needs to hire highly-skilled people in order to stay competitive….


So when training is designed by you to support the key skills that employees need to do their job, you can be confident that it’s contributing towards your clients’ business objectives. 🎯

The key thing to remember is that your clients want value for money. They want to achieve outcomes.

Mapping training against required competencies helps with this. 

Where are competency tests used?

Competency tests are frequently used in conjunction with hiring, skills-development, and promotion.  

I’ve also seen my clients leverage competency tests to help them create in-house certification standards for specific roles. 

For example, an organization may decide to develop a series of role-specific certifications for new managers.

(In fact, a client of mine is in the middle of doing this right now in her company.)

To that end, the creation of a competency model can help to ascertain which competency sets are required by the new managers. 

When the new managers have been assessed against specific competencies, those who have met the grade can be marked off as ‘certified’.

Nice work! 😀

What happens if we ignore competencies?

We would like all to believe that people are recruited and put into roles that match their skills and experience.

But research shows that this is not always the case.

On paper, someone looks like they are ready for the job.

But in the absence of rigorous assessment, it’s quite possible that your client might make a bad hire. 

Fully competent and highly motivated make the best hires in most cases.

However this isn’t always easy to achieve. Finding the ideal candidate can take time and considerable money.

And from your perspective, it makes training much harder when the people in your classroom don’t have the right competencies to begin with. 

So, if a client is not using training needs analysis or a competency test in some form, you might want to explain why they should.

How often should you run competency tests?

You cannot fix what doesn’t appear to be broken. And you cannot train when you don’t know where interventions will be most effective.

What this means is that without data around skills-assessment, your client has no definitive way of closing skills-gaps.

If you can help your clients to lean into the data, you can show them how, where and when your training will be most effective. ✅

In my experience, some organizations take the approach of ‘once and done’.  

That means that they only run a competency test when they first hire people.

But if your clients want to create high standards of performance, they need to regularly evaluate competencies through consistent testing.

If they find any gaps, they can bring you in to help close them. 😁

Which competencies will you design your next training around?

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