Linda Anguish, SPHR, GPHR answers questions about competency-based testing.
Competency questions and answers below:
1. What is competency?
A competency is simply the knowledge, skills and abilities that are needed to perform successfully in a particular role. Sometimes people use the term as a synonym for “competence,” but the meaning is slightly different. If you are competent, you perform your role in a worthy manner that leads to goal achievement. You may possess all of knowledge, skills and abilities to be competent, but that does not guarantee that you will use them in your performance on the job.
2. Why does HRCI call its certifications competency-based?
On a regular basis, for each of its certifications, HRCI conducts a practice analysis to define the competencies that are currently needed in the role. We survey hundreds or thousands of HR professionals to determine their current responsibilities and the knowledge and skills that they need to perform them. The results then form the exam content outline for the certification. Candidates who pass our exams do not only need to know their stuff, but they also need to be able to apply their knowledge to address a specific problem or situation that is presented. This is why most HRCI exams require a certain amount of on-the-job experience – so that candidates are able to apply the judgement and critical thinking skills they have learned on the job – not just what they have learned from a book.
3. What is a competency model?
A competency model is a framework, so to speak, of the knowledge, skills and abilities needed to be successful either in a particular job role, or within a profession, or within a specific organization. That is one of the controversies surrounding a competency model – there may not be a “one size fits all” model. In the HR profession alone there are multiple competency models. One that is particularly well known is the HR Competency Study by Dave Ulrich and Wayne Brockbank, professors at the University of Michigan and partners in the RBL Group, currently in its 7th iteration. Many organizations have developed their own competency models for positions to succeed within their environment – the US Army, for example, has defined its own competency model for its HR soldiers. HRCI does not subscribe to a single competency model but uses the data from multiple studies as input to the practice analysis process I described earlier.
4. So if an individual holds a certification, it doesn’t necessarily mean that he or she is competent?
A quality certification exam certainly indicates whether an individual has the knowledge and abilities to be competent, and certainly there is research that shows that HRCI-certified individuals perform at a higher level and have a positive impact on their organizations. A competency-based assessment is the closest thing to a performance-based assessment – which would have the candidate actually performing his or her duties in a controlled environment – something like an assessment center. But true performance assessments are very costly to develop and administer, so a competency-based exam – especially one that’s accredited by an independent third party like HRCI – is a good alternative.