Common Job Descriptions; Job Postings in Language of Competencies/skills


A job description explains the tasks, duties, functions, and responsibilities of a position. The description details the purpose of the work as it relates to the organization’s mission and goals, designates who performs a specific type of work, and explains how that work is to be completed.  

A common job description outlines the expectations of a job in a way that is comparable to other similar positions. Listing competencies in a job description is a means to signal what is expected of a potential employee. It also allows workers to weigh their fitness for the position compared to other available jobs, and signals to credential providers what type of competencies and skills are needed by employers.

The traditional approach to job descriptions is for an employer to list the job responsibilities, educational requirements, experience level, and technical skills that a candidate may need for the job.  A typical job description details:

  • Information about the job, such as official job title, location, and expectations for travel.
  • The scope of the job, such as tasks, duties, and responsibilities.
  • Summary of the job, including its main purpose.
  • Primary job responsibilities and the goals and end results that are to be achieved.
  • Expected qualifications of the employee, including education and experience, as well as certifications and licenses.

The competency approach to writing job descriptions looks at recruiting from the candidate’s perspective.  By using the competency approach an employer may attract workers who demonstrate certain core competencies, regardless of whether they have performed the exact same job duties in the past. This approach emphasizes what potential candidates must be capable of doing, rather than specific duties they must perform.

While a competency-based job description may include the same information found in a traditional job description, it will also include the minimum competencies, including knowledge, skills, and behaviors, desired in a candidate. Competencies are typically applicable to the specific job, jobs in the same department, and to the organization at large. Skills, knowledge, and behaviors are the three types of competencies that may be included in a job description: 

  • Skills indicate the abilities needed to execute job duties, such as software and computer proficiency, interpersonal skills, accounting skills, or specific laboratory techniques. 
  • Knowledge indicates the areas of specialty or expertise required, such as nursing, finance, or employment law. 
  • Behaviors indicate the characteristics an employee must display on the job, such as initiative, collegiality, resourcefulness, or professionalism.

Relationship to Ecosystem

Common job descriptions written in the language of competencies may better enable workers to navigate job searches in the learn-and-work ecosystem. When learners complete credential-granting programs that emphasize competencies, or when workers move from one job to another, they can more easily match their competencies to the expectations of employers and compare job opportunities if employers write job descriptions in the language of competencies.


The University of Massachusetts Medical School, Northwestern University, and the University of Medicine & Dentistry of New Jersey each offer guidance on how to write competency-based job descriptions.

In 2018, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, with support from and JPMorgan Chase & Co., began developing a web-based platform for employers to generate clearer signals for in-demand skills and engage in competency-based and skills-based hiring. The platform gives employers and their HR technology partners the tools and open standards resources they need to develop more accurate, complete, and comparable job descriptions at the competency and credentialing level. It also helps them distribute this information in ways that best serve end users. This can improve recruitment and job matching—as well as curriculum and credential alignment with colleges, universities, and other sources of talent. As a result of this initiative, students and workers will have access to accurate and up-to-date information regarding job requirements and will be better able to match their skills to available positions.


Center for Education and Workforce, U.S. Chamber of Commerce. (2018, April 24). U.S. Chamber Foundation to Develop Web-Based Job Description Resources with Support from and JPMorgan Chase & Co.

Human Resources. (n.d.). Competency-based job description. Northwestern University.

SHRM. (n.d.). How to develop a job description.

Thompson, J. (2020, August 27). Competency versus traditional job descriptions. Chron.


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