Those of us who write resumes often like to use the concept of core competencies–possibly as a keyword-rich section of its own, maybe woven into the thread of the resume through concrete examples of the competencies, or in numerous other ways. I’ve certainly done this with my clients’ resumes many times over the years, and I thought I was pretty conversant with what the concept involved. That was before I got curious and started researching the topic a bit more. If you’ve been in the habit of including your core competencies in documents (resumes or otherwise), you might be interested in some of what I discovered.
To define your core competencies for prospective employers as part of your job search campaign, you should probably begin by understanding how the concept started. According to research source Wikipedia, the idea of core competencies is part of a management theory that originated with two business-book writers named Prahalad and Hamel, who defined a core competency as “a specific factor that a business sees as being central to the way it, or its employees, works.” What? This concept refers primarily to a business? And you thought it referred to something you’re particularly good at and want to offer to employers!
Here’s a bit more from the Wikipedia entry that might seem as if it’s more about companies than about you (bear with me on this for a few moments). The competency has to meet three main criteria:
Where do you fit in? If you look carefully at the above points, it becomes clear that they can apply to employees or job seekers just as well as they can to companies. Your core competencies need to center around factors that are in some way unique to you. They should also be something that most if not all of your competitors can’t quite match, should be potentially useful in many different situations and environments, and need to deliver clear benefits to those who receive your services–your employer, its customers and so on.
Just listing a bunch of fairly generic terms in a core competencies section on your resume will not communicate the value. For instance, you might believe your competencies include business acumen, customer relationship building, problem solving, and a number of other items. However, each of those can be applied equally well to many other job seekers or currently employed individuals. Unless you can add something that sets you apart, the list is basically meaningless. Just as an example, take “problem solving.” What if you can truthfully say you solve serious, longstanding problems that previous efforts have not overcome? Now we’re getting somewhere! You’ve done something that others haven’t been able to do and that the company really needed. (By the way, don’t go negative on this and start pointing fingers at those who made the previous failed attempts!)
What this means, when boiled down, is that your core competencies aren’t really worth mentioning unless they add clear value. Your resume and any other communication vehicles you use in your job search must take that into account. Otherwise, all you have is a laundry list, and employers don’t hire laundry-list employees.