Core Competencies: What Are They? (With Examples)

By Chris Kolmar - Nov. 13, 2020
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Many successful professionals and companies define their core competencies, which set them apart from their industry competition. It’s how they demonstrate their strengths and ultimately build their business.

As either an individual or corporation, understanding what core competencies are and how to evaluate yours can make your brand stand out to customers and hiring managers alike.

What Are Core Competencies?

The concept of core competencies first arose as a management theory to describe the skills and resources that a business uses to create a unique advantage over their competition.

It isn’t some free-floating idea or opinion put on a company by its observers. Core competencies are skills and resources defined by the organization or person and used to their advantage strategically.

The benefits don’t just come naturally from core competencies. You need to take time to define them, discuss a plan of action, and follow-through to stand out from the crowd long-term.

Traditionally, core competencies were used to evaluate a company’s capabilities and advantages in the market. In recent years, this term has expanded to be utilized by job-seekers to demonstrate their employable competencies. Applicants use their resume to highlight their core competencies through skills, traits, and former knowledge, the combination of which makes them a distinctive candidate.

How Core Competencies Work

While the use of core competencies between job applicants and businesses may differ, they serve a similar purpose. To illustrate knowledge and skills that catch people’s attention and puts them ahead of their competition.

Core competencies are effective in demonstrating the unique traits that make a company or candidate noteworthy. They work by reflecting on a combination of evidence-based competencies you have and expressing these to the people considering you or your product.

While developing a core competency for your business may seem like a straightforward way to advance growth, there are both advantages and disadvantages of focusing on this framework.

Advantages of Core Competencies in Business

  1. Usable across many industries. Whether you work in technology or children’s fashion, defining your business’s core competencies can positively impact your success rates. It can also be useful in highlighting the special features of a particular product.

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    Many products you know use a strategy of core competency to promote their brand and snag an advantage in the market. Whether the company emphasizes its quality or price value, it can leave a strong impression on its potential customer base.

  2. Difficult for competitors to duplicate. One of the most decisive advantages of leaning towards a core competency model is that it’s difficult for your competitors to duplicate your specific skills and resources. If your organization can develop an effective competency strategy, your competition won’t be able to copy it. It becomes ingrained in your identity, and customers come to associate these concepts with your brand.

    You can see examples of this in companies like Apple, who cornered the market in product innovation. Another strong example is how Netflix became synonymous with easily watching TV and movies from home.

    Determining a core competency that’s accurate and makes your company unique provides a hefty competitive advantage.

  3. Can help build a long-term advantage over competition. Building a brand strategy around a core competency has the potential to drive long-term competitive advantages. Many organizations and products see success in the short-term when it comes to capturing consumer attention. They can see surges in business for years, even, before their numbers drop down from being replaced by a more strategic brand and fading behind the competition.

    Considering a core competency of your business can help with overcoming the challenge of sustaining market relevance long-term.

Disadvantages of Core Competencies in Business:

  1. The market can change in demand. When an organization establishes a core competency model, those qualities and aspects of its brand or team become their identifier. It’s the permanent face of the company for the lifespan of their business. The core competence you choose to focus on needs to be able to withstand changes in the market.

    Things like technology advancements and consumer perspective can destroy a business’s positive streak. Take a look at what happened to video-rental stores.

    Changes in market demand happen regularly. Only the strongest of competencies will be able to survive all demand disruptions.

  2. You need to organize your company’s actions around core competency. Deciding to emphasize core competency can incur the difficulty of always needing to consider it before taking action. Doing things that go against your company’s core competency will quickly discourage consumers from doing further business with you.

    Consider if Amazon stopped taking returns. A big part of their brand is convenience for the customer. Taking this route would surely hurt their sales because it goes against what the consumers have become accustomed to.

  3. The possibility of relying on an unstable resource. Many businesses that implement a core competency model will do so by utilizing a combination of their resources, skills, and features. However, resources can become limited when you’re outsourcing.

    If you’ve built a brand around a core competency that’s dependent on a particular resource that becomes no longer available, it can have detrimental impacts on your business.

Examples of Core Competencies in Business

  1. High-quality service or product. When consumers invest their hard-earned money in a product or service, they’re expecting to receive quality. They want the best.

    Across various industries, there’s often a leading provider that’s known for this consideration of quality.

    Having a reputation for being a business that puts for high-quality products and services can be a powerful core competency to build on because it’s something people are always looking for.

  2. Customer service. Structuring a company around providing top-notch customer service can attract more business. It makes people’s purchasing experience more pleasurable and provides them with confidence that you’ll take care of any issues that arise.

    While Amazon is one of the most prominently known companies with this core competency model, many other kinds of companies succeed with a similar structure.

    Examples of businesses that focus on customer service include:

    • Jetblue

    • Publix

    • Trader Joe’s

    • HubSpot

  3. Embracing and providing innovation. Innovation is a popular core competency to attempt but a difficult one to succeed in. Choosing to construct a company image around producing innovation requires resources and a staff equipped to deliver creative, new ideas consistently.

    One of the companies best known for this rapid innovation competency is Apple. Their customers have come to expect a consistent stream of new, revolutionary products coming out on a prompt schedule, and now, that has become part of their identity.

    Innovation is a core competency that excites the market and gets them looking forward to purchasing from you. This can be very effective long-term because it encourages customer loyalty.

Examples of Core Competencies for a Resume

While core competencies are traditionally associated with defining a company’s identity, it can also apply to creating a comprehensive applicant profile on a resume.

Core competencies in a resume can impress a hiring manager and lead them to offer an opportunity to interview. They create a summary of the soft skills that make you a notable candidate and paint a picture of who you are.

Consider the following examples of core competencies that could be helpful on your resume.

  1. Communication. Communication is a crucial skill for a company’s employees to have – both between co-workers internally and with customers externally. It’s an essential trait that employers look for in potential hires.

    Listing strong written and verbal communication skills in your resume is likely to get an employer to call you in for an interview to put your abilities to the test.

  2. Leadership. Finding candidates with strong leadership skills is very important to employers, whether they’re seeking to fill a management role or not. Even in entry-level applicants, demonstrating leadership skills can show the potential for growth and positive qualities.

    Listing leadership as a core competency on your resume lends itself to predicting that you’ll probably be successful in other areas as well. Consider leadership positions you’ve had in the past and examples of leadership skills to see if any of them fit you.

    Examples of leadership skills include:

    • Empathy

    • Delegation

    • Positivity

    • Time-management

    • Dependability

    • Flexibility

  3. Goal-oriented. Being goal-oriented is an in-demand trait for employees to have across multiple industries. It means being able to create plans, set expectations, and follow-through with meeting an objective. It correlates to a lot of other positive qualities, as well.

    Goal-orientation is a good core competency to include on your resume because it’s something that virtually any type of project requires. Employers will seek out this skill specifically because it can have such a massive impact on their productivity. They want to hire people who will be focused and committed to accomplishing the goals of their position.

How to Answer “What Are Your Core Competencies?” in an Interview

Once you’ve committed to listing several of the most relevant and impressive core competencies on your resume, you must prepare for an interview. The potential employer has become familiar with your tag-line, and in the interview, they will put your skills and knowledge to the test with strategic interview questions.

Consider the following tips for giving a satisfying answer if your interviewer ends up asking you, “what are your core competencies?”

  1. Be honest. While you want to be strategic in an interview, you never want to be dishonest. Make sure you’re sincere when discussing what your core competencies are in an interview. The hiring manager will often be able to tell if you’re being disingenuous or telling them what you think they want to hear.

    Even if they don’t realize on the spot, the truth will come out once you start working if you exaggerated your skills.

  2. Provide specific examples. One way of strengthening your interview answers is by providing detailed information about an example of a time you used your core competency skills. Think back to a former job or position and the reasons why you believe you demonstrate these abilities.

    If you’ve listed yourself as a problem-solver in your core competencies, refer to an instance where you solved a problem in the past and how you did it. Tell them a story about your skills. Interviewers respond well to knowledge and skills that have evidence to back them up.

  3. Express how your core competency will help their company. Tying together your skills with the benefit they can bring to the company you’re interviewing with is an excellent way to impress an interviewer when they’re asking about your core competencies. It reminds them that you’ve considered how these abilities will affect your job performance and displays you as a prepared candidate.

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Chris Kolmar


Chris Kolmar

Chris Kolmar is a co-founder of Zippia and the editor-in-chief of the Zippia career advice blog. He has hired over 50 people in his career, been hired five times, and wants to help you land your next job. His research has been featured on the New York Times, Thrillist, VOX, The Atlantic, and a host of local news. More recently, he's been quoted on USA Today, BusinessInsider, and CNBC.

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