It is important to understand the term “Competency” while trying to understand assessment centers. In this article, we will try and explain the concept of Competencies, its importance in assessment centers and some broad inputs on how to design a competency framework for an assessment center. We also share some additional resources to help further deep dive into this topic, if required.

Understanding the concept of Competency

Taken literally, the English word ‘competency’ has a variety of meanings. However, in case of assessment centers, the term ‘competency’ denotes a combination of skills, behaviors or knowledge that each person participating in the assessment center will be evaluated on.

Let’s take an example. Let’s assume that an organization XYZ Chemicals is conducting an assessment center to identify the most suitable candidate for the role of Plant Head. Before you design the assessment, you have to come up with a set of qualities that the candidate should possess in order to succeed in the new role. Some of these qualities can be Knowledge of Good Manufacturing Practices, Ability to manage large teams, Ability to manage costs & profitability & Ability to work with Senior Management team at the Headquarter. These success criteria, organized under broad heads, are the “competencies” for this role.

An assessment center usually focuses on assessing 4-10 competencies. This list of competencies is termed a “Competency Framework”.

Functional vs Behavioural Competencies

When designing a competency framework for an assessment center, one must decide whether to focus on only behavioral competencies or to cover both functional and behavioral competencies.l


Functional Competencies are often referred to as technical skills or competencies. For the Plant Head role in the example above, “Knowledge of Good Manufacturing Practices” or “Quality Management” can be functional competencies. Functional competencies are typically role-based.


Behavioural Competencies (also referred to as soft skills) define the more generic skillsets required for a role such as decision-making, team-working, people leadership etc. These competencies are typically more broadly applicable to most roles at a certain level in the Organization.

When designing the competency framework for an assessment center, one must decide whether to focus on only behavioral competencies or to focus on both functional & behavioural competencies.

Depending on the purpose of the assessment center, one can design a very specific competency framework or a more general framework. For example, if the assessment center is being conducted for selection or promotion to a specific role, the design of the competency framework can be very specific to that role. Typically, this will imply inclusion of functional competencies for that role.

However, in many cases, organizations use assessment centers for broader purposes. For example, assessment centers can be designed to identify high-potential employees across all roles at a certain band in the Organization or an assessment center can focus on evaluating candidates for any role at a certain level on only behavioural competencies. In these cases, the competency framework can be more general and consist primarily of behavioural competencies.

Behavioural Indicators & Proficiency Levels

Behavioural Indicators are another key element of a competency framework. To understand behavioural indicators, let’s go back to the example given earlier in this article. “Ability to manage large teams” is cited as one of the possible competencies for the Plant Head role. However, this comes across as a broad and subjective term. To make sure our assessment of this competency is consistent and accurate, we need to define it further. Behavioural Indicators provide a method for us to define competencies better.

Let’s continue with this example. Let’s say that this competency is demonstrated through the following three behaviors:

  1. Communicates effectively with large groups of people
  2. Sets and motivates teams to achieve high performance standards
  3. Is able to inspire and coach team members to achieve personal and professional goals

These three behaviors are lot more specific to evaluate than the broader competency “Ability to manage large teams”. These behaviors, which help make a competency more specific, are called behavioural indicators for that competency. Since they bring specificity to the competency framework, documenting behaviours indicators are critical to ensure effectiveness of an assessment center.

How do we make the framework even more specific? One element to achieve this goal is Proficiency Levels. For each behavioral indicator, one can further document how the behavior is demonstrated by someone who is at Basic Proficiency, Intermediate Proficiency and Advanced Proficiency. Defining these proficiency levels ensure even more rigour in the assessment process.

Click here to see a more detailed competency framework with behavioral indicators and proficiency levels.


A Competency Framework is an essential element of an assessment center. However, there is no one right way to design a competency framework. The competency framework must be designed keeping in mind the purpose of the assessment center and the context of the role and the Organization.

To support further studies, here are some examples of publicly available competency frameworks.

Behavioural Competency Framework – UAE Government
Gives a good perspective of how to define a general competency framework for a large organization

Behavioural Competency Framework – UNICEF
The UNICEF framework also includes functional/technical competencies

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