“The power of skills and knowledge is that they are transferable from one person to another….In contrast, the power of talent is that it is transferable from situation to situation…the limitation of talent, of course, is that it is very hard to transfer from one person to another. You cannot teach talent. You can only select for talent.”

– First, Break all the Rules
Marcus Buckingham & Curt Coffman

Understanding competencies is an important first step in the selection process. We think of competencies as a cluster of skills, knowledge, and other personal characteristics that form an “iceberg.” (please see the illustration below). Skills and knowledge are at the tip of the iceberg, above the red line. They are visible, measurable, and trainable. Skills and knowledge are about what we can do and what we know. They are technical.

Underneath the surface of the iceberg are our attitudes and other personal characteristics, which are hidden. They are difficult to measure and develop. They represent our attitudes (how we perceive the world) and other personal characteristics (our motivations and disposition traits). They are behavioral.

Skills and knowledge rarely distinguish superior performers from average ones. It is what is beneath the surface, the hidden behavioral characteristics, which differentiate the outstanding performers. These are the employees who will demonstrate certain positive behaviors more often, in more situations, and with better results.