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Inventory your competencies

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Are you starting to define your career goals or prepare your CV and cover letters to apply for internships or jobs? Inventorying your competencies is a crucial step.

1. What are the different types of competencies to be aware of? 

Some vocabulary : 

  • What is a competency?

A competency is the ability to mobilise resources (knowledge, know-how, soft skills, etc.) to achieve a result. According to human resources specialist Pierre Miraillès: "Competency is defined by what an individual knows how to do."  Competencies are abilities acquired through experience or training. They are observable and can be listed (there are numerous catalogues of competencies). They are generally applicable across various settings ("cross-cutting").
E.g.: meeting facilitation, time management or performance management. 

  • What is talent?

Talent differs from competency. It is a natural ability, pleasurable and easy to use. "Where competency is knowing how to do something, talent means you enjoy doing something," says management innovation expert Francis Boyer. 
E.g.: charisma, relating to people, leadership, flexibility & adaptiveness.

Knowledge, know-how, soft skills, what is the difference?

Knowledge (hard skills)  Knowledge you have acquired over the course of your experience

E.g.: Knowledge of how public finances operate (public finance class)

Know-how (hard skills) Implementation of practical knowledge or qualities E.g.: Conducting documentary research
E.g.: Analytical capacity and ability to summarise
Social competencies (soft skills) Ways to adapt to different environments by mobilising the right qualities at the right time E.g.: Demonstrating tolerance, kindness and solidarity
E.g.: Presenting and defending your ideas
  • Knowledge + know-how: hard skills

These are formally demonstrable competencies that come from technical learning, often academic in nature. Their acquisition is demonstrated by grades, diplomas or certificates. Compared with these concrete hard skills, soft skills are more indefinite and informal, which is why they are described as 'soft'.

  • Social competencies or soft skills

These are personal characteristics that allow you to interact effectively and harmoniously with others. They are skills that are more derived from personality and (in one possible parallel) rely more on the right brain than the left brain (as the left brain is more analytical and the right brain more intuitive). Soft skills are the competencies that are the most widely used in our organisations. Employees spend more time than ever fostering harmony and efficiency within teams.

Examples of soft skills that Bachelor students at Sciences Po must acquire by the end of the first cycle

The importance of soft skills today

For recruiters, soft skills are a crucial criteria in hiring, because technical competencies (hard skills) are not enough to perform well at work:
While diplomas and technical knowledge are a necessary component of your application, a recruiter spends less than 20% of their interview time on measuring or validating this knowledge.
Instead, they spend a lot of time evaluating how you apply this knowledge, or how you will conduct yourself in a group, within the company: teamwork, intercultural skills, ability to adapt to new environments, intellectual agility, sense of solidarity, human and social values at work, etc. These are all soft skills that will frequently make the difference for recruiters, and for which Sciences Po graduates are often appreciated.

2. List all your competencies

We suggest you organise your inventory in two complementary types of table: 

Download exercise 1 : "From experiences to competencies"

Download exercice 2: "From competencies to path" (soon available)

3. and Now what? 

You have completed an inventory of all your current competencies. Congratulations! You can now move on to the next steps:

Identify the competencies to be acquired or improved, based on your career goals

  • by consulting the postings for jobs and assignments that interest you

  • by conducting surveys on professions

  • Highlight your competencies in your CV, your cover letter and during your interview

to learn more

Taking stock of your skills (Open Classroom)

Compose your e-portfolio (Open Classroom)


Miraillès, Pierre, Le management des talents Broché, October 2007, p. 128.

Crédit photo : shutterstcock ©GaudiLab

Last modified 2020-08-19
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