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KSAs (Knowledge, Skills and Abilities)

Hiring someone is a labor-intensive activity, and we know turnover is expensive; you want to choose the right person the first time. Here’s a tool to help you determine whether a candidate is likely to succeed in a particular role.

Knowledge, skills and abilities, also known as KSAs, are specific qualities that indicate a person is qualified for and likely to succeed in a position. KSAs are used throughout the hiring process to assess needs in a position, help create job descriptions, and gauge whether applicants are fit for the role.

Keep reading to learn what KSAs are and how they can help you in your hiring process.

What are KSAs?

KSAs are the knowledge, skills and abilities (outside education and professional experience) that make a person successful in a specific job.

Knowledge

Knowledge is the body of information necessary to perform the job. Knowledge is only that: it does not indicate experience applying it to actual tasks.

Examples of knowledge criteria include:

  • Knowledge of the English language, including spelling and grammar, in journalism
  • Knowledge of standard accounting practices for an accountant
  • Knowledge of inventory management for warehouse employees
  • Knowledge of legislation for legal professionals
  • Knowledge of federal employment laws for a human resource manager

Skills

Skills are the level of proficiency and competence needed to perform the job. These actions are measurable and observable. Skills show that a candidate can apply their knowledge to tasks required by the position.

Examples of skills that may be assessed include:

  • Computer programming and coding: Applying knowledge of programming language to complete required tasks.
  • Building and construction: Applying knowledge of construction methods to successfully complete a project.
  • Cooking: Applying knowledge of following recipes and combining flavors to create a meal.

Abilities

Abilities are the competencies and capabilities to perform a behavior necessary to be successful in the job. Abilities and skills are quite similar and can be easily confused. The key difference is that skills focus on actions while abilities focus on behaviors.

Examples of abilities include:

  • Ability to analyze and solve problems through critical thinking
  • Ability to delegate work to others
  • Ability to handle multiple tasks at the same time
  • Ability plan and organize work
  • Ability to work under stressful circumstances

History of KSAs

KSAs were originally developed and utilized by the U.S. federal government. The KSA model was used by government agencies as an additional recruiting tactic, along with resumes.

KSAs have since been removed as a requirement for initial government job applications, in an effort to reduce the amount of time it took to complete applications. Many positions still incorporate KSAs into their process, often asking for them to be included in resumes.

Common Uses of KSAs Today

Many federal, state and local governments, as well as private companies, use KSAs in their hiring process. Some common uses of KSAs today include:

  • Conducting job analyses. KSAs are used when conducting job analyses to get an idea of what needs to be achieved and how the job is best accomplished.
  • Developing hiring criteria. Companies use KSAs to determine specific qualities that the hiring team should look for in the recruiting and interview process.
  • Screening candidates. Some organizations require applicants to address KSAs listed in the job position in a cover letter as a way to screen unqualified candidates before the interview process.

How to Use KSAs as Part of the Hiring Process

While KSAs are not required for hiring, they are helpful, and  can be beneficial to both employer and applicant.

If you don’t currently use them, here are a few ways you can incorporate KSAs into your hiring process.

1. Analyze the Needs in Your Organization

Before writing a job description, you need a clear definition of what needs the job will fill and how it will accomplish that task. KSAs are a useful way to conduct a job analysis.

2. Write the Job Description

Once you have a definitive idea of what the job will entail, you can use KSAs to call out the specific experience and requirements necessary to be successful in the position. This gives applicants a better understanding of what they need to include on their application, resume and cover letter. It can also help applicants better prepare for interviews.

3. Determine Hiring Criteria

Before you begin reviewing applications and resumes, use the KSAs in the job description to determine hiring criteria to assess each candidate.  You can also select knowledge, skills and abilities outside of those listed in the job description to assess through interview questions.

4. Interviewing Candidates

Though KSAs are traditionally used in the job description and screening phases, you can leverage this information in preparing and asking your interview questions. Using behavioral interviewing techniques, you can assess how candidates applied specific knowledge, skills and abilities in their past experience to gauge their likelihood of success in the position you’re hiring for.

Questions You’ve Asked Us About KSAs (Knowledge, Skills and Abilities)

What are the disadvantages of using the KSA framework?
The KSA framework often makes the application process long and tedious for candidates to complete. It can also take longer for the applicant to hear back due to the extended time required to review the KSAs submitted.
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