Competence assessment - HR coaching

What is that?

Competence assessment is an increasingly used tool that helps to assess the level of mastery of specific knowledge or skills, needed to manage a particular company role/team/function or project/process.
It usually involves three types of players:

  • The Human Resources function;
  • The corporate function (one or more) in which the persons involved in the process belong;
  • One or more external people, who play a crucial role and must be selected with particular care.

When can you use it?

The competence/knowledge assessment of a person or group is mainly used in three cases:

  1. in the personnel selection, primarily by head-hunting companies and less frequently by the company that intends to include new people in the workforce. The purpose is to verify the suitability of the person for the role that he or she may be called upon to manage, limiting the risk of error;
  2. as part of a continuous assessment process present in organisations that are genuinely aware that people do business: these companies build their competitive advantage on their knowledge and skills, and they assess them periodically;
  3. when the organisation wants to verify the degree of mastery of specific knowledge and competence by a person (or team) called upon to play a critical role or function.

The competence assessment aimed at selection is usually of contained duration and is limited to structured interviews and tests of a technical and/or psychological nature (psychologists must manage the latter); the structure of the processes described in the second and third points is more complex: from now on I will refer about them.

How does a 
competence assessment process work?

It involves a close collaboration between the Human Resources department and one or more external professionals, who work together in the management of the process with one or more business functions involved: the role of tibicon is to accompany the customer in the design and management of the assessment process, in all its phases.

Here, in brief, are the fundamental points:

  • the organisation identifies knowledge and skills that are essential to managing the individual role (or even activities/processes/projects). This phase is governed by the Human Resources Department and involves one/more functional managers and the external professionals who will manage the assessment;
  • follows the co-design of the assessment process;
  • during the assessment, the person concerned (or the team) works individually or in groups to verify the level of mastery of the knowledge/competencies in question. The structure of this phase and the tools used can vary according to the specific situation;
  • one or more people with adequate experience and specific knowledge (assessor) verify the level of knowledge/skills assessed;
  • the assessor indicates the areas of improvement and strengths;
  • the HR department coordinates the definition of a training plan or coaching programme.

Before proceeding with an assessment, it is essential to ask specific questions. Here are some of them:

  • Why do I want to conduct a knowledge/competence assessment?
  • Which skills/knowledge do I want to assess in the person or group concerned?
  • I am sure I am not in a position to find enough information internally, without employing competence assessment?

What tools can be used?

Here are some of them.

Standard and scientifically validated tests, conducted by psychologists

They help to evaluate attitudes and logical abilities and to grasp specific personality traits.
The tests can only be administered and interpreted by professional psychologists. It is essential to say that psychological tests do not aim to evaluate the person as a whole; they represent an integrative tool that seeks to investigate those behavioural and personal aspects essential for the management of a specific role or activity/process/project.

Technical tests

The cases are incredibly diverse according to the company, the specific market, the knowledge and the depth of analysis, the structure and duration of the test.

Group tests

The purpose of these tests is to assess the ability to communicate, interact with others (internal or external to the organisation) and collaborate in the management of complex situations. They generally consist in the simulation of the most varied situations, such as a collective discussion about a specific case, imagining the structuring of a plan, identifying more or less complex solutions to recurring problems and more. The tests must be carefully designed and focused on the context that people will face, paying attention to the crucial phase of observation by one or more assessors.

In-basket tests

The aim is to assess the ability to plan, manage priorities and make decisions when acting individually. The simulation consists of asking the person to play the role of a manager who has taken up a new position; in a given time, he will have to organise the work left by his predecessor, manage correspondence, establish action plans, communicate with employees.


The main aim is to assess the candidate’s skills concerning the management and interpretation of a specific role and his ability to read the context: it may have points of overlap with group tests.

Structured interviews

They are intended to verify the existence of knowledge and competencies that are fundamental to the management of a specific role or activity, without forgetting the motivation. The number, structure and people involved in the interviews are essential to the quality of the assessment.

Targeted observations

They can be used as a stand-alone instrument or in combination with one or more tools. They are intended to help detect key behaviours through an accurately prepared observation grid.


It is evident from the above that a competence assessment process helps to identify the knowledge, skills and behavioural style that a person (or a group) can express in the management of a specific role or process/project.

For this reason, competence assessment can never be pre-packaged or standardised; it is not a tool that helps to provide a snapshot of the overall value of a person, regardless of a specific professional context.

Consider also that competence assessment differs from performance appraisal, which aims to assess the performance of the individual in the management of the role and is part of the performance management process: performance appraisal can represent the starting point for a competence assessment and the following training plan.

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