What Are Core Competencies and How Do I List Them?

Hiring managers look for core competencies as indicators of how suitable they are for a job. Here’s what you should know about including them in your CV.



Table of Contents

  1. Core Competencies
  2. What Are Core Competencies on a CV?
  3. Why Are Core Competencies Important for a CV?
  4. How To Develop a Robust Core Competencies Section?
  5. FAQ: Core Competencies

Core Competencies

When it comes to CV writing, it can often feel like there are dozens of plates to keep spinning. The right formatting, the best skills, and the right language will impact how a hiring manager views a CV. Core competencies should be among these priorities and will impact how your application ranks in applicant tracking systems (ATS). So, what are core competencies and how can you use them in your CV?

What Are Core Competencies on a CV?

Sometimes referred to as core qualifications, core competencies are the skills that make you best suited for a job. These are the skills that you would use daily in that role in order to fulfill and exceed a potential employer’s expectations of you and they vary from job to job. The specific core competencies you list on your CV will depend on the job description you are applying for, the industry you work in, and your own skill set. For example, in customer-facing or people-centered work, core competencies are likely to include soft skills like teamwork, communication skills, and conflict resolution. If you work in a more technical role, like software development for example, then your core competencies will be technical skills, such as programming languages (e.g. Java, CSS, or HTML).

It is important that you tailor your core competencies section for each new job application, even if the job titles are similar. A tailored core competencies list will help your CV fare well during ATS scans, which will look for job-specific skills and qualifications and will show hiring managers that you were paying attention to the job posting.

Why Are Core Competencies Important for a CV?

First and foremost, the core competencies you list are important because they affect the way ATS ranks your CV. According to Forbes, more qualified candidates than ever are being rejected because of applicant tracking systems. So, a CV that is ATS-friendly is more likely to be seen by a hiring manager in the first place. Once a recruiter receives your CV they will scan it for eye-catching details. If a hiring manager doesn’t see anything that catches their attention, they are likely to put your CV to the side. Well-chosen core competencies can prevent this.

Your core competencies section will make it easy for a recruiter to see that you are qualified for the role. It’s key to keep in mind that core competencies are crucial because a hiring manager is looking for core competencies before skills and qualifications. So, if you hit the right notes in this section you will increase your chance of getting a new job. If you want to increase your chance of success further, take the time to ensure that you haven’t made any common CV mistakes.

How To Develop a Robust Core Competencies Section?

The core competencies section of a resume should be concise. This means that you should include between 8 and 12 core competencies on average, depending on your skill set and the seniority of the roles you are applying for. If you are applying for particularly specialised or senior roles you could increase the number of bullet points, but brevity is often best in CVs.

You can create your core competencies section by writing a list of your key skills and comparing it to the job description in question. Underline all of the skills that are applicable to the role and highlight those which are mentioned in the job posting. Any highlighted skills are your core competencies, the underlined skills can be mentioned in your broader skills or qualifications section. For example, if you were to apply for a project management job in the construction industry, your core competencies might be:

  • Leadership 
  • Strategy development
  • Team management
  • Problem-solving
  • Critical thinking
  • Creative thinking
  • Decision making
  • Time management
  • Communication skills

While you may have other useful hard skills, business administration, for example, these would not be counted as core competencies. If there are skills mentioned in the job description that you don’t have, these are gaps that you may need to address in your cover letter or job interview. It is good practice to consider how you will mitigate these gaps before you attend an interview. Consider common job interview questions and sample answers for inspiration.

FAQ: Core Competencies

Q: What are some examples of core competencies for retail?

It can be harder to identify core competencies for a retail job search because the range of skills used in this industry is so broad. People skills are often safe choices when it comes to a retail CV core competencies section. Retail core competencies examples include:

  • Interpersonal skills
  • Time management
  • Adaptability
  • Problem-solving
  • Teamwork

Q: Where should I list my core competencies?

Place your core competencies in a focal position on your professional CV to make them easy to find. Ideally, you should place them just under your CV objective or CV summary statement. Consider relevant CV examples for ideas about how to present your core competencies. 

Q: Can core competencies help make up for a lack of work experience?

You will probably still have to explain gaps in your work history, but having the right core competencies will work in your favor.


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