Competencies and Gaps
Your Progress Regularly
by Vern Johnson
and Judy Edson
As working professionals, we
all need to invest time regularly to assess our performance. Ideally, the best
time to review is after each major project. At the very least, plan to conduct
an assessment annually. These performance assessments will help you determine
what you have accomplished, which approaches provided the best results, and
the degree to which you are reaching your career goals.
In addition to your performance,
you also need to assess your career abilities, so you can identify your competencies
and gaps. Competencies are the skills, knowledge and attitudes (SKAs) with which
you demonstrate a high degree of professional ability. Gaps, on the other hand,
describe the differences between desired abilities and measured performance.
Assessments can involve the
results of your supervisor’s reviews as well as peer evaluations, but the major
focus should be on your own view of what occurred during the assessment period.
Assessing personal progress
helps guide career improvement efforts; it is not meant to bolster your ego
or to create feelings of guilt. It is a necessary part of the personal improvement
loop. It allows you to identify needed change, remediate important weaknesses
with focused learning, and improve your ability to do the things that are important.
Start by Brainstorming
Begin your assessment with a
brainstorming session. Create a two-column chart. List the professional activities
that went well in the first column and the activities that need improvement
in the second. You can then use this chart to analyze where you are. Analyzing
what has gone well and what you need to improve is the first step toward identifying
the behaviors and attitudes, as well as the technical and non-technical skills
and knowledge, that are important to your professional performance and career
After your brainstorming session,
you might try the following exercise to assess your current competencies and
identify the attributes you should prioritize for improvement. This exercise
should take no more than about 10 minutes.
Where Should I Invest for
Here are six important behavioral
attributes that are relative to the way a hypothetical engineer performs on
the job. Included on the list are six technical and six non-technical SKAs that
are important to professional performance and career success. In this exercise,
each attribute was rated according to the engineer’s opinion of its relative
importance and according to the engineer’s current performance. The relative
importance of each of the attributes was rated using the scale: vh = very high;
h = high; a = average; l = low; vl = very low. The relative importance of the
three or four highest attributes were rated as vh; the three or four lowest
were rated as vl; and the others as l, a, or h, as appropriate. The same was
done relative to personal satisfaction with the engineer’s current performance.
Behaviors important to professional performance and career growth:
Advance ideas and judgments without being asked
Approach each activity/task as an opportunity
Base decisions on factual data
Invest in relationships with colleagues
B. Technical skills, knowledge, attitudes:
Understand and use the design process
Use differential calculus as a tool
Base mechanical analysis on free body diagrams
Balance chemical reaction equations
Describe relevant environmental issues
Design an electronic spreadsheet
Non-technical skills, knowledge, attitudes:
Present oral progress reports
Identify multiple alternative solutions
Demonstrate effective team leadership skills
Analyze the results of activities
Plan career activities
- Each attribute is plotted
according to its importance and performance attributes (see Exhibit
- Using the scale: vl
= 1; l = 2; a = 3; h = r; and vh = 5, calculate the average values for
importance (I) and for performance (P). In this example, we used Iave
= 3.3 and Pave = 3.0
- Draw lines for Iave
and Pave to come up with four quadrants. The four quadrants
define attributes according to whether they are above or below average
in career importance, and whether they are performed at above or below
data on the graph indicate that:
- Attributes in the above-average
importance and performance quadrant (upper-right quadrant) represent
important areas in which this person is quite good. They are competencies
and should be include on this person’s resume. Attributes 1, 4, 5, 9,
13 and 15 are in this category.
- Attributes in the quadrant
that defines above-average importance but below- average performance
(upper-left quadrant) represent career gaps and serve as a “window of
opportunity.” They are candidates for improvement. Our hypothetical
engineer should consider focusing learning activities on attributes
8, 12 and 16, as these are important for success but are currently being
performed at relatively low levels.
- This engineer can ignore
attributes with below-average importance, applying his or her limited
resources instead toward building more important attributes.
Now that you understand how
to assess career competencies and gaps, you can complete a similar exercise
for yourself — and assess your own career abilities. This exercise will take
a little more time, but it will focus on the areas you need to improve, and
it should help you update your career plan. As a bonus, it will outline attributes
that you can highlight on your next resume!
Start by reviewing your professional
activities of the past year — or during your most recent project assignment
— and then create a brainstorming chart to help you reflect on what went well
and what you need to improve. After completing your chart, you can complete
the exercise online.
Be sure to print a copy of the
results when you finish.
After you have assessed your
competencies and gaps, ask yourself these questions:
- How can I use my competencies
to improve my job performance?
- Is it time to look for new
career experiences or to change employers?
- What resources do I need
to fill the gaps between my present competencies and my planned goals?
- Which career needs can I
meet by using resources I can get from my employer or professional society
and what personal resources do I need to use?
With the 'Progress Report,'
Make a Plan
Finally, you should identify
where you need assistance and outline your career development plans for the
near future — your next assessment period. Issues include barriers that need
to be removed and problems that are beyond your scope of authority. You will
need help with these. Career development plans describe the activities to which
you need to give your attention during the next project or assessment period.
Your plans should reference the gaps and issues you have identified. Make a
chart to list the issues you must face and to outline your future career plans.
In the first column list your issues; list your plans in the second.
Together, these exercises will
provide you with a progress report on your career. You will be able to use them
to identify your career competencies, gaps, issues and plans immediately. If
you are a young professional, discuss these things with a career mentor. If
you are a more seasoned professional, you still need to invest the necessary
time to understand these career aspects before implementing the career activities
you have planned for the near future.
Vern R. Johnson is Associate
Dean of Engineering at the University of Arizona in Tucson, and is IEEE-USA’s
Career Activities Editor. This article is adapted from materials in his book,
Becoming a Technical Professional (Casas Adobes Publishing, Tucson, Ariz.,
2000). For more information, go to http://www.dakotacom.net/~capublish.
Judy D. Edson is a senior
database specialist and Web application specialist at the University of Arizona