Skills vs. Abilities and Knowledge

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated December 23, 2022

Published July 26, 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Understanding the difference between skills, abilities, and knowledge allows you to better equip yourself for interviews and job offers. To deepen your understanding of your own proficiencies, consider creating a knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSA) model, which details how your previous experience has equipped you for the new position. By creating a KSA model, you can have a clearer image of which jobs you may enjoy. In this article, we discuss the difference between knowledge, skills, and abilities, the KSA model, the best ways to write the KSA model and provide an example of how to write one.

What is the difference between knowledge, skills, and abilities?

Frequently shortened to KSA, here are the components that distinguish knowledge, skills, and abilities:

What is knowledge?

Knowledge is a concept or theory that helps you understand subjects and conversations. In this sense, knowledge focuses almost entirely on understanding theories and concepts. It is theoretical rather than practical. For example, you may understand terms and theories from textbooks without having the ability to apply them.

What are skills?

Skills are the proficiencies you learn through training and hands-on experience. Where knowledge is theoretical, skills are practical. When using skills, you're applying knowledge to real-life problems. You can gain skills from various methods of training like internships or work experience. Skills involve particular proficiencies you may have that are related to your job or career.

Here are some examples of skills:

  • Cooking

  • Cleaning

  • Writing

  • Public speaking

Related: How to Improve Your Skill Set and Keep Skills Current

What are abilities?

People often use abilities and skills interchangeably, but there are some important differences between the two terms. Abilities differ from skills because they are the capacity to perform a task. Skills refer to the act of performing a task and are broader than skills.

  • Organization

  • Analyzing

  • Communicating

What is the KSA model?

Government agencies originally created this tool as a hiring method. More recently, personnel departments and human resources use the KSA model to review candidate applications during the hiring process. The knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSA) model summarize your relevant qualifications for a role. An employer can look over your KSA to determine whether you have what it takes to complete a role, or can ask you to develop a KSA model before applying for a job. This also determines whether you need additional particular training programs or certifications.

Related: The 10 Most Valuable Certifications Today

Benefits

Here are some benefits involved in considering your knowledge, skills, and abilities:

  • Clarity: By considering your qualifications for the job, you can determine which ones are most important and which ones to include in job interviews, cover letters, and resumes. Consider separating your KSAs into desirable and essential skills to clarify which skills you need for the job.

  • Insight: Another benefit of looking at KSAs is that they're thorough and provide insight into the candidate's full skill set. Where some employers look primarily at a candidate's certifications and work experience, the KSA model looks beyond this.

  • Results: This model focuses primarily on results and how a candidate's past has led them toward their current path. In interviews, be sure to discuss how your training, certifications, and education have contributed to your knowledge, skills, and abilities.

How to write a KSA

Your KSA is a description of your qualifications, abilities, and skills. These models allow employers to screen candidates more easily. Here is what to include in your KSA:

Summary

Here, you must write a summary of the skills you have that are relevant to the job position. This summary is typically brief and includes keywords that relate directly to the job position you're applying to. Look at the job description in the original posting to find those keywords. You typically need one or two lines for every KSA.

Related: A Guide to Writing a Resume Summary With Samples

Description

Describe your responsibilities in response to any challenges you faced at your previous places of employment. If you're applying to your first job, consider identifying any challenges you faced during internships, volunteer experiences, or school projects. Keep the description concise but highlight all the main points and significant achievements.

Related: Everything You Need to Know about Job Specifications

Task

Your KSA will include the tasks you completed in your position at a previous job. In doing so, describe your role for the company and which projects you led for that company. If you were a financial analyst, for example, consider describing how you collected data that was then used for a large budgeting project.

Since you've already described some challenges involved with your previous positions, also describe how you overcame those challenges. Be humble and consider discussing how your supervisors and coworkers helped you navigate challenges. If you collaborated with other departments, highlight what you learned from those experiences.

Results

Finally, your KSA must include what resulted from your efforts. When possible, discuss quantifiable results. If you increased sales, include a percentage value. If you won an award, consider including this in your KSA model. These awards can include external sources like the city council, or awards within your own company.

Examples of knowledge, skills, and abilities

Here is an example of how to create a KSA:

Job title: Communications coordinator for John Winston Enterprises

Applicant's name: Harper Naxton

KSA #1: Demonstrated proficiency in developing campaigns by preparing presentations that depended on data from various departments to aid in the development of campaign strategies.

In my position, I performed the following:

  • Developed campaigns that appealed to our target audience. The aim of these campaigns was to increase sales and leads by applying the psychology of font and colours to create the most efficient campaigns possible.

  • Coordinated three fundraisers to improve the overall company image and to work toward the company's long-term sales strategy. All proceeds from the fundraiser were donated to nonprofit organizations and charities.

Award: Received the honour of being named the most valuable employee for every quarter of 2020. A copy of the award is attached. Responsibilities associated with this title include:

  • Reporting innovations in communication to upper management and implementing new tools across the company to improve overall communication. I spearheaded a project that involved finding and installing new communication programs on all company computers to ensure every employee agreed.

  • Providing counsel to upper management regarding the company's public image and how to improve company image across the target audience. I also worked with human resources and our marketing department to determine the best ways to develop good campaigns that fell under our budget.

Training:

  • Undergraduate degree from ABC University in Human Relations. I achieved a 3.9 GPA when I graduated in April 2020.

KSA #2: Demonstrated ability to prioritize and manage time efficiently.

In my previous position, I performed the following:

  • Navigated various tasks of the same priority. I identified which tasks were the most time-consuming and completed those while delegating smaller tasks to other personnel. This allowed us to manage our time efficiently and ensured that everyone knew what their tasks were before they started.

  • Developed company strategy plans according to a strict budget by collaborating with several departments and identifying company needs across those departments.

Award: Named most organized employee in 2018. A copy of the award is attached. Responsibilities associated with this title include:

  • Aiding human resources and upper management with tasks outside my responsibilities by aiding with the creation of employee schedules.

  • Collaborating with the sales and marketing departments to develop efficient strategies that respected our company's values and goals.

Training:

  • 40-hour course on prioritization and time management

Related: Time Management Skills: Examples and Definitions

Frequently asked questions about knowledge, skills, and abilities

Here are some frequently asked questions about KSAs:

Can I prepare my KSAs with computer software?

When developing your KSA model, organize your skills and abilities clearly. One of the best ways to do this is to use a spreadsheet with a software program or online tool. Divide this spreadsheet into sections that include desirable and essential KSAs, as well as into three sections for your knowledge, skills, and abilities.

What are the most important skills, knowledge, and abilities to mention in a job interview?

The best skills KSAs to mention when speaking to a potential employer are those that apply directly to the role. When identifying skills, consider referencing hard skills that were mentioned in the original job posting. Review the posting before you attend the interview so you remember which of your skills to highlight. If you're not sure which skills, knowledge, and abilities to talk about, think about your natural abilities that make you an ideal employee and that also apply to the position. Aim to mention both hard and soft skills to demonstrate versatility.

The model shown is for illustration purposes only and may require additional formatting to meet accepted standards. Please note that none of the companies, institutions or organizations mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

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