Core Competencies

In this Section

  1. What is a Competency?
  2. How are Competencies used at NU?
  3. List of Core Competencies

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What is a Competency?

Competency: The combination of observable and measurable knowledge, skills, abilities and personal attributes that contribute to enhanced employee performance and ultimately result in organizational success. To understand competencies, it is important to define the various components of competencies.

  • Knowledge is the cognizance of facts, truths and principles gained from formal training and/or experience. Application and sharing of one's knowledge base is critical to individual and organizational success.
  • A skill is a developed proficiency or dexterity in mental operations or physical processes that is often acquired through specialized training; the execution of these skills results in successful performance.
  • Ability is the power or aptitude to perform physical or mental activities that are often affiliated with a particular profession or trade such as computer programming, plumbing, calculus, and so forth. Although organizations may be adept at measuring results, skills and knowledge regarding one's performance, they are often remiss in recognizing employees' abilities or aptitudes, especially those outside of the traditional job design.
  • Individual attributes are properties, qualities or characteristics of individuals that reflect one's unique personal makeup. Individual attributes are viewed as genetically developed or acquired from one's accumulated life experiences. Although personal characteristics are the most subjective of the components, a growing, significant body of research links specific personality traits to successful individual and organizational performance.
  • Individually recognizing and rewarding any of these sources of expertise provides a strong basis for individual performance engagement. However, it is their combination that results in the unleashing of resources that are all too frequently untapped.

When utilizing competencies, it is important to keep the following in mind:

  • Competencies do not establish baseline performance levels; rather they are used to raise the bar on employee performance. They provide employees with road maps to increase their capabilities incrementally.
  • Competencies focus on an organization's culture and values. Consequently NU has selected a unique set or combination of competencies that support and facilitate its mission.
  • Competencies reflect the organization's strategy; that is, they are aligned to short- and long-term missions and goals.
  • Competencies focus on how results are achieved rather than merely the end result. In this manner they bridge the gap between performance management and employee development and are an integral component of personal development plans.
  • Competencies close skill gaps within the organization.
  • Competency data can be used for employee development, compensation, promotion, training and new hire selection decisions.

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How Are Competencies Used at NU?

At NU, competencies are the foundation for the compensation and performance engagement programs. NU's philosophy in recognizing and rewarding specific competencies is the key to NU's continued and growing success. Accordingly, development and proficiency of competencies leads to:

  • Distribution of monetary awards through salary adjustments.
  • Creation of employee development and succession planning opportunities.
  • Development of customized training modules and identification of already available training programs.
  • Identification of critical selection criteria for candidates desiring employment at the University.

Because competencies are aligned to an organization's strategy, they were carefully selected. Accordingly, NU has identified and determined competencies that are critical to its short- and long-term success. These competencies are applicable to all managerial/professional and office/service jobs within the entire University. Definitions of competencies have been developed to ensure a common understanding of the competencies across campuses and organizational units within the University. Competencies were applied to each job family to develop performance engagement and measurement criteria for employees and will be used to ensure reliable and valid comparative data when reviewing candidates' credentials during the selection process. In order to have a clearer picture, the NU competencies are further defined in terms of specific behaviors (observable measures) and variable levels of expectation for each job family.

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List of Core Competencies


Accepts responsibility for own actions and decisions and demonstrates commitment to accomplish work in an ethical, efficient and cost-effective manner.


Adjusts planned work by gathering relevant information and applying critical thinking to address multiple demands and competing priorities in a changing environment.


Effectively conveys information and expresses thoughts and facts. Demonstrates effective use of listening skills and displays openness to other people's ideas and thoughts.

Customer/Quality Focus

Anticipates, monitors and meets the needs of customers and responds to them in an appropriate manner. Demonstrates a personal commitment to identify customers' apparent and underlying needs and continually seeks to provide the highest quality service and product to all customers.


Fosters respect for all individuals and points of view. Interacts appropriately with all members of the campus community, campus visitors and business and community partners without regard to individual characteristics. Demonstrates a personal commitment to create a hospitable and welcoming environment.


Communicates the University's vision in ways that gain the support of others. Mentors, motivates and guides others toward goals.

Occupational Knowledge/Technology Orientation

Demonstrates the appropriate level of proficiency in the principles and practices of one's field or profession. Demonstrates a commitment to continuous improvement, to include understanding and application of technology (hardware, software, equipment and processes).

Team Focus

Works cooperatively and effectively with others to achieve common goals. Participates in building a group identity characterized by pride, trust and commitment.