For the years I have worked on team alignment programs, I have met several business owners and recruiters looking to find the best people to recruit to their workforce. What captured my attention was how everyone was willing to go the extra mile to get talented individuals to join their team until it feels like a war for talent among companies.
As much as the recruiters in their job advertisements were looking for talent, when I interacted with job applicants, most did not talk about their talents but about skills, know-how, and competencies. Isn’t that strange? Our education system never delivers a diploma for talent but always certifies abilities. I noticed there was a big misalignment between what companies were looking for and what the applicants offered.
In this article, I will share my discovery on the misconception of these two terms to help applicants understand what the recruiters are looking for by answering the following questions:
- Are talent and competence the same thing?
- What are the differences between these two terms?
- How, then, do they affect the life of the individual and the team in the long run?
What is talent?
Talent is a natural ability or aptitude that allows someone to shine in a particular activity, especially without training.
According to Etymoonline, the word talent comes from the Medieval Latin talent, which meant weight, the sum of money. The meaning of “special natural ability, aptitude, gift committed to one for use and improvement” was developed by mid-15c. in part perhaps from the figurative sense of “wealth,” but mostly from the parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14–30.
A talent is something a person is born with. It has to do with the innate qualities they possess. It is the role they tend to play naturally in life and most of the time in their work.
The person having the talent may not necessarily value it. For them, it is second nature, and they don’t seem particularly excited by it. Knowingly or unintentionally, they find themselves involved in situations where they use their talent. Other people end up soliciting them for their talent even if they don’t promote it.
For example, we can all talk, but you can see that some people are naturally talented at communicating. Those people excel best in sales and marketing jobs.
What is competence?
Competence is the ability to do something well or effectively. Competence derives from the French word “compétence” which meant “sufficiency of means for living at ease” in the 1630s. The meaning “adequate range of capacity or ability, sufficiency to deal with what is at hand” is from 1790.
One develops competencies through school, training, and practice.
Competence is not static; it continuously evolves and grows. For example, a programmer’s skill grows as he continues working on various projects. The more you use a competence, the sharper and more potent it becomes.
To stay competitive in a field, you need to keep learning and practicing your skills. Successful people focus on their competencies and continue to develop them throughout their careers.
A person’s competencies define the value he can offer in a marketplace: competence has transactional value.
Competence is valuable only if it is used.
What are the differences between Talent and Competence?
We can note several critical differences from the definitions above, as highlighted below.
Talent is natural and part of the fundamental constituents of the individual (like a person’s DNA), while competence is a manifestation of acquired knowledge and skills.
Every person has a specific talent. It is the natural advantage one has, and one can use it to transform other people’s life. With competence, you can create a transaction, not necessarily a transformation of people’s lives.
One can be competent and deliver on a particular task but not transform other people’s lives. For example, if you consider the teachers you had throughout your life, you can identify a few who impacted your life. The majority just delivered good content of the syllabus.
Understanding these two terms gives us a more comprehensive picture of why some people feel more fulfilled by specific tasks than others. People who feel fulfilled by their jobs focus on the impact and transformation they can create on other people’s lives compared to people who are transaction oriented. Transaction-oriented people may earn more money, but they don’t experience the feeling of fulfillment and don’t find joy in their work. People focusing on transformation feel good about themselves when they successfully achieve a task that impacts someone else’s life. This feeling is always a result of using your talent to achieve something.
Talent is something one is trusted with for use and improvement. A talent always serves a purpose or a mission. The talent owner is the only one who knows what it is for and what they intend to accomplish. That purpose motivates them and provides them with the energy necessary to face the challenges that come on their way. The accomplishment of their mission energizes them in return. Energy creation and fulfillment factors are connected to talent.
People can develop competence in fields where they don’t have any talent and perform well. There will be transactional satisfaction but not fulfillment. (This is explained in the blog post about the green, yellow, and red jobs). Hyperlink this sentence.
Because the idea of the ability to do something comes with the concept of talent, we tend to consider that talent and competence are synonyms which is wrong.
What is the relationship between Talent and Competence?
Being talented in an area can be a foundation to acquire many other competencies that can help someone to use their talents better. For example, many artists naturally have a great voice. To become successful artists, they had to acquire other competencies like vocal training, playing instruments, stage presence, dancing, etc. These artists found it easier to mobilize the energy and resources necessary to acquire these skills because their talents drive them.
For instance, Rafael Nadal is a very competent tennis player. Behind that competence, he has specific talents that helped him acquire the skills he uses to achieve his exemplary performances. We can guess that one of his natural talents is to combat and win. Roger Federer, who is also a great performer in tennis, would have used different natural talents to get to that level.
People who are very successful in life have always used their talents. They have incorporated them, nurtured them, and made their life decisions and career choices in alignment with their talents.
If the acquired skills align with talent, it is easier to develop competence, and the performances of the persons in that area are likely to hit very high levels.
People who don’t take time to identify their talents or don’t value them always have a hard time hitting high levels of competence. Not aligning your skills with your talents is always energy consuming.
To ensure individuals hit a high level of competencies effortlessly much has to be done in our education systems to ensure it assists in developing competencies aligned with individual’s talents. Our modern education system is currently backward: we go to school to build competencies and then try to find where we can use them. Most of the time, we develop competencies that we use to earn our living rather than to achieve any life purpose.
The importance of identifying your talents
Talent acts like fuel to competencies. Let’s assume Albert and Bernard have the same competencies in a particular field and produce the same results. Albert’s competencies align with his talent; Bernard has just learned the job and is proficient and competent.
Albert will produce the results that Bernard has with less effort and elegance. He may be able to do this job for a long time without feeling bored because achievements will energize him as he will have a sense of accomplishing something that is part of his mission in life. Bernard will do a good job, but this will demand much more effort, and with time he will feel drained and bored.
As illustrated below, talent is a fertile ground where skills and competencies can proliferate.
It is vital to identify your talents and the talents of your team members to build a great career and sustainable team.
Sometimes people have a talent denied by their environment (family, society), and they are forced to develop other skills not nurtured by their talent. In the long run, such a situation leads to frustrations for them.
Sometimes the talent is so natural that it no longer excites the person. The quest for excitement may drive them to go and search for it in a field that does not resonate with their talent. As much as such people may find competence in what they do, they tend to need help to hit the same highs as when they were in a field aligned with their talents.
What does a company need? Talent or competence?
The entrepreneur needs both: a coworker with the right competencies who uses them with his talents. Competence without talent can work, but it is not sustainable for the person and the company in the long run. Talent without competence is also useless and doesn’t belong to the business world.
The outcry of entrepreneurs searching for talent is right. They need talented individuals because they bring energy and long-term fuel to the project.
Identify your talents early.
Develop competencies aligned with your talent.
Stay in the driving seat of your career.