Recruitment Tips: Are You Hiring for Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities?


Knowledge, skills, and abilities are all terms that are commonly used interchangeably by HR professionals. Although these terms are all inherently interrelated, there are subtle differences in their meanings that need to be acknowledged when they’re applied to specific recruitment strategies for each business. These terms are so similar and popular amongst hiring managers that many of them have taken to using the acronym KSA when referring to this distinct set of vetting and hiring criteria.

Acknowledging and comprehending the subtle, yet definitive distinctions between these terms is important because it could substantially impact the nature of your hiring process. Let’s dig a little deeper into what it really means to hire candidates using the KSA model and whether one of these principles is more valuable than the others.

What’s the Difference between Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities?

One of the most important hiring tips senior HR professionals divulge to their inexperienced counterparts is to take the time to learn the intricate differences between these three terms so they can be appropriately applied.


By definition, acquiring knowledge of a certain subject or specialty area means to study and understand the basic and complex principles of that topic. For instance, you can go to school or read a manual about being an HR manager and pass all of the required courses, but that alone doesn’t necessarily qualify you to actually perform the job well.

For some individuals, it takes a great deal of practical in-field experience and hands-on training to develop an aptitude for the type of career they want to pursue or skills they hope to acquire. Others are innately gifted with certain natural talents that give them the direction and drive they need to achieve their goals. Of course, this principle can apply to all kinds of scenarios, not just career-related ones.


This brings us to the next tier on the totem pole to success: skills. Practical skills are acquired through hard work and ingenuity. By this stage, you’ve already determined that you have the tenacity and propensity to learn new things. Now it’s time to put your knowledge to the test and prove that you have the capability to accomplish your goals.

Let’s refer to the HR example again. Say you’ve just recently earned your certificate and have landed your first real job as an HR representative. It’s not enough to simply use the information you were taught during your schooling; now you need to learn to use practical applications to handle real life situations. In this sense, skills are earned over time and they can be improved throughout the course of your career. Textbook education is important, but it’s only the baseline component of a much bigger picture.

The skills you learn on the job are what dictate your trajectory toward a long, satisfying, and rewarding career. Interpersonal skills, work ethic, problem-solving capabilities, and efficiency are just a few of the competencies you can practice and perfect on the job. In other words, experience, open-mindedness, and continuous learning throughout your career are the keys to success.


Many people mistakenly confuse the terms skills and abilities, believing them to be one and the same thing. This is where the waters get a little murky when it comes to defining KSA.

Ability is the innate capability to be able to do something. Skill is the ability to do it well or noticeably better than others. The difference is subtle, but it does exist. If that definition didn’t quite clear things up for you, consider the following example.

Most humans are born with the physical ability to run. However, only a select few people have the required practiced discipline and skills to become Olympic track and field runners. Knowledge and ability are the baseline components for improving skills.

Knowledge, skills, and abilities all have the capacity to be improved and built upon, but they can also be hindered by a lack of motivation as well as mental or physical capacity.

Ultimately, the job of a hiring manager or recruiter is to try to recognize the degree of all of these components in their prospective candidates. This is no easy feat considering we only get to spend a limited amount of time interviewing each person.

Should You Hire for Knowledge?

Hiring someone strictly for their knowledge of a certain topic or industry seems like a good idea on paper. Obviously, this person should have the necessary credentials for the position and their resume needs to reflect that. The question is, how exactly are they going to apply that knowledge to the position you’re offering?

Having a fundamental understanding of your industry is great, but it’s just the beginning. New research, information, and technologies are constantly being developed across every industry and you need employees who can evolve with your company.

Should You Hire for Skills?

Hiring for experience is also a great idea in theory because it means that the candidates have the acquired the exact skills you’re looking for to fill the open position in your company. Once again, though, the question of adaptability and open-mindedness comes into play.

You may even run into the problem of hiring candidates who are far too overqualified for the position you’re hiring, especially if it’s entry level. If this is the case, then candidates might increase their salary and job expectations to unreachable heights for your company. In the end, this puts you back at square one.

Should You Hire for Abilities?

Remember that skills and abilities are decidedly not the same thing. Ability is the basic physical and mental capacity to be able to perform a certain task. Candidates who lack the advanced skills and knowledge of your industry but possess a pronounced interest to work for your company could actually be more of an asset than you might think.

It’s easier to train and teach candidates who don’t have preconceptions of how things are supposed to be done in your industry than it is to train someone with years of knowledge and acquired skills.

Recruitment Tips: Hiring the Right Candidates to Work for Your Company

At Resolve Recruit Inc., we consider a myriad of important factors when it comes to helping you hire the right candidates for your company. Located in Mississauga, Ontario, we’ve helped Canadian entrepreneurs and local businesses grow their enterprises by matching them with qualified and eager job seekers in their industries. To learn more about our recruitment strategies and how they can benefit you, please feel free to contact us.