The Importance of KSA’s (Knowledge, Skills and Abilities) in the Application Process

Knowledge, Skills and Abilities are the special qualifications and personal attributes that you need to have for a particular job. These are the unique requirements that the hiring agency wants to find in the person selected to fill a particular job. A primary purpose of KSAs is to measure those qualities that will set one candidate apart from the others. How well an applicant can show that he or she matches the position’s defined KSAs determines whether that person will be seriously considered for the job

Knowledge statements refer to an organized body of information usually of a factual or procedural nature which, if applied, makes adequate performance on the job possible. The body of information may be directly relate to the performance of a function

Skill statements refer to the proficient manual, verbal or mental manipulation of data or things. Skills can be readily measured by a performance test where quantity and quality of performance are tested, usually within an established time limit. Examples of proficient manipulation of things are skill in typing or skill in operating a vehicle. Examples of proficient manipulation of data are skill in computation using decimals, skill in editing for transposed numbers, etc

Ability statements refer to the power to perform an observable activity at the present time. This means that abilities have been evidenced through activities or behaviors that are similar to those required on the job, e.g., ability to plan and organize work. Abilities are different from aptitudes. Aptitudes are only the potential for performing the activity

You should address KSA's if they are identified in the job announcement

Some job applicants are not sure how to apply the KSA requirements, or where a response is optional. You should always address ALL KSAs. Look at it from the potential employer's perspective - someone who does not do a complete job when applying for a job is not likely to do a complete job at work, either

Writing a KSA:

Reviewers/evaluators cannot infer anything; you must ensure that you state everything in your KSAs. Hints to follow when developing your KSAs:

  • Read the vacancy announcement carefully
  • Gather the information needed to begin writing
  • Be specific; be precise
  • Get to the point; do not ramble
  • Use many examples; state specifically what you have done
  • Do not use acronyms
  • Present yourself in “clear and plain” language
  • Do not borrow language from the position description

How to Write Responses to Knowledge, Skills and Abilities (KSAs):

Describe your experience and how it relates to each of the KSAs. To help you do this, it helps to divide the process of writing KSA responses into 4 steps:

Step 1 - Read the KSAs very closely. You need to make sure you understand what the KSAs are and what they mean. This step is critical. If you do not understand each KSA, you will not be able to write good responses. A KSA by itself tends to be general in nature. The vacancy announcement usually contains a brief summary description of the duties of the position. Read this summary description very carefully

Step 2 - Review all the work/volunteer experiences you have had and look for things that relate to the individual KSAs. This step is really a "brainstorming" session. You need to review your experiences and find things that relate to the KSAs. Let us say the KSA that you are writing about is the ability to communicate orally. You need to think about all of the times when you use oral communication skills. Examples: While you were a File Clerk you instructed other clerks on new filing procedures; as a Management Analyst you presented recommendations on workflow procedures to members of top staff

Also, consider relevant education, training and self-development activities, and any awards received.  Examples: A training program in effective briefing techniques that you completed or an award you received that relates to your ability to communicate orally

Do not forget experiences you have had in non-work related areas (volunteer activities) or in school related activities. Examples: While you were a Cub Scout Leader you acted as the Chairperson for a fund raising activity; while a student you were a student council representative. These experiences are just as valid as work-related examples as long as they are relevant to the KSA about which you are writing

Try reviewing your experience in order from the earliest experience to the most recent experience so as not to miss any job or experience that is relevant to the KSA. You should review your total experience both paid and volunteer, and training for each KSA and look for situations that apply to the particular KSA. This is because experience that you have in one job or one area may apply to more than one KSA

Example: The KSA "Ability to meet and deal with members of the general public" and the KSA "Ability to coordinate the activities of a subordinate staff" both involve skill in oral communications. Do not worry about being repetitious in writing KSA responses. Each KSA is rated separately and as long as the information you give is relevant, it does not matter if you have used it already in another KSA

Step 3 - Analyze the experiences you have identified. This is where you scrutinize the experiences you identified in step 2 and focus on the things that really matter in what you do or have done. It is where you identify how you use the knowledge, skill, or ability in your job or experiences. This kind of information is at the core of the KSA process. (This process is sometimes called "Task Analysis.") You need to ask specific questions about the experience you have identified. The answers that you come up with will be used to complete the actual writing of the KSA in Step 4. Examples of the kinds of questions you need to ask about your experiences follow:

  • What kind of knowledge or skills do I use in my job?
  • What are the steps, procedures, practices, rules, policies, theories, principles or concepts that I use in my job?
  • How do I apply the knowledge, principles or concepts that I use in my job?
  • How do I apply the knowledge that I have to accomplish my work?
  • What kind of supervision do I receive?
  • How is my work assigned?
  • What is my responsibility to accomplish work?
  • How independent are my actions?
  • How is my work reviewed?
  • What guidelines do I use to accomplish my work?
  • Are the instructions that I use to perform my work in written or oral form or both?
  • Do I use procedural manuals?
  • What other written procedures do I use?
  • What kind of oral instructions do I use to perform my work?
  • How much judgment do I have to use to apply the guidelines for my job?
  • Are the guidelines I use very easily applied or do they require interpretation?
  • How difficult are they to interpret?
  • How complex is my job?
  • What is the nature of the work that I do? For example: Tasks are clear-cut and directly related to each other; or the work involves different and unrelated processes and methods; or the work consists of broad functions and processes of an administrative or professional nature?
  • How difficult is it to identify what needs to be done? For example: Little or no choice in deciding what needs to be done; or it depends on an analysis of the situation as there are many alternatives; or extensive analysis is required to even define the nature of the problem.
  • How difficult or original is the work I do?
  • How does my work affect other processes or individuals?
  • Who do I have contact with on a daily basis?
  • Why do I have contact with these individuals?
  • What is my role in these discussions or meetings? For example: To provide information; to receive information; to influence or advise someone; to convince someone of something

If you have done a thorough job on steps 1, 2 and 3 in this process, you now have a good understanding of the KSAs and lots of facts about your experiences. You also have a better understanding of these experiences. You are now ready for the last step

Step 4 - Show how the facts you have gathered about your experience relate to the individual KSAs. You need to tell about the experiences you have had in a way that clearly shows how they are related to the knowledge, skill, or ability. In other words, you need to show a link between your own experience and the KSA. Do not assume that the link is obvious to someone else even though it may be obvious to you. The person rating your application can only credit based on what you state in your response. You will not receive proper credit for your experiences unless you write specific examples showing how and why your experience is related to a particular KSA

In telling this, remember a few important facts:

  • It is the content of your responses that is rated and not the writing style that you use. It is acceptable to use brief sentences or phrases as long as the reader knows what you mean
  • Very long responses do not guarantee a high rating. Give the reader direct and to-the-point responses
  • Do not use abbreviations, acronyms, or jargon. Chances are the reader will not know what you are talking about if you write this way. They will not be able to give proper credit for your experience if they do not understand what you have done