To me, skills are something related to mechanical performance. Someone is very skilled at playing football, for instance.

Competence/competency on the other hand is more related to knowledge. Something that is not mechanical.

What is the correct use in this very specific scenario?

Suppose you have the Stackoverflow site (asking questions and answering them). Which word would we use if we wanted to describe individuals with the highest reputation in specific tag? Like C# (as in C# language). Do these users have competence/competency or skills?

We could say He's very skilled in C# language, but in a differently formulated sentence, it would be better to say His competencies are (in) C# language, software algorithms and ... Or would it be better if we used skills? My gut feeling says the former is better. But is it really? And why?

And while we're talking about it, why not also define the difference between competence and competency?


I would also like to add the third term that could be used in this specific Stackoverflow scenario. Proficiencies. I suppose this term could be used only for those users with gold/silver badged tags (similar to what users have here if you don't know Stackoverflow). Or describing users with top reputation in general without explicitly listing their top ranking tags.

In such scenario we could also talk about experts with expertise (is there even plural of this word?).

  • Take a look at the previous discussions surrounding this issue. I'm not certain that it's an absolute duplication, but searching the terms as they have appeared here in the past may yield some insights.
    – Rob_Ster
    Feb 17, 2016 at 18:03
  • @Rob_Ster I have and I haven't found any questions regarding difference between the two. Provide a link and we can discuss whether it's duplicate or not, because I have this very specific scenario which I want to be 100% point on. Feb 17, 2016 at 18:25
  • It strikes me as a really fine distinction. Speaking with no authority beyond my distinctly non-technical and literary ear, I would probably choose "competencies," which in my nearest area (professional development in education) lean toward demonstrated abilities, whereas "skills" sounds more like a generalized potential.
    – Rob_Ster
    Feb 17, 2016 at 18:34
  • @Rob_Ster Ok so in case of Stackoverflow where we can track someone's abilities (checking their questions and answers) this is then not just a generalised potential but rather demonstrated ability? Does this align with your reasoning? Feb 18, 2016 at 7:22
  • I guess it depends on how much store you set by the ability to answer questions. You could say that Inhave a set of skills that enable me demonstrate competence. As an educator, I can help students build skills, but I cannot reliably measure them. I can, hiwever, assess competencies. But keep in mind that we have to defenestrate the whole framework if the context changes, say to a legal one.
    – Rob_Ster
    Feb 18, 2016 at 12:00

1 Answer 1


While "competencies" and "skills" are synonyms at a surface level, "competencies" is (in my experience) generally used in a narrower business context. Since 1990 the term "core competencies" has come into vogue for business discussions, which may also have some impact on the use of "competency" as a way to infer not merely the ability to do something, but a certain degree of fluency, effectiveness, and competitive advantage. While "is skilled at" and "has competencies in" are really quite similar, I would argue that the use of "core competencies" as a business concept might impact associations with the word "competencies" in business contexts.

I would reject your assertion that "skills" need to be mechanical; however, there is idiomatic difference between "being skilled" and "having a skill" as the former implies some level of expertise and the latter merely implies that someone has an ability.

On Core Competencies: http://www.investopedia.com/terms/c/core_competencies.asp

  • But how about particular use that I outlined in the question? When we refer to Stackoverflow users and their competencies related to specific software development abilities that are demonstrated in their questions and answers? What would be more correct? I can see that a third word could also be used proficiencies. Feb 18, 2016 at 7:27

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