Knowledge ≠ Skills ≠ Experience – or why a consistent distinction between these terms is more important than ever.

Knowledge, skills and experience are three crucial components that make up an individual’s competence in any field. Unfortunately, these terms are used interchangeably these days, but they have very different meanings.

Knowledge refers to an intellectual understanding of facts, concepts and theories related to a particular field. It is acquired through education, reading books, attending lectures and participating in training programmes. Knowledge is essential because it provides the basis for developing skills. It enables individuals to understand the why behind a particular practice or procedure. Skills, on the other hand, refer to the ability to perform a task with consistent accuracy and quality. It is the application of knowledge in a practical setting. Skills are developed through practice, repetition and feedback from experienced mentors or supervisors. The more an individual practices a skill, the better they usually become at it. Experience refers to an individual’s exposure to a particular field or area of work. It comes from work experience, internships, volunteering and other practical applications of knowledge and skills. Experience is valuable because it gives individuals a real-world understanding of the challenges they may face. It helps them identify potential solutions to problems and provides opportunities for personal growth and development.

Applied skills, on the other hand, refer to the practical use of skills in a specific job or field. They are skills that an individual has developed through practice and experience and that can be readily applied in real-life situations. Applied skills are essential because they are the only ones that enable individuals to perform their jobs efficiently and effectively. While both skills and experience are essential, experience is always better than skills alone. This is because only experience allows individuals to apply their knowledge and skills in a practical setting. It enables individuals to develop problem-solving, communication and other critical skills that are difficult to learn through reading or training alone. Experience also provides individuals with a deeper understanding of the complexities of a particular field. It makes them more adaptable to change and more likely to succeed in challenging situations. In addition, experience provides individuals with the opportunity to learn from their mistakes and develop resilience.

In summary, knowledge, skills and experience are all essential components that shape an individual’s competence in any field. While skills and knowledge are valuable, experience is always better than skills alone. The practical application of skills and knowledge gained through experience provides individuals with a deeper understanding of their field, problem-solving skills and the ability to adapt to new challenges.

This is precisely why it is so important to distinguish between knowledge, skills and experience when it comes to matching, recruiting and hiring, as each dimension brings unique value to the process. When recruiting candidates, an organisation must consider the specific requirements of the job or position being filled. For example, if an organisation is recruiting for a technical role, proven knowledge/applied skills in a specific coding language and programming may be more important than knowledge of theoretical concepts related to the field.

While knowledge and skills are essential, experience provides the most valuable and relevant insight into the job and the field. For example, a candidate with superb but more theoretical programming skills may not be the best fit for a role if they lack relevant work experience. It is also important to balance the different dimensions in an evidence-based matching and hiring process. Some organisations may place more emphasis on technical skills, while others may focus on soft skills such as communication and teamwork. Therefore, organisations need to have a clear understanding of the specific requirements of the role and the desired qualifications and determine the weighting of knowledge, skills and experience accordingly. At the same time, especially organisations with a strong focus on just hard or job-related skills should not overlook factors such as attitude, cultural fit and potential for growth. These factors can play a significant role in predicting long-term success and retention.

Therefore, a balanced matching and hiring process that considers all these dimensions holistically can help organisations to identify the best candidates for their open positions. Neither an exclusive focus on background, education and thus knowledge, nor on the skills or soft skills that are so widely propagated today, will enable accurate and sustainable artificial or human intelligence-based matching results and thus successful hiring. Let’s start dealing with these terms and dimensions in a more differentiated way, it would only benefit us all.