Knowledge, Skills & Abilities (KSAs)

KSAs / KSAOs, and Your Career Goals

Federal Employee's Career Development Center

What KSAs do I need to refine or achieve my goal?

The IDP form has a column for training objectives. These are objectives you have for developing certain Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities (KSAs) in order to reach a goal. Describing your developmental objectives in the KSA format is important because KSAs provide the basis for the IDP. Once KSAs are identified, even in rough form, you are in a good position to decide on just the right combination of details, lateral assignments, formal courses and alternative training methods to develop the KSAs you need for targeted positions.

Several year ago KSAs were eliminated from initial application packages to streamline the process. However, KSAs can be requested during the selection process to determine the best qualified applicant for a position.  Even though KSAs may not be required during the initial submission process they are still an invaluable tool that should be used to develop your IDP.

KSA Menu

KSA Description

Knowledge Mastery of facts, range of information in subject matter area.
Skills Proficiency, expertise, or competence in given area; e.g., science, art, crafts.
Abilities Demonstrated performance to use knowledge and skills when needed.

Use the general definitions to focus on your assessment and identify experiences and training that support these competencies. The definitions will help you focus on the assessment that follows. Refer back to these competencies frequently when you are completing the forms in this and subsequent chapters. Both general employee and supervisory/manager competencies are included. These are general characteristics. Your experiences will focus more on specific accomplishments that fit the general competencies outline.

Knowledge, Skills, Abilities & Other Characteristics

KSAs are also referred to as Knowledge, Skills, Abilities, and Other Characteristics (KSAOs). They are required for a selecting official to identify the best qualified candidate for certain vacancies. To qualify for a position you must meet two types of factors: Selective Factors and Quality Ranking Factors.

KSAOs are attributes needed to perform a specific job function that is demonstrated through qualifying training, education and experience. The following definitions will help you understand the process.

Knowledge —- An organized body of information, usually of a factual or procedural nature, which if applied, makes adequate performance on the job possible.

Examples include knowledge of:

  • Federal regulations and directives
  • Operational systems and procedures
  • Budget and accounting principals
  • Engineering practices
  • Environmental compliance law
  • Administrative practices

Skill — The manipulation of data, things, or people through manual, mental or verbal means. Skills are measurable through testing, can be observed, and are quantifiable. Often refers to expertise that comes from training, practice, etc.

Examples include skill in:

  • Keyboard data entry
  • Motor vehicle operation
  • Computer software proficiency
  • Electronic or computer repair
  • Carpentry, plumbing and/or HVAC repair
  • Second language proficiency

Ability — The capacity to perform a physical or mental activity at the present time. Typically, abilities are apparent through functions completed on the job. Abilities and skills are often interchangeable in KSAOs. The main difference is that ability is the capacity to perform, where a skill is the actual manipulation of data, things or people. You may have the ability, but unless observed through actions, that ability may not transfer to a skill set.

Examples include the ability to:

  • Organize and plan work (observed at work)
  • Analyze situations, programs and problems
  • Communicate orally and in writing
  • Coach and mentor others

Other Characteristics — Mental or physical attributes or characteristics that don’t fall under the other areas.

Examples are:

  • Proactive — takes initiative to get things done without prompting
  • Copes well in stressful environments — handles complex tasks
  • Reliability — assigned work is completed ahead of schedule and the quality of work is exceptional
  • Multiple work assignments — capable of successfully handling various and sundry tasks

This factor is required for jobs that to a greater degree encounter these characteristics, such as jobs with the Federal Aviation Administration in air traffic control, work at nuclear power plants, and careers in law enforcement.

KSA Definitions (General Employee Competencies)

Interpersonal Skill

Is aware of, responds to, and considers the needs, feelings, and capabilities of others. Deals with conflicts, confrontations, disagreements in a positive manner, which minimizes personal impact, to include controlling ones’ feelings and reactions. Deals effectively with others in both favorable and unfavorable situations regardless of status of position. Accepts interpersonal and cultural diversity.

Team Skill

Establishes effective working relationships among team members. Participates in solving problems and making decisions.


Orally presents and expresses ideas and information clearly and concisely in a manner appropriate to the audience. Presents and expresses ideas and information clearly, concisely, in writing. Listens actively to what others are saying to achieve understanding. Shares information with others and facilitates the open exchange of ideas and information; is open, honest, and straightforward with others.

Planning and Organizing.

Establishes courses of action for self to accomplish specific goals (e.g., establishes action plans). Identifies need, arranges for, and obtains resources needed to accomplish own goals and objectives. Develops and uses tracking systems for monitoring own work progress. Effectively uses resources such as time and information.

Organizational Knowledge and Competence.

Acquires accurate information concerning the agency components, the mission(s) of each relevant organizational unit, and the principal programs in the agency. Interprets and utilizes information about the formal and informal organization, including the organizational structure, functioning, and relationships among units. Correctly identifies and draws upon source(s) of information for support.

Problem Solving and Analytical Ability.

Identifies existing and potential problems/issues. Obtains relevant information about the problem/issue, including recognizing whether or not more information is needed. Objectively evaluates relevant information about the problem/issue. Identifies the specific cause of the problem/issue. Develops recommendations, develops and evaluates alternative course of action, selects courses of action, and follows up.


Makes well reasoned and timely decisions based on careful, objective review and informed analysis of available considerations and factors. Supports decisions or recommendations with accurate information or reasoning.

Direction and Motivation

Sets a good example of how to do the job; demonstrates personal integrity, responsibility, and accountability. Provides advice and assistance to help others accomplish their work. Directs/motivates self.


Identifies when immediate action is needed, and is willing to make decisions, render judgments, and take action. Accepts responsibility for the decision, including sustaining effort in spite of obstacles.


Accurately evaluates own performance and identifies skills and abilities as targets of training and development activities related to current and future job requirements. Analyzes present career status. Sets goals (short term and/or long term). Identifies resources that are available and methods for self-improvement. Sets realistic time frames for goals and follows up.


Modifies own behavior and work activities in response to new information, changing conditions, or unexpected obstacles. Views issues/problems from different perspectives. Considers a wide range of alternatives, including innovative or creative approaches. Strives to take actions that are acceptable to others having differing views.


Ability to make right decisions based on perceptive and analytical processes. Practices good judgment in gray areas. Acts decisively.

KSA Definitions (General Supervisory / Manager Competencies)

Problem Solving and Analytical Ability

Identifies existing and potential problems; notes, understands and includes the critical elements of problem situations; obtains and evaluates relevant information; demonstrates awareness that new and/or additional information sources are required; notes interrelationships among elements; identifies possible causes of the problems; recognizes the need to shift to an alternative course of action including innovative or creative approaches; and appropriately terminates information collection and evaluation activities.

Planning and Organizing

Identifies requirements, allocates, and effectively uses information, personnel, time, and other resources necessary for mission accomplishment; establishes appropriate courses of action for self and/or others to accomplish specific goals; develops evaluation criteria and tracking systems for monitoring goal progress and accomplishment; and specifies objectives, schedules, and priorities.


Makes decisions, renders judgments, and takes action on difficult or unpleasant tasks in a timely fashion, to include the appropriate communication of both negative and positive information and decisions.


Develops and evaluates alternative courses of action; makes decisions based on correct assumptions concerning resources and guidelines; supports decisions or recommendations with data or reasoning; defines and implements solutions to problems; and recognizes when no action is required.

Communication Skill.

Presents and expresses ideas and information effectively and concisely in an oral and/or written mode; listens and comprehends what others are saying; shares information with others and facilitates the open exchange of ideas and information; is open, honest, and straightforward with others; provides a complete and timely explanation of issues and decisions in a manner appropriate for the audience; and presents information and material in a manner which gains the agreement of others.

Interpersonal Skill.

Is aware of, responds to, and considers the needs, feelings, and capabilities of others; deals effectively with others in both favorable and unfavorable situations regardless of their status or position; accepts interpersonal and cultural differences; manages conflicts/confrontations/disagreements in a positive manner which minimizes personal impact, to include controlling one’s own feelings and reactions; and provides appropriate support to others.

Direction and Motivation

Motivates and provides direction in the activities of others to accomplish goals; gains the respect and confidence of others; appropriately assigns work and authority to others in the accomplishment of goals; provides advice and assistance as required.

Supervisory Role Performance

Displays knowledge of the roles, responsibilities, and duties of supervisors and managers; accurately assesses the impact upon others of role performance; and supports and promotes organizational decisions, policies, programs, and initiatives such as EEO and Affirmative Action.

Specialty Competence

Understands and appropriately applies procedures, requirements, regulations, and policies; maintains credibility with others on specialty matters; and uses appropriate procedures, or systems in the operational and/or staff environment as the position requires.

Organizational Knowledge

Demonstrates knowledge of the Department’s or Agency’s organizational components, the mission(s) of each relevant organizational unit, and the principal programs in the organization.


Establishes work standards and expectations for yourself and others. Appropriately assigns/delegates work and authority to others in the accomplishment of goals. Keeps goals and objectives in sight at all times, monitors progress toward goals, and works to overcome barriers and obstacles. Provides coaching, advice, and assistance as required; e.g., helps subordinates overcome obstacles and deal with problems. Appropriately assess contributions and performance of employees; provides appropriate recognition, and deals with problems as they arise. Instills in others a sense of pride in the job at hand.

Selective & Quality Ranking Factors

Selective Factors

All applicants must meet the Selective Factors for a position which are over and above the minimum experience and education requirements in the Qualification Standards Handbook. After meeting the basic Selective Factors you can achieve a higher ranking score if you meet or exceed the Quality Ranking Factors (QRFs) as annotated on the job announcement. QRFs aren’t required to meet basic eligibility. Their purpose is to provide the selecting official with additional information that demonstrates how well you will perform the duties of the position.

Quality Ranking Factors (QRFs)

Quality Ranking Factors must be taken seriously for you to rate as high as possible. Most feel, “Why should I have to reinvent the wheel? I’ve already completed a comprehensive application — Just read it — it’s all in there!” Don’t get discouraged. This is a natural feeling and most applicants don’t want to bother. After all, when you applied in the private sector all you gave them was a short one or two page resume

Remember, this is the federal government. You have to complete the paper-work to beat out your competition. Federal government jobs are rated this way to eliminate favoritism and to provide a level playing field for all those who apply. Keep this in mind when completing your application in order to improve your chances.

Each agency develops its own unique QRFs, and there can be as few as one to as many as a dozen or more. The most I’ve had to complete during my 33 years of government service was eight. The higher the grade position you are applying for, the more likely that QRFs will be required. Some agencies require special forms while others only specify the factor and ask you to address each one in detail on a separate piece of paper.

There are a number of rating systems used by various agencies and the methods even differ within agencies. Some use point systems from 1 to 10, others simply evaluate the KSA as meeting or exceeding the standard. Still others use designations such as “Below Expectations,” “Average,” or “Above Average.” Follow the guidance in the announcement and provide all the information they require. KSAs require contact information including names, phone numbers, and addresses so the personnel specialist or selecting official can verify your information.

There are often limits on the amount of data you can submit. For example, many KSAOs are limited to one typewritten page per KSAO, etc. I suggest high-lighting or underlining each requirement on the announcement so that you will provide all requested information.