Professional Competency – A Process and an Outcome

It was last year when I started teaching undergraduates for the first time here, at Indiana University. The ground for this was well laid through the SPH-H750, Pedagogy in Health Behavior class, which was mandatory for all of us, the current and would be Graduate Assistants (GA) and Associate Instructors (AI). The impact of this graduate pedagogy course on the competence development as a graduate student instructor has been exemplary. The other thing which facilitated was being a GA to other AI’s – thus being in the classroom setting, observing the AI, guest speakers and students, grading their papers – helped a lot in my confidence and competence building in my teaching role.

I was GA and later AI to the class – SPH H 180, Stress Prevention and Management. There were around 75 students enrolled in the first class I had taught, I remember. The sheer size of the classroom and the number of students felt overwhelming, initially, but then, as mentioned above the step by step ‘guided imagery’, helped in both, developing my competence and confidence. Carrying on, this will be my second year of teaching the same course and I feel more confident.

While I know that I am surely not an expert, neither in teaching nor on the subject area, the competence developed through the past year of teaching has helped in multifold ways, especially a realization that invigorating one’s ‘ professional competency’ is lifelong effort and should be a mantra in the college years. It provides for development of knowledge and skill sets that helps in closing the gap between higher education and the world of work. Surely, it makes the transition from student-hood to a professional much more soothing and less stressful! It is both a process of inner transitioning and maturing and an outcome, wherein foundation is laid to prepare college students for successful entry into the career journey.
The most common definition of professional competency is the presence and garnering of the broad professional knowledge, attitude, and skills required in order to work in a specialized area or profession; disciplinary knowledge and the application of concepts, processes in any particular field. The National Association of Colleges and Employees (NACE) have discoursed the 7 areas of professional competencies, as mentioned below:

  • Critical Thinking/Problem Solving: Exercise sound reasoning to analyze issues, make decisions, and overcome problems. The individual is able to obtain, interpret, and use knowledge, facts, and data in this process, and may demonstrate originality and inventiveness.
  • Oral/Written Communications:Articulate thoughts and ideas clearly and effectively in written and oral forms to persons inside and outside of the organization. The individual has public speaking skills; is able to express ideas to others; and can write/edit memos, letters, and complex technical reports clearly and effectively.
  • Teamwork/Collaboration:Build collaborative relationships with colleagues and customers representing diverse cultures, races, ages, genders, religions, lifestyles, and viewpoints. The individual is able to work within a team structure, and can negotiate and manage conflict.
  • Information Technology Application:Select and use appropriate technology to accomplish a given task. The individual is also able to apply computing skills to solve problems.
  • Leadership:Leverage the strengths of others to achieve common goals, and use interpersonal skills to coach and develop others. The individual is able to assess and manage his/her emotions and those of others; use empathetic skills to guide and motivate; and organize, prioritize, and delegate work.
  • Professionalism/Work Ethic:Demonstrate personal accountability and effective work habits, e.g., punctuality, working productively with others, and time workload management, and understand the impact of non-verbal communication on professional work image. The individual demonstrates integrity and ethical behavior, acts responsibly with the interests of the larger community in mind, and is able to learn from his/her mistakes.
  • Career Management:Identify and articulate one’s skills, strengths, knowledge, and experiences relevant to the position desired and career goals, and identify areas necessary for professional growth. The individual is able to navigate and explore job options, understands and can take the steps necessary to pursue opportunities, and understands how to self-advocate for opportunities in the workplace.

While it is more of a self-garnering exercise, the ‘to do’ steps to begin with could be:

  • Developing a common vocabulary and ‘elevator speech’ to use when discussing career readiness and goals within employing organizations.
  • Plan and participate in sessions in the campus which educate and advise students to firm up on their career goals.
  • Build relationships and network with seniors, peers and relevant people in one’s area of specialization to identify and assess employer expectations when hiring the college educated.



Tapati is a socio-behavioral scientist in community health. She is currently in her second year doctoral studies at the School of Public Health and majoring in Health Behavior. Her research emphasis is on multi-level community engagement in health policies, particularly in resource-limited country settings. Whenever she can take a breather from her pedagogic assignments, she engages in painting or creative writing.

By Tapati Dutta
Tapati Dutta Tapati