Aug 23, 2023
6 min read

KSAO Explained + 7 Ways to Improve Them

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Having the right people in key positions at the company makes all the difference in the business world. Unfortunately, according to the Global Talent Shortage 2023 report, 77% of employers have problems finding the talent they need. It’s a terrifying statistic suggesting optimizing recruitment and getting the most out of your talent is now more critical than ever. 

But what if we told you there’s something that can help you with both of these things simultaneously? Read on to learn about KSAOs and how to use them effectively.

What is KSAO?

KSAO – Knowledge, Skills, Abilities and Other characteristics – is an abbreviation that describes the attributes necessary to do a particular job. You define KSAOs during a job analysis before recruitment or when considering an employee for promotion to a higher position. After the selection process, you assess whether the person or persons have the necessary attributes. 


Knowledge refers to factual and procedural information possessed by the candidate or employee, usually acquired through formal education, self-study, and/or experience in the field. This part of KSAO is all about actual knowledge and not formal degrees or certificates – while these can, in many cases, prove the person’s understanding of a given field, often they’re a separate requirement.


  • Understanding project management methodologies
  • Chemistry knowledge
  • History knowledge


Skills are the fundamental capabilities the person needs to do the job, and they can be taught and trained. While knowledge is theoretical, skills are practical – you usually acquire them once you put the knowledge to actual use. For example, you can’t exactly become a driver or a programmer by reading a book.

Two are two main categories of skills: hard and soft. The former relates to technical expertise and psychomotor activities. The latter comprises critical thinking, problem solving, research, communication, and leadership skills.

Examples of hard skills:

  • Programming
  • Using specific software
  • Driving

Examples of core skills:

  • Communicating
  • Speaking on conferences


The “A” is KSAO stands for abilities, which are sometimes called “special skills”. So, how do they differ from the “normal” skills? 

The difference can be subtle, especially in the case of soft skills. The easiest way to think about this is to see abilities as something more innate, inherent to the person. For example, you can teach someone communication skills, but their level of empathy mostly depends on their character and possibly upbringing. 

Another difference between skills and inborn abilities is that improving the latter is more challenging and sometimes impossible. You can train to become more agile, but the harsh truth is that not everyone has the attributes necessary to become a professional athlete.

Sometimes innate characteristics are necessary for a specific position. In other cases, they serve as a ceiling for the person’s potential growth.


  • Empathy
  • Singing voice
  • Physical fitness
  • Physical attractiveness

Other characteristics

Other characteristics are traits that don’t fit any of the categories above. These can include values, aspects of character, but also formal courses, certificates, degrees, etc. 

Separating knowledge from formal degrees and other such requirements might initially seem strange, but it’s pretty logical. In the case of some fields and job positions, actual knowledge is all that’s needed. However, sometimes candidates must also prove their formal training or education. For example, when hiring a medical doctor, you need someone with a degree demonstrating their skills and knowledge. Self-study won’t cut it when the person will handle people’s health and lives.


  • A doctorate in chemistry
  • Patience
  • Being a good team player

How to improve the KSAOs of your employees

improve the KSAOs of your employees

Image source: Pexels

There are several things you can do to improve your employees’ KSAOs:

  1. Build a feedback culture

Feedback helps your employees celebrate successes and understand what they need to improve. It’s one of the critical factors for improving engagement, and Gallup’s State of the Global Workforce 2023 report shows that 77% of employees don’t feel engaged at work.

  1. Assess KSAOs regularly

You need to assess the employees’ KSAOs and monitor their progress. You can do this as part of a performance appraisal.

  1. Create career development plans

Another good idea is to use the knowledge gained from KSAO assessment to build employee career plans. Create these in a way that allows people to make the best possible use of their relevant skills and abilities and consider what they still need to learn.

  1. Provide career growth opportunities

You can only improve some skills and abilities through real-life experience. If you want your people to develop and reach their true potential, you must give them room to grow, including career-building opportunities and promotions.

  1. Offer on-the-job training

You can offer your employees on-the-job training in various fields. Sometimes the easiest way is to share knowledge within the company and plan time in peoples’ schedules for practice. Another good option is subsidizing the courses and training you believe they need.

  1. Consider hiring consultants 

You can also consider hiring outside consultants who can evaluate employees’ strong and weak points and attributes needed for various positions in the company without bias.

  1. Encourage networking

Finally, encourage your people to attend industry events and network. It can help them discover new trends and opportunities and broaden their skill set.


A typical company spends 36 days and over $4000 trying to fill a vacant job position. That’s a lot of time and money. Wrongly defined requirements are often part of the problem, so getting these things right is paramount. KSAOs can also help you improve your existing employees' skills and abilities. Moreover, they’re easy to use as long as hiring managers follow some simple hints and pointers. What’s not to like?


Here are answers to some popular KSAO-related questions you can find online. 

What is KSA in job specification?

KSA stands for Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities. It’s a set of essential skills, qualifications and requirements for a given position. 

What is a KSAO example?

A good example of KSAO is the ability to communicate clearly and persuasively, essential for many roles in sales, marketing, teaching, etc. 

What is a KSAO assessment?

It’s a test that evaluates a job applicant’s or employee's knowledge, soft and hard skills, abilities and other characteristics. It helps employers identify the best candidates for a job or promotion and provide feedback and guidance for employees to fill skill gaps and improve their performance and career prospects.

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