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Hard Skills vs Soft Skills: The Key Differences

Saturday, June 17, 2023

Hard Skills vs Soft Skills: The Key Differences

If you’ve ever searched for a job, you’ve likely come across a list of desired skills when checking out different job listings.

Some of these skills were probably more technical (hard skills), whereas others had more to do with your personality and work ethic (soft skills).

It’s easy to assume that hard skills matter most, but the answer isn’t that cut and dry. Learn the difference between hard and soft skills (and why both matter for a successful career) in this guide.

What are hard skills?

Put simply, hard skills are objective and quantifiable.

It’s relatively easy to show that you have a particular hard skill. After all, you either know how to do something or you don’t.

You can also verify hard skills with various degrees, certifications, and licenses.

Examples of hard skills

The following are some of the most common hard skills job seekers might be asked to demonstrate:

  • Coding and programming,
  • Drafting
  • Prototyping
  • User interface design
  • Using a point-of-sale program
  • Database management
  • Forecasting
  • Web analytics
  • Google Analytics
  • Structured Query Language (SQL)
  • Using Microsoft Office Suite
  • Using Google Suite programs
  • Copywriting
  • Search engine optimization (SEO)
  • User experience (UX) design
  • Press release writing
  • Bookkeeping
  • Project management
  • Budgeting
  • Sales

All these skills can be learned and developed over time. You can also demonstrate your expertise in them.

What are soft skills?

Soft skills are also known as interpersonal skills. They tell an HR rep how you work with others, solve problems, and manage your workload.

While hard skills are objective and quantifiable, soft skills are subjective and unquantifiable.

It can be harder to demonstrate soft skills because everyone views them a bit differently. For example, one person might consider an applicant to be a good communicator, but another might have a different opinion.

Examples of soft skills

When writing job listings, hiring managers often indicate that they would like employees to possess the following soft skills:

  • Adaptability
  • Flexibility
  • Communication
  • Creativity
  • Reliability
  • Leadership
  • Active listening
  • Strong work ethic
  • Collaboration
  • Positivity
  • Time management
  • Self-motivated
  • Problem-solving
  • Critical thinking
  • Conflict resolution
  • Patience

Like hard skills, these soft skills can also be learned and developed over time. However, they also tend to come more naturally to some people than others.

Why are hard and soft skills necessary?

A mix of hard and soft skills will help you do your job well, be more engaged at work, and have a more positive employee experience.

Many positions, from a web developer to a customer service representative, require a mix of hard and soft skills.

Possessing hard skills shows that you can execute specific tasks related to the job. Conversely, soft skills show you can work well with others, complete tasks on time, and communicate with clients.

Say you’re applying for a web developer position at a startup company.

You will likely need to demonstrate proficiency in these hard skills:

  • HTML
  • CSS
  • JavaScript
  • Frontend Library/Framework
  • Working with APIs
  • Git/GitHub

You’re probably a contender for the position if you can check those six boxes. However, remember that certain soft skills are also relevant to the job, including these:

  • Problem-solving
  • Communication
  • Collaboration/Teamwork
  • Patience
  • Flexibility
  • Time management

Say you fulfil all the hard skill requirements but don’t work well with others or struggle to communicate (particularly with clients). In that case, you could get passed up for the job, despite your coding expertise, for someone with a more desirable combination of hard and soft skills.

How to develop hard and soft skills

If you find that you’re having difficulty landing jobs, the issue could be that you lack specific hard or soft skills that the employer is looking for in a new employee.

Luckily, both hard and soft skills can be learned and strengthened. Here are some tips that can help:

Take a class

These days, a variety of classes exist to help you learn both hard and soft skills.

For example, you could sign up for a local college or university class to learn coding, computer skills, or copywriting. You can also take courses to work on communication or critical thinking.

Many of these classes take place in-person and online, so finding options that work for your schedule is fairly manageable.

Shadow someone in the field

Do you know someone with the job you’d like to have? Reach out and ask if you can shadow them for a day.

Shadowing gives you a chance to see what the job is actually like. It also allows you to ask questions and identify the specific hard and soft skills you need to develop.

Find a mentor or private tutor

An alternative to taking a class with a group of students is asking someone to be your mentor or tutor. They can provide more specific, one-on-one advice to help you strengthen your skills and progress more quickly.

Ask for honest feedback

Whenever you’re learning something new, feedback is your friend. Honest feedback clarifies your strengths and weaknesses so you know what to prioritize moving forward.

Ask your teachers, tutors, friends, or interviewers from previous jobs you applied for to let you know what you’re doing well and what you can improve.

Practice often

Practice makes perfect.

It doesn’t matter if you’re working on a hard or soft skill. Setting aside time to practice consistently will help you get better faster.

Consistent practice might look like dedicating an hour a day to a bookkeeping course or talking to five new people a day to improve your communication skills.  

Step outside your comfort zone

Remember that actual growth and development come from stepping outside your comfort zone.

If you want to improve at something, you must push yourself. That might look like attending an in-person class when you’d prefer to work alone online or sharing your writing with others (even though you’re insecure about it) so they can give you feedback.

In Conclusion

A solid mix of hard and soft skills will help you appeal to employers seeking new team members.

If you aren’t confident in your hard or soft skills currently, that’s okay. Use the tips discussed above to develop them and increase your chances of getting hired.

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