What is the difference between hard and soft skills? Is one better than the other? Which should you be developing? Between hard vs. soft skills, what do employers value more? The truth is, it’s not a battle between soft skill vs. hard skill; you need both to be successful in your personal and professional life.
Employers are looking to hire candidates with a combination of both types of skills. In this post, we’ll define and provide examples of both hard skills and soft skills, and we’ll break down which soft and hard skills employers want to see in their prospective employees.
What is a Hard Skill?
Hard skills refer to your education, training, and specific technical knowledge. For example, both a surgeon’s ability to perform heart surgery and a retail worker’s ability to take payments from customers and use a point-of-sale system are hard skills.
Every job requires an employee to learn some technical (hard) skills. What distinguishes hard skills vs. soft skills is this technical know-how and the ability to perform certain tasks. You may be an excellent team player and effective communicator (soft skills), but that doesn’t mean you can just walk into an accountant’s office and expect to get a job. While your positive attitude and personality traits are very important, you also need hard skills (education and training) to become an accountant.
Hard skills require training and education, and depending on the difficulty of the job, they may take weeks or years to develop.
What is a Soft Skill?
Soft skills are personality traits and habits that refer to your ability to work well with others as well as on your own. Are you organized and dependable? Are you an effective communicator both in writing and in person? Are you a good listener? Are you a good leader? Do people feel comfortable around you, and do they trust you enough to confide in you? Do you consider yourself to be an empathetic person? Are you a self-starter?
These are soft skills. While each industry puts a different value on hard skills or soft skills, the vast majority of jobs require a balance of both so that a team or workplace can operate effectively.
For example, a medical doctor, whatever their chosen field, requires a vast multitude of hard skills in order to do their job. But there are many aspects of the job that require soft skills. Doctors frequently have to communicate bad or confusing news to their patients, and they must be able to make their patients feel comfortable and safe. This is what’s known as a doctor’s “bedside manner.”
While soft skills can certainly be taught, it is often a more difficult process than teaching someone the hard skills necessary to perform technical tasks. You may be extremely proficient at the technical aspects of your job, but if you can’t communicate with people and are constantly coming into conflict with them, you are unlikely to be hired, and if you are, you are unlikely to receive a promotion or be given more responsibility.
Hard skills can be taught much more easily than soft skills, which is often why soft skills are more sought-after than hard skills in many industries. If you’re a dynamic, adaptable, empathetic, charismatic person who is a natural leader, businesses may want to hire you and worry about training you on the hard skills of the job later.
Being a curious person who is a fast learner is a soft skill that will help you develop any hard skill more quickly.
Soft Skill vs. Hard Skill Examples
Hard skills are a bit more tangible than soft skills. Say you’re a circus clown. Your ability to put children at ease and make them laugh is a soft skill; your ability to juggle is a hard skill. 🤡
- Being able to fluently speak more than one language
- Social media
- User experience (UX) design
- User interface (UI) design
- Photo editing
- Digital design
- Search engine optimization (SEO)
- Google analytics
- Project management
- Email marketing
- Data analysis (data engineering, data mining, database management, and so on.)
This is by no means an exhaustive list of all the soft and hard skills out there, and the hard and soft skills required of you will vary depending on your chosen industry. The important thing to remember is that employers are generally looking for a balanced mix of hard and soft skills.
Continue to develop both as you pursue professional development in your career. Remember that skills, especially hard skills, do not last forever. As your job role and industry evolve, you will continually need to update your training to keep up.
What Hard Skills Are Employers Looking For?
The hard skills employers look for vary from industry to industry.
If you work in a restaurant, sought-after hard skills might include running the POS system, taking food orders, making cocktails, taking inventory, planning daily specials, preparing meals, etc.
In an office, it’s a completely different story. Desired hard skills likely include computer skills, such as typing and proficiency with Word, Excel, Adobe, Zoom, Microsoft Teams, as well as other workplace software. Other hard skills include note taking, writing, answering the phone and taking messages, and inventory management. Sales, marketing, and SEO experience may also be an asset, depending on your role.
Additionally, there are hard skills that may not necessarily be required for your specific role but may come in handy in the workplace and give you an edge over the competition. These hard skills might include photography, graphic design, web design, coding, event planning, and the ability to fix and repair office equipment/technology.
As a marketer, you might not be required to have graphic design abilities, but if you do, these will come in handy for understanding branding basics, designing materials for social media, or preparing event invitations. As the head of HR, you definitely won’t be required to fix a broken coffee machine in the workplace, but knowing how will certainly make you stand out and help you win friends in the office.
Stay at the top of your game by continually learning and seeking out new training for the betterment of your career. Technology continues to evolve, so it is vital that employees stay up-to-date with their training and pursuit of professional development.
What Soft Skills Are Employers Looking For?
Many businesses choose to prioritize soft skills when they search for ideal candidates since these are skills that take much longer to build and hone. Soft skills often come more naturally to some people over others, such as being charismatic and having the ability to communicate effectively.
Adaptability is a soft skill that’s gaining traction with a lot of businesses and hiring managers. Adaptability is your ability to adjust to new conditions as they come. How do you react in the face of change? How well do you adapt to new technologies? Do you fight against change, or do you embrace it as a force for good?
We know there will be change no matter what—change is as certain as the sunset. But many of us fear and resent change. Honing your adaptability skills, such as curiosity, problem solving, resourcefulness, and flexibility, will better prepare you to face change head-on and work with it, not against it.
Empathy is another widely sought-after skill in the workplace. Your ability to be empathetic allows you to better communicate with and understand your managers, coworkers, and clients. As an empathic person, you actively listen to the people speaking to you, ask questions to get to know other people, reserve judgment and condemnation, and treat others the way you want to be treated.
But just because you consider yourself to be adaptable or empathetic doesn’t mean this is the way you act day-to-day. Maintaining an understanding and positive attitude takes work, and if these things don’t come naturally to you, it will take time to develop these skills.
What is soft skill development, and do you need it?
Absolutely! When pursuing personal and professional development, do not neglect your soft skills. Yes, you need to keep up with the technological advancements in your industry and maintain your hard skills, but your soft skills must also be nurtured and developed. It’s these skills that will determine how well you work with others, your problem solving abilities, and whether or not you make a good leader.
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