Hard Skills vs Soft Skills: Definitions & Examples

Hard Skills: usually obtained through hands-on experience or education. Soft skills: more interpersonal than technical and typically involve personality traits

Which is more important: hard skills or soft skills?

Trick question! To be successful in any role, you need a combination of relevant hard skills and soft skills.

But what’s the difference between hard skills and soft skills, and how does this knowledge improve your chances of landing a job?

Every job requires a certain set of both hard skills and soft skills. Every person has their own unique set of skills. When it comes to finding the right job for you, you need to match your acquired skills with a position’s required skills.

In this guide, we’ll break down everything you need to know about hard skills and soft skills, including:

  • how to define hard skills and soft skills
  • why hard skills and soft skills are both important
  • how to develop hard skills and soft skills
  • where to find hard skills and soft skills in a job description
  • how to feature hard skills and soft skills on a resume
  • how to highlight hard skills and soft skills during an interview

As you read through this article, you’re already demonstrating a key soft skill: the willingness to learn!

What is the difference between hard skills and soft skills?

To put it simply, the main differences between hard skills and soft skills are how you obtain them and how you apply them in the workplace. 

Hard skills are usually obtained through hands-on experience or education. On the other hand, soft skills are more akin to personality traits that you have naturally developed throughout your life. 

For example, a hard skill would be typing. No one is born with the instinct to type. Rather, it has to be learned over time, usually through some type of schooling or education. 

Soft skills are more interpersonal than technical. For example, a soft skill would be time management or relationship-building. Soft skills are typically something that you find yourself naturally good at, without having to learn it through education or hands-on training. However, you can still improve your soft skills, just as you can improve your hard skills. 

Certain hard skills will be a prerequisite for a job. Again, look at the example of typing. This skill is very important if you’re an administrative assistant or copywriter. However, typing is less important if you’re a landscaper or a chef.

Certain soft skills are necessary for most jobs. Look at the examples of time management and relationship-building. The vast majority of jobs require employees to manage their time well. However, not all roles require strong relationship-building skills.

Hard skills are easier to quantify than soft skills, but both are important. 

When you understand the difference between hard skills and soft skills, then you can determine which skills to highlight on your resume or in an interview.

Infographic explaining the difference between hard skills and soft skills, explaining why both are important, and listing examples of hard skills and soft skills. Infographic text is also in the blog post.

What are hard skills?

Hard skills, or technical skills, are learned through education or hands-on experience. These are concrete, measurable abilities that are often specific to a job. You can demonstrate your proficiency in hard skills through relevant certifications, portfolios, or skill assessment tests. Different professions will require different criteria for expertise. 

For some professions, like lawyers and doctors, you need advanced degrees and rigorous testing to prove your hard skills. For other professions, like web developers or copywriters, you can learn the skills on your own or on the job, and you can prove your hard skills with a portfolio of work.

You should highlight your hard skills when putting together your cover letter and resume. This allows a hiring manager to see the relevant skills you’ve acquired in past work experiences or education. Use the job description as a guide when deciding which hard skills to showcase. 

Only include relevant work experience, particularly any past jobs that allowed you to acquire or utilize your hard skills. This will show the hiring manager that you match what they’re looking for in a candidate.

For example, your hobby YouTube channel might be relevant for a job in the creative space. Hard skills include video-editing, graphic design, and social media analytics. However, if you’re applying for a job in engineering, you would most likely not feature this experience.

While certain hard skills will absolutely be mandatory for many jobs — medical training is rigorous for a reason — other hard skills might be negotiable. Don’t be afraid to apply for a position that matches your overall passion and expertise, even if you’re missing a few hard skills. Point out your related hard skills, your ability to learn quickly, and your willingness to do any training to learn the required hard skill. For example, if you have used other programs for video-editing and graphic design, but not Adobe Creative Suite, you can explain how your existing hard skills will help you learn the new programs quickly.

There are many hard skills across a wide range of professions. Here are a few examples.

Examples of hard skills

  • Foreign languages
  • Adobe Creative Suite 
  • Healthcare-related certifications or licenses
  • Programming languages (JavaScript, etc) 
  • Website development 
  • Content development 
  • Copywriting 
  • Copyediting 
  • Budgeting
  • SEO marketing 
  • Statistical analysis 
  • User interface (UI) design 
  • Proofreading 

This list only contains a few examples of hard skills, as there are a wide variety of skills that pertain to all different industries and job functions. 

However, this list gives you an idea of how to recognize the difference between hard skills and soft skills. 

What are soft skills?

Now that you understand hard skills, what about soft skills?

Soft skills, or people skills, are traits and abilities that you develop throughout your entire life. Soft skills speak to how and why you are motivated to do certain things. They speak directly to your personality. These interpersonal skills are difficult to define or to measure, but they’re still valuable in the workplace.

When choosing which soft skills to include on your cover letter and resume, look back to the job description. While some soft skills will be listed in the Skills/Qualifications section, you might find others throughout the entire job description. Look for any requirements that relate to what motivates you or how you work with other people.

Definitely include a list of your relevant soft skills on your resume. In addition, your cover letter is the place to demonstrate your soft skills. Explain the why and the how behind your top career accomplishments.

Let’s use the same example of a hobby YouTube channel. Relevant soft skills include creativity, communication, and collaboration. Here’s one way to demonstrate those soft skills in a cover letter.

When an update came out for this software, I knew from my experience with past updates that many of my followers would be confused or overwhelmed by the new features. I collaborated with other niche YouTubers to create comprehensive videos on the update. Each of us covered a single feature, and then we all promoted each other.

This description explains the why and the how behind one of your videos, showcasing your soft skills of listening, collaborating, and communicating.

Examples of soft skills

  • Communication
  • Critical thinking 
  • Adaptability 
  • Creativity 
  • Problem-solving 
  • Organization 
  • Willingness to learn 
  • Leadership 
  • Dependability 
  • Work ethic
  • Teamwork
  • Time management
  • Decision-making

While this list of examples doesn’t cover every soft skill that you may have or relate to, it’s a solid starting place when considering what you may put on your resume or discuss in an interview. 

And this list contains the most desirable set of soft skills from employers today. 

What skills are employers looking for?

Employers are looking for a combination of hard skills and soft skills as they assess candidates. As already shown through various examples, the exact skills you need depend on the job and the industry. For some jobs, strong soft skills can make up for a lack in a recommended hard skill.

The job description is the key to understanding which skills are necessary for the job you want. Refer back to the job description when writing your resume and cover letter to assess which skills to include. Keep these skills in mind while prepping for your interview.

How to develop hard skills

Taking the time to learn a new technical skill can help you stand out from other job seekers. Here are just a few ways to develop hard skills:

  • Sign up for continuing education classes.
  • Follow tutorials on YouTube.
  • Attend a workshop.
  • Apply the new skill to a personal project, learning through trial and error.

If you’re currently employed, look for learning opportunities at your workplace. Even if you’re actively looking for a new job, you can take advantage of classes, webinars, and workshops offered by your current employer.

How to develop soft skills

Improving your soft skills is not as straightforward, but you can still do it. First, you need to know which soft skills you want to develop. Perform an honest self-assessment. You can also ask for feedback from your boss, colleagues, family, and friends.

For example, if you’re frequently late to work, or you tend to miss deadlines, then you might need to develop time management. If you’re interested in a promotion, then you might need to develop leadership skills.

Once you know which soft skills you want to develop, then it’s time to start working on them. Some soft skills you can develop through learning. All soft skills you can develop by doing. After all, practice makes perfect!

To develop time management, you might first watch a webinar on productivity, and then apply each tip. To develop leadership skills, you might spearhead a new project at work or request more responsibility in your volunteer role.

How do you use soft and hard skills on your resume?

You will want to find ways to detail both your soft and hard skills on your resume as well. 

As for your hard skills, you can create a section on your resume titled “Skills” and list out all relevant skills. 

For example, it could look something like: 

SKILLS 

Copywriting | Copyediting | Proofreading | Adobe Creative Cloud | Video-Editing | DSLR Film 

Don’t feel like you have to list every single skill you have. Leave room to discuss your skillset in the interview or in your cover letter.  

As for soft skills, you will want to detail these in a sentence form within the bullet points you have under each job experience. 

For everything that you did in your past experiences, you can usually detail a soft skill that enabled you to be successful. 

For example: 

  • Used effective communication skills and leadership abilities to work with multiple stakeholders in the company to produce web and video content that aligned with each of their visions and deadlines.

How do you use soft and hard skills in an interview?

Detailing your hard skills in an interview is a bit easier than your soft skills. As you share your relevant job experience and education, you’ll naturally demonstrate your proficiency with the hard skills you’ve developed. 

Soft skills, on the other hand, require a bit more explanation and application. 

A great method for talking about your soft skills is the STAR method. Using this, you can talk about a Situation, Task, Action, and Result. 

When talking about your soft skills in an interview setting, you’re going to be answering questions that show your behavioral responses. 

For example, if you were asked to “describe a time when you faced a difficult work situation,” you might start by talking about the situation, what you were tasked with, and how your decisions and soft skills helped you take a certain action to gain a certain result. 

This is a great way to tackle those questions while also detailing your soft skills. 

Your answer might be: 

“I had to share constructive criticism with someone on my team who didn’t take it well. I love connecting with people, especially to understand their perspective, so I opened the floor for questions and concerns, and we talked through it together. By the end of the conversation, we both felt better off about the situation, and we walked away from the conversation with a plan of action for moving forward.” 

In conclusion

What are soft skills and hard skills? Soft skills are those skills that come naturally and uniquely to everyone. 

Soft skills include leadership, effective communication, teamwork, time management, motivation and adaptability. 

On the other hand, hard skills are those that are gained through hands-on experience, training, or education.  

Hard skills include things like accounting, Microsoft Excel, typing, copywriting, or computer programming. 

When applying for jobs, it’s important to read through all the details in the job description so you can decide what’s important to include in your list of hard skills vs. soft skills. 

If you want to see how your soft and hard skills align with job openings across the country, visit our job board at https://jobs.insightglobal.com today to get in touch with a Recruiter.