Which is more important in your career: 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 how do you leverage each into landing a job or growing within your career?
Every job requires a certain set of both hard skills and soft skills, and every person has their own unique set of skills. When it comes to finding the right career, you need to match the skills you have with a position’s required skills.
In this guide to what hard skills and soft skills are, we’ll break down everything you need to know, including:
- The definitions of 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 and in 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 coding. No one is born with the instinct to code. Rather, it has to be learned over time, usually through some type of schooling, education, courses, upskilling, or other skill development program. Certain hard skills will often be a prerequisite for a job. Again, look at the example of coding. This skill is very important if you’re a developer or web designer. However, coding is less important if you’re an administrative assistant or project manager.
Soft skills, however, are more interpersonal than technical. They’re sometimes known as durable skills. For example, an example of some soft skills would be time management and 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.
Soft skills are necessary for most jobs. Look at the examples of time management and relationship-building. Developers, administrative assistants, project managers, and web designers all need some level of relationship building. But some of these roles require it more than others on a day-to-day basis.
One of the main differences between hard skills and soft skills is hard skills are easier to quantify than soft skills. But both are important to developing yourself professionally, a.
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.
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, skill assessment tests, and completed work. 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.
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. (The willingness to learn hard skills—and doing it quickly—is actually a great soft 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.
Examples of Hard Skills
Here is a short list of examples of hard skills:
- Speaking foreign languages
- Experience with Adobe Creative Suite
- Healthcare-related certifications or licenses
- Website development
- Content development
- Working with certain machinery
- Statistical and data analysis
- User interface (UI) design
- Experience with certain platforms or software
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.
Examples of soft skills
- Critical thinking
- Willingness to learn
- Work ethic
- Time management
While this list of examples doesn’t cover every soft skill that you may have, it’s a solid starting place when considering what you may put on your resume or discuss in an interview.
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.
But if you identify there’s a gap between your hard and soft skills and the job description of the job you want, how do you develop these skills?
How to develop hard skills
Taking the time to learn a new technical skill can help you stand out from other job seekers. A few ways to develop hard skills include:
- 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
- Get coached by a mentor or teammate
Even if you’re employed but are 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.
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. These skills can take a long time to develop as you unlearn old habits and learn new ones.
How do you use hard skills and soft skills on your resume?
You will want to find ways to detail both your skills on your resume as well.
Hard Skills on a Resume
As for your hard skills, you can create a section on your resume titled “Skills” and list out all relevant skills to the job you’re applying to.
For example, it could look something like:
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, in your cover letter, or within the experience part of your resume.
Soft Skills on a Resume
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.
- 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.
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.
In addition, your cover letter is the place to demonstrate your soft skills. Explain the why and the how behind your top career accomplishments.
Overall, refer back to the job description to assess which skills to emphasize. And keep these skills in mind while prepping for your interview.
How showcase soft and hard skills in an interview?
Once you get to the interview phase, you can showcase your soft and hard skills to hiring managers.
Showing up on time (and even early) for an interview showcases time management. Asking questions about the company and goals of the role shows your willingness to learn. Responding to real-life scenarios with unique but specific answers can show your problem-solving and critical thinking.
Hard skills can be a little more difficult to showcase when talking to another person, but managers may ask you complete skills assessments before and after the conversation.
Hard Skills vs. Soft Skills: They Both Matter
What are soft skills and hard skills?
Soft skills are those skills that come naturally and uniquely to everyone. These 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 the Insight Global job board for your next opportunity.