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Hard Skills vs Soft Skills and the Importance of Having Both

November 19, 2019

The days of dropping off your resume at a prospective company to “show initiative” are long gone. Today’s job market is more competitive and tech-driven than ever before.

Now, employers will seek out a wide range of skills before reaching out for an interview. After an interview, they may even contact multiple references to validate your skills and proficiencies.

But building a robust skill-set doesn’t end once you get the job. In order to advance your career, you’ll need to identify the important soft and hard skills and sharpen them often.

So, what are these two categories of skills and why is it important to be conscious of them? Let’s start with the hard stuff.

What are hard skills?

Hard skills are technical skills that are typically acquired through formal schooling, training, or certifications, and are reinforced through on-the-job experience.

Hard skills get their name for a reason, and that’s because these skills are easier to quantify. For programming, how many lines of code have you written? For data analysis, what were the traffic results for last quarter? For copywriting, which copy had a higher click-through rate for the test? The answers to these questions are quantitative.

Some jobs require an emphasis on hard skills more than others. For example, a marketing specialist’s weekly tasks may consist of researching and writing a blog, pulling data from Google Analytics, and running A/B tests on content. All of these job functions require technical knowledge to complete.

Why are hard skills important?

A study by SHRM found that 46 percent of HR professionals say jobs that go most unfilled are ones that require technical skills like analytics, engineering, programming, and more. IBM reinforces that 2.72 million jobs requiring data science skills will be posted in the next year, opening up an enormous hiring gap. The demand for hard-skilled employees has been steadily rising for years.

How to assess your hard skills

Assessing your hard skills is pretty straightforward. Think of skills you’ve acquired through schooling, training, or certifications. If you’re highlighting hard skills on your resume, think of skills that you regularly use to complete tasks, and organize them in terms of importance.

In today’s tech-driven workforce, highlighting proficiency in software or tools is also important. This can be industry or job-specific tools like Adobe Suite or Salesforce, certifications like Google Analytics, or technical skills like video editing or photography.

If you’re having trouble assessing your hard skills, look at websites like Indeed or LinkedIn, search your role, and examine common hard skills that show up on job postings. You can cross-reference these skills with ones on your resume to see your strengths and potential gaps.

Why you should improve your hard skills

Improving your hard skills or acquiring new ones is a great way to keep your resume fresh and increase your value to a company. With so many online resources today, improving your hard skills and receiving technical training is much easier than it was a decade ago.

Learn More: How to Write a Resume →

Coursera, Udemy, and edX are just a few of the many free online options that can be used to bolster your skill-set. Premium options like Khan Academy and LinkedIn Learning are valuable as well and feature interactive learning. Even YouTube is regarded as a great resource to pick up hard skills like graphic and web design.

For the in-person, more hands-on learners, technical boot camps are a great way to harness new hard skills. These camps, however, can be expensive, so it’s worth saving up or seeing if your employer will sponsor your fees for a camp.

Improving hard skills takes time, practice, and real-life application. It’d be difficult to become proficient in a hard skill until you’ve actually used it for a project or to solve problems. So, roll out your hard skills in small doses or do personal projects where the stakes aren’t as high. Once you’ve thoroughly practiced your newly acquired skills, begin showing them off with confidence.

What are soft skills?

Soft skills are sometimes referred to as “people skills” or “interpersonal skills.” These skills may not be as explicit on job descriptions compared to hard skills, but every employee is expected to have them in some capacity.

Soft skills are less quantifiable than hard skills. Instead, soft skills relate more to work ethic and how others see you in the company, and this can be subjective depending on who you ask. “Marissa is a leader, Daniel is a team-player, Sarah is organized” are all examples of being categorized by soft skills.

Some jobs require an emphasis on soft skills more than others, mostly in roles that require people management. For example, managers, directors, and executives are all expected to have a firm grasp on soft skills to lead their teams to success.

Unless you’re the only employee at your company, everyone is expected to have varying levels of soft skills. These are the skills that will drive organizational change and have a direct impact on company culture.

Why are soft skills important?

A recent survey by LinkedIn Learning found that 57 percent of leaders claim soft skills like time management, leadership, and collaboration are more important than hard skills. In addition, 92 percent of HR professionals and senior executives say that organizational design is very important. The focus on empowering employees and molding soft skills has also been on the rise.

How to assess your soft skills

Assessing your soft skills will take some introspection as well as reaching out to peers for some honest feedback. Why is this? Well, you may think of yourself as a “collaborative leader,” but until you ask around, you only have a limited view of your most prominent soft skills.

There are also technological solutions for assessing soft skills today. Free online personality tests like the Myers–Briggs will give you an overview of your strongest and weakest interpersonal traits. Paid online personality tests like Crystal Knows will provide in-depth analyses on your work-style and how you relate to others.

Why you should improve your soft skills

Improving your soft skills has its benefits regardless of your role in a company.

For employees: Strengthening your soft skills is a great way to balance your hard skills and show initiative. Managers look for employees with strong soft skills to step up and take charge of projects, as well as manage deadlines.

For managers: Strengthening your soft skills can lead to better people management and a deeper understanding of what motivates your employees. This helps build trust, transparency, and respect. You’ll also be able to resolve team issues and identify bottlenecks in production more effectively.

If you’re a manager looking to foster a happier workplace, here are six managerial soft skills to consider improving.

For executives: Strengthening your soft skills can lead to a clearer understanding of your company culture and where it’s headed. You’ll also be able to translate the health of the company more effectively to other stakeholders.

Hard skills vs soft skills – which is more important?

So, what’s the verdict? Hard skills or soft skills? The answer to that question depends on who you ask. Your financial, legal, and marketing teams may say hard skills, while your employee success, brand, and communications teams may say soft skills.

The reality is both hard and soft skills are needed to drive a high-performing organization. There will always be people who build groundbreaking products and produce unparalleled content, but there will also be people who will need to lead these endeavors. You simply cannot run a successful organization with only hard-skilled or only soft-skilled employees. Finding harmony between the two categories of skills and how they complement each other is crucial.

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