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Written by Paul DruryPaul Drury

Hard skills vs. soft skills: What they are and how to use them to your advantage

18 min read
Hard skills vs. soft skills: What they are and how to use them to your advantage
Artwork by:Ruslan Vyaltsev
The hard and soft skills that underpin your achievements indicate your suitability for a role. This blog will show you how to highlight them during the recruitment process.

In a world of nuanced behavior, you might think that it is rather simplistic to be able to define two broad categories of skills, but the mix of an employee’s hard and soft skills has been proven to dictate their success.

The question of hard skills versus soft skills is therefore vital for any job seeker to understand.

Employers are interested in both sets of skills, but exactly which skills they require will vary wildly depending on the nature of the job. We explore how to approach weaving hard and soft skills into your career stories – you will only get the job if the hiring manager understands how you achieved something (on top of quantifying your impact).

Here is what we will consider:

  • What is the difference between hard skills versus soft skills?
  • What are soft skills? What are hard skills?
  • How can you develop hard skills vs. soft skills?
  • Highlighting hard skills and soft skills on a resume

Which hard skills vs. soft skills will secure you your dream job? They are not in competition with one another – on the contrary they often work in tandem.

Expert tip

Are soft skills really that important? According to LinkedIn’s 2019 Global Talent Trends report, soft skills are at the top of the list of new priorities for hiring managers. They are easy to quantify with psychometric testing and an increasing proportion of interviews will be dedicated to how your behaviors influenced your results.

What is the difference between hard skills and soft skills?

Hard skills are job-related technical and practical abilities that employees need to do their jobs effectively. They may be improved via education or training and polished throughout the course of a career.

Soft skills are behavioral traits and qualities that help you to work with others and thrive in the workplace. Different roles will prioritize various soft skills. Employees who aren’t afraid to try new challenges will develop their soft skills the most.

Let’s look at hard skills vs. soft skills in some more detail with examples.

Focus on these soft skills in 2022
Focus on these soft skills in 2022

What are soft skills?

Soft skills are characteristics and personality traits that relate to how you go about your work, often revolving around how you interact with others. They are qualities that a person usually possesses outside of the workplace, and they can be developed as employees experience and react to different situations.

Soft skills are prized by employers as they can ensure that crucial marginal gain in performance when all else is equal. Here are some top soft skills with examples:

Resourcefulness

You never quite know what lies around the corner to ruin the best-laid plans. How do you harness your creativity to find a solution? Which of the paths forward will lead to the optimal outcome? You aren’t intending to let this issue stop you from moving forward, so use your resourcefulness and creativity to work out the way of getting there.

Example
  • Creative thinking
  • Problem solving
  • Troubleshooting
  • Organizational skills
  • Planning
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Positive attitude

You might think that positivity (or lack thereof) is a fixed personality trait, but there are a whole host of soft skills that involve positivity, mental resilience and a quiet optimism. The power of persistence and seeing a tough task through to the end starts with a simple motivation to keep going. When you practice positivity, any setback can be turned around.

Example
  • Charisma
  • Outgoing
  • Friendly
  • Motivating
  • Mental resilience
  • Persistence
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Collaboration

The best results are achieved when you work with others towards a common goal. Collaboration is one of the most powerful soft skills, as the ability to coax a diverse group of people in the same direction is far from a simple matter. Can you empathize with people who think differently? Can you resolve a conflict when emotions are running high?

Example
  • Teamwork
  • Leadership
  • Empathy
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Tolerance
  • Conflict resolution
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Adaptability

Changing how you do things to suit the circumstances seems like a way of life these days. How do you react when the ground is shifting under your feet? Are you able to manage the stress and communicate your ideas clearly to others when uncertainty hits? If people see you as a flexible thinker, they will look to you for leadership when things are unclear.

Example
  • Flexibility
  • Follows instructions
  • Stress management
  • Communication
  • Customer service
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Work ethic

The value of keeping on keeping on cannot be underestimated. There is a lot to be said for making a habit of getting your head down and plowing through an impossible workload. Learning to use a deadline as a motivation rather than a threat is one of the most important soft skills. Cultivating the ability to be productive is incredibly beneficial.

Example
  • Determined
  • Motivated
  • Focused
  • Deadline-oriented
  • Time management
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Critical thinking

Critical thinking skills help us to tease out the right way forward when multiple solutions seem equally plausible. If you absorb the views of those around you and do your research in the right places, the optimal result will come. Critical thinkers can shape the direction or projects and help to lead those around them.

Example
  • Observation
  • Negotiation
  • Persuasion
  • Analytical skills
  • Strategic planning
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What are hard skills?

Hard skills are the practical and technical skills that employees often require to do their jobs. They are acquired on the job and improved through practice and further study. If a job seeker cannot demonstrate that they have the required hard skills, job offers will be hard to come by, although employers would rather teach someone the hard skills who possess the right soft skills (than the other way around).

Hard skills are incredibly varied depending on your role, but there are many such as technical skills and sales and marketing that are becoming increasingly important across multiple functions and occupations. 

Technical skills

Technical skills are required across an increasing range of professions. They help to simplify processes, move companies closer to their customers, and optimize outcomes. The path to proficiency is tried and tested – technical abilities are easily measured.

Example
  • Network security
  • Programming
  • Data science
  • Cloud computing
  • HTML
  • AI
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Sales & marketing

The sales and marketing functions are far more scientific than you might imagine. The art of reaching and influencing customers has been perfected over the decades of our consumer-led society. Even the smallest tweaks in an A/B test can lead to vastly different results. Sales and marketing hard skills can make a huge difference to the bottom line.

Example
  • CRM systems
  • SEO/SEM marketing
  • UI/UX design
  • Social media
  • Web design
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Finance

Financial literacy is vital for anyone with management aspirations, as well as those who work in various financial roles. Proficiency in the various types of software and hardware frees up time for the softer aspects of the role such as influencing – when you have conducted some reliable analysis you have to persuade others to act on it.

Example
  • Accounting software
  • Financial modeling
  • P&L management
  • GAAP
  • Auditing
  • Risk
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Others

There are many other hard skills that can add to your impact at work. Mastering another language can lead to unique opportunities, the ability to write coherently can save time having to explain yourself and the dark arts of efficient project management are still a mystery to many. No matter what you do, there is a hard skill to make you better at it.

Example
  • Languages
  • Graphic design
  • Copywriting
  • Project management
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How can you develop hard skills vs. soft skills?

Hard skills can be acquired by taking a training course or studying in various ways to then hone them in the work environment. There are specific competencies to be mastered and then put into practice.

Soft skills, on the other hand, are improved through experiences and introspection. You never know how you might need to act in a certain scenario, and you will only be able to assess the impact of your actions after the event. Learning from mistakes and understanding your impact on those around you lies at the heart of improving your soft skills.

Employers test for soft skills with behavioral and situational interviewing techniques. They put you in a theoretical or actual scenario and ask how you would (or how you did) solve a certain problem. Your answers will then inform their opinion on how you might perform in the role.

Highlighting hard skills and soft skills on a resume

It is important to show the progression of both your hard and soft skills on your resume.

Understand which skills will be in demand for each individual role (they will hopefully match your experience to a large extent) and share accomplishments where these skills have been central to your success.

Where to showcase hard skills vs. soft skills

There is no need to separate hard skills vs. soft skills as you write your resume. Each type of skill can be related to the sample career accomplishment so do not be afraid to mention them in the same breath. You can share them in the following places:

Summary. The summary section should be reserved for your most impactful career stories. If you possess a rare hard or technical skill, this would be the place to share it. It is rare that any soft skill will be so unique – they are less easy to quantify succinctly, so consider leaving them until later in the resume. 

Skills section. The skills section is the obvious place to highlight both hard and soft skills, but the reality is more complicated. Soft skills are not ideal to list here as they do not mean much without the context of an achievement, although you may choose to list a soft skill that is from outside of the career sphere. Hard skills and qualifications are more impressive, but only list them here if they will give you an advantage over your peers. Do not share a long list of hard skills that most other candidates can also boast about. That will impress no one.

Employment history. The employment history section is where both your hard and soft skills can come to life. Assuming that your resume will be read by an expert in your industry, you sometimes don’t even have to spell out which skills were involved in a certain accomplishment. Make a list of the top hard and soft skills required for the role, find the best fit accomplishments from your career, and let your story do the rest.

Key takeaways

Sharing your mix of hard skill vs. soft skills is critical to securing that dream job.

It is true that recruiters might not pay so much attention to your soft skill claims as they are harder to quantify, but once you get into that interview room you can be sure that employers will be all ears. 

Tell a balanced story of how your skills enable you to make your difference.

  • Pick hard and soft skills that fit with the demands of the role
  • Show how you have developed these skills through your career
  • Share appropriate skills in the right resume and cover letter sections
  • Be as unique as possible – you don’t want to seem like one of the crowd
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