Hard Skills VS Soft Skills: How Are They Different? (with Examples)

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Years ago, when I was working as an inside sales account manager, there were people on my team who were consistently the top-performing employees. We all knew how to get the job done, but there were a select few who had the charisma, interpersonal skills, and persuasive abilities to land the sales.

These skills may not have been immediately obvious on their resumes, but they were key to their success.

And this is true for most professions. Those who make it to the top have that “X” factor that others never quite mastered. But why are these skills unique and how do you communicate them to potential employers?

To get hired, you obviously need to have the necessary skills to complete the required tasks. For example, you’re not going to be interviewed for a position in IT if you don’t know how to work a computer. As hiring managers receive a bulk of resumes from people who all possess the necessary hard skills for the job at hand, how can you stand out from the crowd?

Employers are looking for candidates who possess certain soft skills that relate to one’s personality, such as leadership qualities, time management abilities, and communication skills.

The demand for soft skills has been on the rise for decades now, so it’s important to be able to pinpoint which soft skills you possess and how these personal characteristics can make you stand out as a potential employee.  Employers are looking for candidates with a hybrid skill set who can keep up with the competitive and continuously evolving economy.

In this article, we are going to provide an overview of both hard and soft skills, and look at seven examples of each to make the difference between the two clear. Once you understand the importance of having both hard and soft skills, you can be sure that your resume is created in a way to attract the employers that would be the best fit for you. And, because it can be hard to “prove” your soft skills on your resume, we will talk about how you can show you have these skills during the interview process.

First, let’s take a deeper look at the difference between hard and soft skills.

What Is the Difference Between Hard and Soft Skills?

There are several differences between hard and soft skills. First, is how each type of skill is obtained. While hard skills are competencies learned through education or training, soft skills are more subjective personality traits that you’re either born with or you develop through life experiences. Hard skills are the technical knowledge you gain through training that get you in the door, soft skills are the personality traits that make you a good employee and keep you there.

It’s easy to quantify hard skills because they’re specific, and often define the fundamental requirements of a job. Soft skills are more difficult to measure–but they’re transferable across all industries.

So in addition to hiring people who know what they’re doing, employers look for candidates with a specific set of soft skills that can’t be taught as easily as hard skills. These innate personality traits can be developed–but it takes time, and employers would rather hire someone who’s already there.

Let’s look at some examples of each to further clarify the difference between the two.

7 Examples of Hard Skills

1. Bilingual

Being bilingual (or multilingual) is a highly sought-after trait in our global economy. Our economic system heavily relies on different nations, so being able to communicate with people in other countries is a key selling point for job seekers.

Reports show that unlike some other hard skills, being bilingual is relevant in a variety of industries, such as health care, finance, social services, sales, and public service.

Tip: When it comes to this hard skill, it’s important to not overstate your abilities on your resume, as inflating your proficiency in a foreign language could easily backfire during an interview. If you’ve taken Spanish classes but aren’t fluent, make this clear on your resume by clarifying if you have a basic knowledge of another language, you’re proficient, or you’re fluent.

2. Computer Technology

Technology-related hard skills are important in most jobs these days and should be included on a resume and tailored to the specific job at hand. Even jobs that largely rely on soft skills, such as sales or customer service, now require employees to use technology and software. Some technology skills that are in demand are:

  • Proficiency in Microsoft Office Suite
  • Cloud foundations
  • Cybersecurity
  • HTML
  • Knowledge of NoSQL database systems
  • Pivot tables

When listing your technology skills on your resume, tailor them to the job description. Sometimes having a list of technical skills is sufficient; but, depending on the skill, it may be necessary to elaborate on the extent of your experience or knowledge.

3. Data Analysis

Data analysis skills are not unique to technical careers, they’re valued in a variety of industries. It's beneficial for companies to hire people who understand how data is collected and how it’s relevant in helping the company meet its goals.

Data is often used in making critical business decisions, such as eliminating a program that’s not generating income. Some key data analysis skills to list on a resume include resource management, database management, and data engineering.

4. Design

Having good taste or an eye for creativity is one thing, but knowing how to put that sense to work is another. There are elements to design and relevant tools that can only be learned through formal training, and being able to keep up with consumers’ growing aesthetic standards also requires keeping up with the hard skills that employers are looking for.

Some of these include:

  • Adobe- Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign
  • Digital Product Design Software- InVision, Xara, Sketch
  • User Interface and User Experience Design

5. Bookkeeping

Knowing how to work programs such as QuickBooks and tax software in addition to having accounting skills and the ability to work with spreadsheets are important subsets of hard skills when it comes to being able to manage the finances for a business. Keeping accurate records and managing cash flow are skills that one can learn in school and are specific to this career.

6. Construction

You can’t be successful working in construction if you don’t know how to build safe structures that are in compliance with local codes. Studies show that over one-third of contractors fail due to having inadequate hard skills to get the job done right. You have to have knowledge of building and engineering in addition to the strength and endurance that the job requires to actually manufacture the job at hand.

If you’re applying for a career in any type of legal services, you have to be able to demonstrate on your resume that you have a working knowledge of the law. This can be done by listing any law degrees you may have or highlighting past experience that has prepared you to be successful in subsequent legal positions. Some key items to note may be having advanced experience in:

  • Reading and writing contracts
  • Civil procedures in criminal law
  • Constitutional law
  • Explaining wills and trusts
  • Evidence
  • Property laws

As you can see, these hard skills are industry-specific and can only be learned through training or education. One wouldn’t necessarily need to know how to work PhotoShop in order to be a successful lawyer. These are the skills that people purposefully gain before entering the job market so they know what they’re doing once they’re working.

But if you were hiring an accountant, wouldn’t you want someone who has the credentials–and also has great attention to detail?

7 Examples of Soft Skills

1. Communication

Your communication skills encompass your ability to clearly exchange information with others and work in a team environment. No matter what industry you’re working in, having effective verbal and written communication skills is critical to your success.

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Having strong communication skills is vital from the beginning to the end of the hiring process, but stating you have this skill on your resume is generic and meaningless.

Studies have found that communication skills–the ability to bridge the gap between yourself and whomever you’re in contact with–is the most important skill for those who are entering the job market.

Having strong communication skills is vital from the beginning to the end of the hiring process, but stating you have this skill on your resume is generic and meaningless. Later, we’ll talk about how you can address this issue.

2. Time Management

Having good time management skills is a critical piece to having an active and efficient work environment. This is a soft skill that can be gained with experience, and will probably look a bit different in every position you hold.

Time management involves being able to properly plan, prioritize, and stay organized. Those who have good time management skills are able to look at the big picture of what has to get accomplished and the smaller tasks that are required to get there.

3. Conflict Management

Seeing as U.S. employers spend almost three hours a week diffusing conflict, hiring employees who can reduce conflict at the source is an attractive trait. Employees have various priorities, communication styles, opinions, and work ethics, which frequently leads to interpersonal issues.

But conflict doesn’t have to be a negative thing. If someone has good conflict management skills, they’re able to respectfully handle disagreements in a productive way, providing a positive outcome. With this soft skill, employees work together to resolve conflict using communication and compromise rather than arguing.

4. Problem-Solving

This soft skill requires being able to identify an underlying issue and execute a solution. This may involve brainstorming, gathering data, and evaluating various solution options.

Having good problem-solving skills requires you to have a collection of soft skills that are needed in order to successfully navigate unexpected, complicated, or unprecedented issues that emerge in the workplace. Having problem-solving skills is important because it demonstrates to potential employers that you’re self-sufficient.

5. Adaptability

Adaptability refers to being able to quickly pick up on new processes in response to constantly changing elements. Having adaptability skills means you’re willing to learn, try new things, and adjust to workplace transitions as needed.  This is an important soft skill to have because it shows you’re able to grow within your role.

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Adaptability refers to being able to quickly pick up on new processes in response to constantly changing elements.

Someone who is adaptable can respond effectively to unexpected changes in their working conditions and roll with the punches. Being adaptable is critical when working on projects, strategizing, and taking new approaches to doing familiar tasks.

6. Leadership

Being a good leader doesn’t come naturally to everyone, but this skill can be acquired through practice and experience. Employers want to hire people that they can depend on to properly direct others, inspire people to do their best, and make good decisions. People with good leadership skills can keep the rest of the team motivated and encourage a positive working environment–so naturally, employers look for this skill.

7. Teamwork

Your teamwork skills are the characteristics that help you work well with others on projects, in conversation, and in other business collaborations. Those with good teamwork skills are able to listen and respect other people’s ideas, take personal responsibility for their work, and positively contribute to an organization. Having good teamwork skills can ultimately help you build rapport and connections with others, which could lead to new opportunities.

I’m sure you’ve come up with some others on your own while reading through this list of soft skills. So, how are you supposed to communicate to a potential employer that you have a hybrid of both hard and soft skills?

How to Communicate Your Hybrid Skill Set

You can have a degree that demonstrates your hard IT skills, but there’s no certificate you can earn to prove you’re excellent with conflict resolution. Because of this, you have to demonstrate your soft skills by highlighting examples of situations in which you’ve used them, both on your resume and throughout the interview process.

For your hard skills, make sure to tailor your resume to each company and position you’re applying for. Even if they’re all in the same field, different companies have nuances that they may focus on in the hiring process, and you want to show that you’ve noticed each company’s priorities.

For example, on your resume, you may state, “Identified and eliminated $1200 of unnecessary monthly expenses for ABC Corp within the first two months of employment” rather than, “I am detail-oriented”.

Take some time to think about specific situations in which your soft skills have either come in handy or they’ve benefitted whatever company you were working for at the time. If you can’t fit these examples into your resume, keep them in your back pocket to bring up during your interview.

If you have references that can attest to the effectiveness of your soft skills, make sure to include these people as references, and let them know ahead of time if there is a particular skill that you really want to convey to your potential employer. Chances are, an employer may choose you over another candidate whose hard skills are stronger but who lacks the same proven level of soft skills.

Final Thoughts on Soft Skills vs Hard Skills

Since you need both hard and soft skills to be successful in any type of work, identify areas of strength that you have where you’ve noticed others may be lacking, and come up with anecdotes to complement this.

Emphasize both your hard and soft skills throughout the interview process when looking for any type of job. When you do this, you may be able to “make up for” some technical experience that you’re lacking with a valuable personality trait in return. Make yourself appear to be the “whole package” to employers by emphasizing your soft skills and hard skills that work in harmony to make you who you are.

Connie Stemmle is a professional editor, freelance writer and ghostwriter. She holds a BS in Marketing and a Master’s Degree in Social Work. When she is not writing, Connie is either spending time with her 4-year-old daughter, running, or making efforts in her community to promote social justice.

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Hard Skills VS Soft Skills: How Are They Different? (with Examples)