Resumes & Cover Letters

Hard Skills vs. Soft Skills

May 6, 2021

Employers often ask for a combination of hard skills and soft skills in job descriptions and look for these skills on resumes. Hard skills are related to specific technical knowledge and training, while soft skills are personality traits such as leadership and time management. In most jobs, successfully performing and advancing your career requires both types of skills. In this article, we'll compare hard skills and soft skills, give some types of each with examples and provide some advice about how to highlight your skills on your resume and in interviews.

What are hard skills?

Hard skills involve technical knowledge or training. People get this knowledge and training through life experience. Here are some examples of hard skills:

  • People who have worked in food service or retail often know how to use a point-of-sale system to take payments from customers.
  • Mechanics need to know how to operate specialized tools and diagnose problems in a variety of vehicles.
  • If you've studied a foreign language, you may be able to speak it fluently.
  • A programmer needs an extensive understanding of the programming language the business prefers to update or create customized software.
  • If you want to work as an architect, you'll need to know how to use drafting software.

Almost every job requires technical skills specific to that industry. Some positions also require licensing or proficiency tests. For example, architects in Canada must take a licensing exam after a three-year apprenticeship and register with the relevant provincial or territorial association of architects. Many other industries require such tests, and some employers teach certain technical skills on the job.

What are soft skills?

Soft skills are habits and characteristics that shape how you work on your own and with others. Many employers search for people who can communicate with others effectively, in person and in writing. Others desire organized, dependable and creative people who are good listeners and work well within a team.

Soft skills are essential for a successful job search and for developing your career. People use hard skills to perform technical tasks, and they use soft skills to create a positive, functional and efficient work environment. For this reason, employers often seek individuals who possess a balanced set of proven soft and hard skills. Depending on the needs of the organization and the requirements of the position, employers prioritize soft and hard skills differently.

Although some hard skills require years of education and training, some soft skills are even harder to develop. For example, training someone for a leadership position without at least some natural leadership ability can be challenging. Many businesses consider hiring people with soft skills who are willing to learn and develop the required hard skills. Ask your references to discuss your soft skills, like empathy and the ability to resolve conflicts and how these skills benefited the company and its clients or customers.

Types of hard skills with examples

Here are some of the most in-demand hard skills, along with useful examples:

Communication skills

Certain communication skills can be classed as hard skills. Common hard communication skills required to perform certain jobs include:

  • copywriting
  • speaking more than one language fluently
  • editing
  • researching
  • reporting
  • translation
  • transcription and typing
  • word processing
  • social media

Computer technology

Nearly every employee needs a basic understanding of computers to perform their job effectively. However, many positions also ask for a more in-depth understanding of various hard skills related to computer technology, including:

  • pivot tables
  • Microsoft Office, including Word, Outlook, Excel, PowerPoint, Publisher and Access
  • HTML
  • CSS
  • Perl
  • Python
  • Ruby
  • WordPress
  • JavaScript
  • content management systems (CMS)
  • Adobe software suite
  • iOS and Android app development
  • web development and web architecture frameworks
  • network security

Read More: Technical Skills: Definitions and Examples

Data analysis

Several occupations require hard skills related to data analysis, including:

  • data engineering
  • database management
  • data mining
  • data visualization
  • web analytics
  • statistical analysis
  • data mining

Read More: Analytical Skills: Essential for Every Job

Marketing

Here are several of the most in-demand hard skills in the field of marketing:

  • email marketing
  • search engine optimization (SEO)
  • search engine marketing (SEM)
  • Google analytics
  • project management
  • campaign management

Design

Being a successful designer requires several hard skills, and they often align with the latest technology used in the industry. The most common hard skills that employers seek for design positions include:

  • user experience (UX) or user interface (UI) design
  • software revision control systems
  • digital design
  • photo editing

Types of soft skills with examples

Here are some of the many valuable soft skills, along with useful examples:

Communication

Soft communication skills can ensure effective teamwork, create a more positive work environment, and help solve various issues. In human resources, management, sales and other positions where you need to work closely with people, communication often plays a huge role. Common soft communication skills include:

  • listening
  • empathy
  • giving constructive feedback
  • confidence
  • respect
  • professionalism
  • tact
  • public speaking
  • mentoring
  • networking
  • patience
  • delegating tasks
  • negotiating
  • resolving conflicts

Read More: Communication Skills: Definitions and Examples

Adaptability

Employers often look for candidates who can adapt to new situations and solve problems quickly and creatively, whether they need to learn to use new software, find a way to repair malfunctioning equipment or take care of another issue. Adaptable people can maintain a positive attitude, stay calm in stressful situations and make quick decisions when needed.

Attention to detail

People should be able to catch mistakes and consider all the information available to produce high-quality work. Attention to detail is important for people in finance, medicine, architecture and many other industries. Some related skills include:

  • analysis
  • observation
  • critical thinking
  • an accurate memory
  • good organization and time management

Highlighting your hard and soft skills

Hard and soft skills are essential for career success, and highlighting them on your resume, in your cover letter and job interviews can make you more appealing to potential employers. Here are some tips to help businesses notice your skills:

Resume

You can create a skills section after your resume objective or summary and before your work experience. You can also mention the skills you used at each job in the experience section. Before you decide which skills to include, look at the job description carefully. Organizations can list skills in requirements, education or desired skills sections. Then, mention as many of the skills that the business seeks as possible. Many companies use software to search applicants' resumes for the best matches, so mentioning the right skills can raise your chances of getting an interview.

For some positions, you may need to display your hard skills by taking a test, working on a sample project, or providing a portfolio. Check your work carefully, and make sure it looks professional.

Cover letter

In your cover letter, talk about two or three skills, and include an example of how you used each of them in your previous jobs. For example, you could mention that your friendly personality and excellent communication skills make you a great fit for a customer service position. You could also discuss how you designed software solutions to streamline many procedures for your last employer and their clients.

Read More: How to Format a Cover Letter

Interviews

At an interview, you can provide more details about your hard skills while displaying many soft skills. Be prepared to answer interview questions like “What are your greatest strengths?” by talking about your skills. If possible, rehearse some of the most common questions with a friend. That way, you can get honest feedback and make sure you seem confident and professional. Demonstrate your dependability and enthusiasm by arriving at the interview early and researching the company. Then, you can ask some intelligent questions to demonstrate your research and critical thinking skills and your knowledge of the technical skills needed for the job.

Read More: Interview Question: "What Are Your Strengths and Weaknesses?"

Ways to improve your skills

Some soft skills are more difficult to improve than hard skills, but both can get better with experience and practice. Decide which you need to work on by looking at the skills mentioned in job postings you find appealing. Here are some ways to improve your skills:

Practice

You can improve soft skills and hard skills with practice. For example, role-playing with a friend can help you increase your sales or conflict resolution skills. Many specialized licences and certifications require an internship, an apprenticeship, or some hands-on practice before applying. If possible, practice the skills you want to improve regularly.

Look for a mentor

A mentor can help you improve your skills and provide useful career advice. They can give you detailed feedback, and they can often act as references, giving employers valuable information about your skills and successes.

Improve your education

Many employers offer continuing education classes to help people keep their hard skills up-to-date. You can also take university courses or research subjects on your own. For better soft skills, try a class on psychology or public speaking.

Related

View More 

What Is the Purpose of Cover Letter?

Learn about the purpose of a cover letter by understanding why it's important, knowing when to submit one, and reviewing helpful tips for writing one.

What To Put in a Resume

Discover what to put in your resume, such as your skills, to help you stand out over other candidates and receive a call to interview for your dream role.