What's the Difference Between Hard Skills and Soft Skills?
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Related: Top Resume Skills
Learn more about what hard skills and soft skills to put on a resume so it stands out from the others.
When searching through job postings, you may notice employers asking for certain hard skills and soft skills. Every job requires some combination of each as hard skills relate to technical knowledge and soft skills are personal attributes. In this article, we look at the difference between hard and soft skills by comparing examples of each. We also explain how to communicate your hard and soft skills on your resume, cover letter, and in interviews.
What are hard skills?
Hard skills are your technical abilities to perform certain tasks. For example, having a fast typing speed is a hard skill, and you can quantify it by stating how many words you can type per minute.
Hard skills are easier to develop as you can learn them in school, your personal life, or on the job. They're usually role- or industry-specific. Many employers have a testing phase in the interview process to ensure you have the necessary hard skills. Computer programmers, for example, may write code or find an error in existing code during the hiring process to demonstrate their skill level.
Common hard skills
Here is a list of common hard skills employers look for, although the specifics vary significantly between industries and roles. They include:
Video or photo editing
Knowledge of Microsoft Office
Knowledge of Adobe Suite
Knowledge of specific software (such as QuickBooks for accounting)
What are soft skills?
Soft skills are harder to measure and learn as they relate to your personality traits and habits. For example, strong leadership or problem-solving abilities are soft skills. One of the greatest benefits of soft skills, however, is that they're transferable. You can use your soft skills in a variety of industries and roles, so they apply to more opportunities than hard skills.
Employers list and look for certain soft skills as they contribute to a positive, successful work environment. If you find you're lacking a certain soft skill, such as communication, you can work on them on your own time. You don't need to go to school or take any courses to become a certified communicator. You can improve your communication skills by speaking with or writing to friends and colleagues.
Related: A Guide to Soft Skills
Common soft skills
Here are some of the most in-demand soft skills you can use in across industries:
A strong work ethic
Related: How To Become a Soft Skills Trainer
Hard skills vs. soft skills: what's the difference?
The fundamental difference between hard and soft skills is how you gain them and exhibit them.
You typically learn hard skills through school or specific training as they are technical skills and abilities. You can exemplify them in several ways, such as by taking a test, creating a portfolio, or displaying your certificates and degrees.
On the other hand, soft skills are harder to exemplify as they are personality traits. You don't need to go to school to learn or improve upon your soft skills. Instead, you pick them up through life experiences or other roles.
Both types of skills are important and required by employers. So, it's best to develop a variety of skills, as having a combination of hard and soft skills makes you stand out over other candidates.
How to highlight hard and soft skills when applying for jobs
When applying for jobs, it's important to include specific skills that employers are looking for on your resume and cover letter. This shows that you have the necessary knowledge, training, and personality traits, making you an ideal candidate. Here are some steps you can take to emphasize your hard and soft skills on your resume and cover letter:
1. Look at job postings
Look through some job postings of roles you're interested in. Create a list of the hard and soft skills employers consistently note in these job postings and circle the ones you have. Make sure you cover a mix of both hard and soft skills. If you don't feel you meet the most common skill requirements, consider further training to develop the skills employers are looking for.
2. Create a skills section on your resume
Once you know what skills you have that employers are looking for, include them in a skills section of your resume. A skills section is usually towards the middle or end of your resume after your educational background and work experience. List the skills as brief bullet points to make it easier for employers to skim. For example:
Strong leadership skills
Fluent in French and English
Advanced ability with Microsoft Office suite
Related: How to Write a Resume
3. Write a unique cover letter
Resumes should be one page or less, depending on how extensive your background is. Because they're so brief, you can't always include everything you want employers to know about you. However, cover letters give you that opportunity.
In your cover letter, you can include the hard and soft skills you already mentioned in your resume. This is an opportunity to expand on those brief bullet points and explain how you can exemplify those skills. For example:
"In my previous role, my leadership skills helped me encourage my team to make the highest number of sales in our district."
How to highlight your skills in an interview
Always prepare for an interview beforehand by looking over common interview questions and brushing up on your skills. This will help you be more confident when answering questions on the spot. Here are some specific ways to emphasize your hard and soft skills in an interview.
Highlight your soft skills in an interview
Here are some ways to exemplify your soft skills to hiring managers:
Arrive at the interview early or on time to show that you have strong time management skills
Ask follow-up questions at the end of the interview to exemplify your active listening skills
Follow the conversation and speak clearly when answering questions to display your communication skills
Answer questions honestly and remain positive about your experiences to show that you have integrity
Answer behavioural questions with specific examples of how you used your soft skills in the past
Highlight your hard skills in an interview
To exemplify your hard skills and impress hiring managers:
Prepare a physical or digital portfolio to showcase your relevant hard skills, such as fashion or graphic design
Prepare for a skills test and be ready to work through them during the interview process
Ask follow-up questions that show your hard skills, such as asking whether the employer prefers you to use the coding language Java or Python
Answer technical questions with confidence
Use the STAR interview response technique:
Being able to talk about your soft and hard skills confidently is important. To persuade employers of your abilities, come prepared with specific examples of times you've used your skills successfully. These can be instances that helped you make a great professional achievement, or smaller scale accomplishments. Always keep the STAR technique in mind when answering questions, especially for behavioural ones. The STAR method stands for situation, task, action, and result.
To use the STAR method, mention a specific real-life situation that relates to the question, and describe the task you needed to accomplish. Then, explain the actions you took, the result you achieved, and how you used your skills to complete the task successfully. For example:
"Tell me about a time when you went above and beyond for a customer."
"One time, a customer asked me to decorate their cake with an intricate design. We had different pricing models for cake decoration, so the design they wanted was quite expensive. I explained the different pricing, and they seemed disappointed because they could only afford a simple design. They paid for the design they could afford, and I told them to come back the next day. I'm very efficient and had some extra time during my shift that day. So, I decided to do a variation of the intricate design they showed me at no extra cost. When they picked up the cake, they were thrilled. Now, they come to us for every cake they need and have recommended us to friends and family."
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