Hard Skills vs. Soft Skills: What’s the Difference and Which Do I Need to Build?

UPDATED: February 15, 2024
PUBLISHED: February 15, 2024
businesswoman smiling in her store of pottery because she's learning the difference between hard skills vs soft skills

Whether you are a hiring manager determined to build a winning team or a job-seeker searching for the perfect career, you need to know the difference between hard skills and soft skills. The relative importance of hard skills vs. soft skills can vary between industries and positions. So how do they differ?

Hard skills are measurable

Hard skills stand out due to their measurable, easily identifiable nature. They are the specific, technical abilities that empower individuals to perform their job duties effectively. Job-seekers acquire these through education, training and experience. You can even quantify these job-specific competencies by means of test scores, certifications and project outcomes.

Employers seek individuals with hard skills due to this inherent measurability. Technical expertise provides direct, objective evidence of an individual’s ability to excel in tasks required for excellence in specific industry roles. 

Examples of hard skills

Think of hard skills not as particular jobs, but rather as quantifiable skills that may be needed for a specific cluster of occupations.

  • Data analysis
  • Programming and coding languages
  • Adobe Creative Suite
  • Hazardous materials disposal
  • Workplace safety
  • SEO/SEM 
  • Aviation mechanics
  • Multilingual abilities
  • Financial planning

Soft skills are social

Unlike hard skills, soft skills are fundamentally social. They include aspects of emotional intelligence that apply across various fields, sectors or professions. They foster positive relationships and enhance group dynamics in the workplace, in personal life and across any social situation.

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The universal nature of soft skills means they are as important to a cybersecurity team as they are to a marketing or PR department. Having teams of people strong in soft skills helps build a thriving workplace culture, thus enhancing output and collective creativity. For the individual, superior personal skills provide advantages in job satisfaction and foster the likelihood of promotion.

Examples of soft skills

Soft skill examples include sets of interpersonal skills that cultivate cohesion, cooperation and outcomes in any field or setting, both personal and professional.

  • Communication
  • Empathy
  • Adaptability
  • Time management
  • Work ethic
  • Conflict resolution
  • Resilience
  • Creativity
  • Listening

Soft skills vs. hard skills: Which is more important for you?

The emphasis you place on hard or soft skill development depends largely on your intended career. If you work in a technical field such as mechanical engineering long haul freight, you will need to focus on hard skills. These ensure that you deliver the expertise required for measurable outcomes. Careers in graphic design or content writing likewise require an emphasis on related hard skills.

Other types of positions may require greater emphasis on soft skills. For instance, customer service, sales and human resources, while having technical aspects, are more likely to require emotional intelligence to succeed.

Important: Your emphasis on soft skills vs. hard skills may depend as much on your career journey as your chosen field. For instance, to work in an IT department, you will need the appropriate hard skills and certifications to get started. But to advance over time and lead the IT department, you will want to develop the soft skills required for project management and team leadership.

How to build hard skills

A degree is no longer enough in today’s rapidly-changing, high tech climate. If you commit to lifelong learning, you can ensure you have the most relevant and emerging hard skills required in your field.

To increase your hard skills, do the following:

  • Continue your formal education and seek certifications.
  • Take online professional development courses.
  • Attend workshops and seminars.
  • Expand your professional network.
  • Seek instructional videos in your field online.

How to build soft skills

Human interconnectedness is expanding as rapidly as technology. In fact, the two are so intertwined, that soft skills training has become highly valued by most institutions.

Take advantage of the following to enhance your soft skills:

How to use hard and soft skills to get a job

Incorporating both hard and soft skills into your resume is crucial for presenting yourself as a well-rounded candidate. Listing hard skills shows that you are an experienced expert in your field. But including soft skills in your resume calls attention to your teamwork, people skills and your potential for future leadership.

On your resume

For hard skills, list specific technical abilities and certifications relevant to the job, such as software proficiency, languages or technical capabilities. Do this within your job experience description or in a dedicated skills section. 

Soft skills, on the other hand, should be woven into your summary statement and within your experience bullet points. Use action verbs to describe how your communication, teamwork and leadership abilities positively impacted specific outcomes. This blend showcases not only your technical capabilities, but also your ability to effectively interact and collaborate within the workplace.

During your interview

Likewise, showcase both your hard and soft skills during your job interview. Prepare examples from your experiences that demonstrate these competencies in action. For hard skills, discuss specific projects or tasks where you applied your technical expertise to solve a problem or achieve a goal. For soft skills, share stories that highlight your leadership, adaptability and competency in teamwork. Be ready to discuss the context of your actions as well as the positive impacts they made. Using this approach allows interviewers to see the full spectrum of your abilities, from technical knowledge to interpersonal effectiveness.

Photo by JLco Julia Amaral/Shutterstock.com

Bryan enjoys the digital space where arts and technology meet. As a writer, he has worked in education, health and wellbeing, and manufacturing. He also assists smaller businesses in web development including accessibility and content development. In his free time, he hikes trails in central Florida.