Hard Skills vs. Soft Skills: Which Ones Do Employers Want?

You might be polishing up your resume or just reviewing your own skillsets and how they relate to your current position, but knowing where your strengths (and weaknesses) lie is valuable knowledge. 

While most of us can rattle off what we can do within our job titles, understanding our abilities as hard skills vs. soft skills might not be quite as easy. But potential employers and others who might scan a resume or interview a potential candidate typically look for specific skillsets. 

Knowing what hard and soft skills are and how they are best utilized in a resume or interview are vital to being a successful job hunter. 

Let’s demystify hard skills vs. soft skills and show you how to best use them to showcase your most advantageous abilities.

Defining Hard Skills vs. Soft Skills

Just like the contrasting terms imply, these types of skills or abilities make you successful at a job, but you develop and hone each kind in a completely different way. Employers are looking for both hard skills and soft skills, but the value of each differs by the employer and the everyday needs of a workplace.

Hard Skills

When you are trained or educated in a subject, you are building hard skills. Any skill or ability that is specific to a career or job is considered a hard skill. 

These proficiencies may be required before getting a job, like a particular accreditation or license that is a condition for employment. But others are attained on the job, like hands-on training for a proprietary program used in a company. These technical skills might be job-specific and are typically directly noted on a job description.

Hard skills are typically very quantifiable, so they usually come with a way for an employer to test for them. For example, a certification might be required to prove the ability, or a potential employer might put job seekers to an on-the-spot test or trial of the hard skills to see if they are up to snuff. 

Hard skills focus on completing a task, running a program, or following a set of procedures necessary to complete a job successfully.

Some examples of common hard skills you might see on a resume or job description are:

  • Technical Hard Skills: master of a specific computer programming or language
  • Computer Hard Skills: CRM platform or Quickbooks proficiency
  • Analytical Hard Skills: database management or data engineering
  • Marketing Hard Skills: social media marketing or UX design
  • Presentation Hard Skills: graphic design or slideshows

Soft Skills

By contrast, soft skills are much less quantifiable or verifiable in a traditional way. 

Soft skills define your personality and ability to work with other people. They help you to fit into the culture of a job. Some of these interpersonal attributes are good indicators to a potential employer of how well you will work with other employees and management. 

While not expressly trained for soft skills, you continually pick them up with each position you hold and further develop the ones that come naturally to you.

One key component of understanding soft skills is recognizing that they are transferrable. This means that since soft skills are not job-specific, they move with the employee from position to position, adding value to each job held. They are typically more of a personality trait than something taught in a class. Soft skills can be honed, however, and improved for their own intrinsic sake.

Just like there is a multitude of personality traits, there are a lot of soft skills employees have, like:

  • Communication Skills: negotiation, persuasion, public speaking, non-verbal communication
  • Critical Thinking Skills: creativity, problem-solving, troubleshooting, willingness to learn
  • Leadership Skills: conflict management, decision making, mentoring, managing remote teams, motivating, project management, talent management
  • Positive Attitude Skills: enthusiasm, honesty, respectfulness, confidence
  • Teamwork Skills: collaborative, diversity awareness, networking, selling skills, teambuilding
  • Work Ethic Skills: dependability, motivation, results-oriented, reliability

What’s the Difference Between Hard and Soft Skills?

An easy way to remember the difference between hard and soft skills is that hard skills are the qualifications that land you a job interview, while your soft skills cement the job offer. 

In other words, having specific skills, certifications, or abilities will help a potential employer see your value and what you could add to the company. 

Once you have an interview, a potential employer can see how well you will work with the corporate culture and other employees if offered the job. 

Not every situation allows for all – or even any – soft skills to be shown in person. But these personality attributes can either be seen, experienced, or talked about to emphasize their importance or level of expertise in a job seeker’s skill set.

What Are the Most In-Demand Skills?

While every job description is specific to what is needed for that position, there are still in-demand hard and soft skills that many employers are consistently looking for in the workplace. Many of these job skills are valuable across multiple career pathways, allowing for a crossover of skill sets to be used in various ways.

Hard skills that are in-demand by most employers usually fall in one of the following categories: math, software, writing, data analysis, or scientific knowledge.

Some of the most commonly desired hard skills are accounting and finance, copywriting, graphic design, social media, HTML/Java Script, Cloud computing, computer troubleshooting, and business and data analysis.

Soft skills are continually in-demand in the workplace, since they assist in employee relations and help the business run smoothly. Some of the most sought-after soft skills are problem-solving, time management, organization, communication, and collaboration.

It’s easy to see why these are the most in-demand skills since these soft skills together describe an employee that can work well with others, works well alone, and is capable of keeping the boss and team informed of their work.

Identifying What Skills an Employer Wants

Looking for the hard or soft skills that an employer wants might seem difficult, but many times the job description specifically lays out the characteristics or qualifications the job requires right upfront. 

Sometimes the soft skills are labeled under what the potential employee must do on the job. For example, if the job posting mentions working with multiple people, teams, or customers, the employer is looking for communication and interpersonal skills. In other words, these soft skills are the result of the action an employer is seeking.

Hard skills are usually laid out specifically in job postings, naming certifications, abilities, or skill sets as a minimum requirement for a job. However, some hard skills are not listed explicitly on job listings, but rather are grouped into categories, allowing for some wiggle room.

Tip: For career opportunities that do not clearly identify the hard skills required, a good rule of thumb is to research similar jobs and see what hard skills are typically used or attained within that type of position. 

Having this type of knowledge is always beneficial for a job seeker. Showing motivation and enthusiasm for a career in an interview by simply demonstrating that you took the time to seek out this “insider” knowledge could be a great way to integrate soft skills into the discussion of potential hard skills needed.

What Skills Do I Have?

Knowing what hard and soft skills you have is crucial to effective resume building and job searching. 

Hard skills are usually the easiest to identify since you will have earned a title, certificate, or another identifier for most of them. But other hard skills are ongoing, like proficiency in computer-based skills. So thinking of all of your current job activities can assist you in creating a working list for the potential hard skills you have. These continually increasing hard skills are important in a job search, but be sure you can discuss or prove your abilities should the need arise.

Soft skills might be a bit more challenging to pin down, even though there are only a relatively small number of them compared to the almost endless list of hard skills. When reflecting on your soft skills, one starting point is to look back at previous evaluations, reference letters, or other personal assessments others have completed about you. This process will give you a feel for what others see as your strengths.

Tip: For any soft skills that you identify for yourself, try to think of a few specific examples that show this skill in action. Not only will you be able to confirm this soft skill is undeniably in your repertoire, but you will also have some talking points ready for interviews and networking events.

Using Hard and Soft Skills In Your Job Search

It is smart for a job seeker to focus on what hard and soft skills are needed for a specific job opportunity. Here are a few tips to help you maximize your ability to use your skill sets to land the job.

Resume: Personalize each resume you send out based on what the job listing mentions as essential hard or soft skills. Add or remove skills from your standard resume to highlight or include those specifically desired skills for each specific job, showing that your qualifications and abilities perfectly match a job listing.

Cover Letter: Cover letters should expressly reflect the job you are applying for, as well as the soft and hard skills that make you the perfect applicant for the opportunity. If the job listing includes characteristics needed for the job, mention them in your cover letter by connecting a career experience or situation to the soft skill. You can also briefly mention hard skills in a cover letter by hitting on the most important skills listed in the job description.

Interview: Talking with a potential employer in an interview is the perfect time to showcase your soft skills while describing your hard skills. Instead of telling an interviewer your soft skill set, show them how well you fit into a workplace through brief examples from past jobs. Explain hard skills while also pairing the explanation with an illustration of your soft skills in action.

Amanda Kay, the founder of My Life, I Guess, provides valuable career advice and support for anyone striving to make a living and, more importantly, make a life. Whether it's navigating job searches, learning new skills, overcoming unemployment, or dealing with debt, My Life, I Guess has been a go-to resource for career guidance and financial stability since 2013. Amanda's expertise and relatable approach have been featured in trusted publications such as MSN, Credit.com, Yahoo! Finance, the Ladders and Fairygodboss.

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