Hard skills and soft skills: the difference between these concepts and why they are important for your career
To ensure career growth and professional development, you need to distinguish between such concepts as hard skills (often referred to as “professional skills”) and soft skills (referred to as “personal qualities”). By understanding these concepts and understanding your strengths and weaknesses, you can show yourself to a potential employer from your best side.
Difference between these concepts
Hard skills (professional knowledge)
Hard skills are a set of aptitude and abilities related to the technical side of an activity. Mastering these skills requires learning, memorizing and analyzing material. This requires a certain level of intelligence. Hard skills can be demonstrated, they are mandatory requirements for employment, they are indicated in job descriptions.
Thus, this is the knowledge and experience that we gain at school or in the process of learning in the workplace. Professional knowledge can be measured and developed in the learning process. Examplescan be plumbing or carpentry skills, computer programming knowledge, or whatever. Professional knowledge can be tested using exams and theoretical tests. Mechanical knowledge tests are an example. So, hard skills are easy to assess objectively.
Once you acquire professional skills, they usually stay with you throughout your career. For example, when you learn to drive a bus or operate a mechanism, you will retain this knowledge for life, even it partially fades without practice.
Examples of hard skills
These are the knowledge that you learnt to do and know how to do. These are:
- Driving a vehicle;
- Foreign language skills;
- Knowing how to use professional software (accounting, web design, programming, video editing, etc);
- Programming skills.
Soft skills (personal qualities)
Personal qualities, as a rule, are associated with a person’s personal qualities, character and temperament. They are manifested in the ability to communicate for effective interaction with other people like colleagues, clients and partners.
They are somewhat subjective and are more emotionally based than any specific skill. Most of the personality traits that you have were not taught to you. They are a natural result of your emotional upbringing and life experiences. To master soft skills, you need to be able to understand people, feel their mood, empathize – everything that is called emotional intelligence (EQ). Such qualities take longer to develop than professional aptitude. For example, the ability to understand the feelings of other people cannot be learned in a month, unlike the ability to drive a bus.
Personal traits are difficult to assess objectively and accurately. Not so long ago, test companies introduced psychometric tests for emotional intelligence and situational judgement tests. These tests determine the personal qualities of candidates for jobs. Such testing remains a rather difficult and expensive procedure for employers, but it is becoming more and more popular, especially when testing candidates for managerial positions. On Aptitude-Tests-Practice.com you will find a large number of situational judgement tests for EQ. See free examples on the Situational Judgement Tests page and in our articles:
Examples of soft skills
Below you will find a list of the most useful and valuable personal qualities to mention on your resume and interview:
- Effective time management;
- Sociability (effective negotiation skills, persuading and arguing);
- Active listening (empathy and the ability to understand people’s feelings);
- Ability to quickly navigate in a situation of uncertainty;
- Stress resistance;
- Customer focus;
- Flexibility, diplomacy.
There are also more narrowly focused abilities, for example, sales communication, strategic thinking and quick decision-making for managers.
Hard vs soft skills
Let’s see how both of these qualities of any employee correlate for any one profession, for example, the position of executive assistant. Our candidate possesses both professional office management skills and a set of certain personal qualities.
Hard skills (professional knowledge):
- Professional level of knowledge of office management tools (Google Calendar, MS Office and others, office work and secretarial skills).
- Planning and rearranging complex business trips and events for top management.
- Researching and writing various executive materials including announcements, agendas and presentations.
- Resilience to stress despite tight deadlines and other challenging situations.
- Organization of personal and professional scheduling for senior executives and level II executive assistants.
- The ability to quickly adapt to new work conditions, change venues, presentation slides and employee meal options, often needed at the last minute.
On a real resume, you can list these skills in combination with others. Here’s what some of the above skills might look like on a real resume:
- Ability to prepare announcements and plan the agendas of senior executives to ensure optimal use of their time.
- Ability to timely change the location of several important events with a guarantee of their flawless performance.
- A Google Suite expert with advanced knowledge of Google Calendar, Docs, Sheets and Slides.
- Excellent organizational skills.
What is the difference between these two qualities? After reviewing the list, you should see how difficult professional skills are and how delicate personal qualities are. So, which is more important?
Professional aptitude or personality traits?
As you can see in the example above, both hard skills and soft skills are equally important. If employees were not able to perform their duties under pressure, or were not able to use software in the office, they would not be able to meet the job requirements.
Likewise, if you visualize a teacher’s job, you can see how important both job responsibilities (aptitude and knowledge) and the ability to maintain an appropriate classroom environment (personality) are in their job. We see that both of these sets of qualities are vital.
So, every job requires a delicate balance between hard skills and soft skills.
The value of professional knowledge
Professional aptitude is required for any job. Chances are, you wouldn’t be able to work as a programmer or editor if you didn’t know how to use the programming languages or software tools. You must have a certain knowledge level in your profession to do your job.
Despite the fact that both hard and soft skills of an employee are equally valuable, in some professions the demand for professional skills prevails, in others – for personal qualities.
For example, personnel recruiting employees for an IT company will pay more attention to their knowledge of programming languages and computer skills rather than to their interpersonal qualities, especially if the personnel usually work by individual projects.
Therefore, if you are applying for a position that values professional skills more than personal qualities, emphasize precisely these aspects of your abilities.
The value of personal qualities
Your professional skills demonstrate your ability to get the job done, but they will not show how well you work as a team or how organized you are. Your personality traits help you determine the type of person you will work with. That will make co-working easier and more efficient.
Responsibilities in certain jobs bring more importance to soft skills. For example, sales or HR responsibilities require you to communicate face-to-face with other people and have strong interpersonal abilities.
For many professions where knowledge and specific skills are critical, hard skills are more important than personal qualities. These are all professions that require work with mechanisms, the work of code developers, engineers, architects and designers. For some professions, the balance of knowledge and personal qualities is important. These are professions at the intersection of areas where knowledge and work with people are required: project managers, coordinators, financial specialists. And somewhere soft skills are more important than the luggage of professional knowledge. Usually this is the work of managing large teams: managers of top level.
Why develop hard and soft skills
In 2017-2018, the Carnegie Melon Foundation and the Stanford Institute conducted a study on the impact of hard and soft skills on the performance of top managers in a number of Fortune 500 companies. The results of this study were sensational. According to the findings of the researchers, success in such high positions depends on soft skills by 75%, and only 25% on professional “hard” knowledge. That is, for successful work in top management, it is more important to have good communication skills and understanding of other people than to have a large baggage of professional knowledge.
In most cases, personal qualities are important both in work and in life. Most of the abilities we use to achieve our goals are soft skills. At the same time, the more career heights you reach, the more interpersonal qualities play in your life, while professional (ie highly specialized) knowledge may fade into the background.
How to develop your abilities
You can improve your professional knowledge by training (internships, schools, professional courses). Usually you grow your professional abilities step by step. The study of each of the levels ends with an exam, attestation, and verification. Bringing professional knowledge and skill to automatism is facilitated by daily practice during work.
Personal qualities are acquired through experience of comminucation, through trial and error. Personality and psychology trainings, master classes, networking and communication will help accelerate development of your soft qualities. Self-study and development in the process of work, corporate training programs will also contribute to the formation of your soft skills.
Employers use situational judgement tests and personality questionnaires to check your soft skills. Practicing situational judgement tests can help you understand the qualities valued by employers. This can help you to easily and quickly raise your professional value and get the job you want. Start practicing SJTs right now to waste no time.