Soft Skills Vs Hard Skills

Soft Skills vs Hard Skills

When you apply for a job, you’ll likely need a mixture of hard and soft skills that you’ll need to showcase throughout the application process in order to be successful. You’ll then go on to use these skills in a role.

Hard and soft skills vary greatly depending on the type of industry you work in and the job you have to do. Soft skills are characteristics and traits that you have as an individual. These are developed over time as you encounter different situations and have general life experience, but they can also be developed through training.

Soft skills include:

  • Communication skills
  • Teamwork
  • Leadership
  • Empathy
  • Creativity
  • Interpersonal skills

Hard skills on the other hand focus on your ability to do specific tasks such as:

  • IT skills like coding
  • Writing
  • Using certain kinds of software
  • Analysing data
  • Administering medical care
  • Electrical work
  • Plumbing

Hard skills tend to remain unchanged, while soft skills have more flexibility and adaptability. You can learn hard skills through education and training, while soft skills focus on personality and emotional intelligence, and your ability to adapt to a situation.

When a person applies for a job, hard skills are usually the first thing recruiters notice before calling them to interview. A candidate must then use their soft skills of communication to impress in an interview situation and secure a role. For this reason, having a mixture of both soft and hard skills is vital in the workplace, and to ensure career progression. Here’s our guide to soft skills vs hard skills, with some real-life examples thrown in.

What are soft skills?

As our previous piece on soft skills highlighted, around two-thirds of all jobs will require certain soft skills by 2030. Soft skills are generally learned through life experience, by being in a working environment and by interacting with different people. They’re not the kind of skills you can quickly take a course in to get a qualification.

If you have a good level of soft skills as a person, you are flexible, adaptable and have many personal strengths in your character and the way you approach situations. Soft skills include things like being able to exercise empathy, collaborate as a team player, motivation and getting the best out of others, good communication skills, and adapting well to challenges and changes.

Soft skills shouldn’t be confused with hard skills, which are appraised and tested against measures like qualifications. Soft skills are instead all rooted in the way you communicate with and build trust and relationships with different people. After all, even if your hard skills are technically brilliant, if you can’t communicate well and get on with the people you work with, you won’t be considered a good worker who is reliable and able to solve problems.

Soft skills are highly valued by employers, and hiring managers always look for candidates with soft skills because they are generally better workers in being able to communicate, manage their time well, and work within a team. Soft skills are also known as ‘interpersonal skills’, ‘essential skills’ or ‘non-cognitive skills’, and they are transferable skills that can be applied to any job.

What are hard skills?

Hard skills are technical and educational skills that are required to do a job. Essentially, they’re the qualifications that you’ve earned through education, training and experience. Hard skills are important in the recruitment process, as they’re the first thing hiring managers will look for when seeking candidates for roles. A hard skill might be the ability to use a programming language, to have expertise in project management, to be able to create scientific formulations, or to have proficiency in a language.

Hard skills are acquired through training and are very industry-specific. A finance manager would need a different set of hard skills to a graphic designer, for instance. There are some minor hard skills that can be highly prized across several industries, like speaking a second language, but this is rare.

Employers will always examine your CV carefully to check for hard skills, and some may ask for confirmation of hard skills by asking to see certificates, degrees or other qualifications. During the interview process, some employers may also test candidates’ hard skills by making them perform some kind of task or test, such as a writing test.

Examples of hard and soft skills

The table below breaks down the differences between hard skills and soft skills. Many employers look for a combination of both. Having technical skills means that you can master the practical and core duties of a role, while soft skills show that you can be adaptable and contribute to a positive working environment with your colleagues.

Hard Skills ExamplesSoft Skills Examples
Foreign language proficiencyEmpathy
SEOCritical thinking
UX designProblem-solving
Coding and computer programming languagesCommunication skills
Administering medical treatmentTime management
CookingAttention to detail
Data analysisWorth ethic
Finance managementIntegrity
Project managementTeamwork

Developing hard skills vs soft skills

Improvements can always be made in terms of developing both hard and soft skills. As long as you’re in tune with yourself, there are constant opportunities to develop both skill sets. You can figure out which areas need more focus by prioritising the skills that need the most development.

Take time to assess which areas are your weaknesses, and which are your strengths. Feel free to ask for feedback from managers, clients and colleagues about your soft skills. Pick people whom you know well and who you trust to give honest yet constructive perspectives.

Whether you’re looking to improve your hard or soft skills, you’ll need to have the bravery to step outside your comfort zone, and to learn something new. For instance, you may need to sign up for extra training and do a course with an examination, or you may need to put yourself in social situations where you feel uncomfortable in order to gain confidence.

If you’re looking to improve specific hard skills, always opt for reputable and quality-assured courses that are accredited, and that go a long way with employers. To generally improve your soft skills, you do this in several ways. Try to actively listen to people when you communicate with them, even if you don’t agree with what they’re saying. Act with empathy, and try to see things from their perspective.

Take steps to improve your writing and communication skills, and see if there are any opportunities for you to take on a leadership or management role. This can include things like heading up a project, working your way towards a promotion, or moving to a management role.

How hard skills are developed

Developing hard skills is a matter of wanting to progress in your career as a professional. It is fuelled by ambition, and although going back to further study or training may be daunting for some people, the rewards often greatly outweigh the time sacrificed for study. Obtaining certifications, taking online courses, going back to university, or doing occupational training are all ways for you to upskill and develop your hard skills.

Any certified course takes time to complete, so you’ll need to make sure you can put aside the time for reading, research and attending classes. Online courses that you can study remotely like the courses offered at Oxford Learning College are a great way to balance studying and working on improving hard skills, while maintaining work commitments. This way, you don’t have to quit your job to learn, and can balance the two.

You can also improve your hard skills by getting in touch with advanced professionals in your field, to see what skills they have and to ask for advice on how to improve your own skills.

How soft skills are developed

While soft skills might not be as concrete as hard skills, they can be among the most important to employers. You can develop your soft skills simply by being more communicative and collaborating with others, by organising yourself well, and by teaching yourself to adapt to different situations – including those that appear stressful or that take you by surprise. Work on your communication skills by sharpening up how you write letters, emails and communicate with your colleagues. Help, care and look out for others, and make sure your language is empathetic and understanding.

Improve your communication and leadership skills by taking extra hobbies in your spare time, by taking part in volunteer work, giving presentations, or taking online courses. If your aim is to be a manager or team leader, get more organised by creating a timetable and structuring your day. You can also practice motivating others by organising fun activities for your work colleagues to do, teaching skills to other family members, or by resolving conflicts should they occur.

Staying positive in challenging situations is another soft skill you can work on by staying calm in testing times, having a positive and can-do attitude, and problem-solving as much as possible.

Highlighting skills on your CV

When showcasing skills on a CV, it’s important to use language that recruiters and hiring managers approve of. Common terms recruiters like in terms of soft skills are:

  • Leadership
  • Problem-solving
  • Management
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Transferable skills
  • Customer service
  • Communication

Place a list of skills right underneath your contact details, so this is the first thing that recruiters see. Remember that recruiters are getting hundreds of CVs at a time, so you need to make yours stand out from the rest.

When creating a list of skills, only include your strengths. Don’t feel pressured to include something because it’s written on a job description. If you’re asked about something that isn’t on your CV, or you’re asked about a skill you’re still working on, give examples of how you’re working on this skill to improve and develop it. Always try to align skills that are showcased on your CV with those mentioned in the job description – this will make you a better ‘fit’ for a role.

Are hard skills more important than soft skills?

Definitely not. It’s fair to say that hard skills and soft skills are important in equal measure. While some professions require a very specific set of hard skills, without soft skills to back them up, success isn’t very likely. Imagine being a doctor with a very poor bedside manner and a sharp temper with patients.

Or a firefighter who is brilliant at operating equipment (a hard skill), but who cannot collaborate with colleagues to save a family from a burning house. Imagine being a teacher or trainer, but you have a total lack of empathy and will not listen to people (both soft skills). Hard and soft skills need each other to create a perfect balance. When it comes to upskilling, aim to work on both skill sets for the best results.

Hard and soft skills qualifications

At Oxford Learning College, we offer a large range of accredited qualifications to help you upskill and develop your hard skills. All of our courses are distance courses, helping you to balance your study with work and other commitments. We offer distance learning courses online – from Level 2 Diplomas and GCSEs, right up to Level 7 Diplomas and foundation degrees.

We’re a registered educational institution that is self-financed and independent, with courses that employers want to see on CVs. If you want to obtain some form of certification that is linked to soft skills, there are some courses out there that relate to certain soft skills, such as communication, management and leadership. One example is a Project Management Diploma course. Although there isn’t a ‘soft skills’ diploma you can take, it mainly comes down to life experience.