Everything You Need to Know about Hard and Soft Skills
You may have heard the words "hard skills" and "soft skills" tossed around at your job, but what do these terms actually mean? The main difference is that hard skills focus on what you are doing, while soft skills focus on how you are doing them. For example, you will rely on hard skills when you use technical knowledge to accomplish a task and on soft skills when you use emotional awareness to accomplish a task. Despite their names that imply otherwise, hard and soft skills are equally important to your career's success. Individuals should strive for a balance between the two: you don't want to be strictly a technical expert with zero social skills, nor a popular social butterfly with no earthly idea how to do the functional elements of your job.
Here are a few examples of hard and soft skills from Indeed.com.
- Database management
- SEO marketing
- Data mining
- Network security
- Willingness to learn
Now that you have more of an understanding of what these skills are, let's dive into what can happen if you place your focus more on one than the other.
When someone focuses on hard skills, they can become much safer and more productive within their role. For example, a content writer in marketing could take a course to develop their ability to generate dynamic and engaging subject lines. Doing so will increase the knowledge of the writer as well as the value they bring to their position. However, there is a downside to relying too heavily on hard skills-it can affect your emotional empathy and make you feel removed from others. Make sure while you are spending time researching or studying certain technical skills, you save time to work on your soft skills as well.
Focusing on soft skills can help someone become more effective in communication and problem-solving. Everyone will have different sets of soft skills based on their life and career experience. To give an example of how different experiences could result in different soft skills, let's consider two different people, one with siblings and one without. The individual with siblings will have been put into numerous situations where they were required to communicate, compromise, and share with their brothers and sisters. They will learn how to read their siblings' body language, how to take turns, how to follow rules, and how to resolve problems-all with their siblings who double as peers.
Meanwhile, the individual who doesn't have siblings will have a different set of influential experiences that helped them develop their soft skills. This is just one case, but numerous other factors could impact soft skill development, like education, social status, gender, and race. One of the challenges with soft skills is that personal habits and traits are not easy to teach or measure in a standardized way. These skills are typically developed in more nuanced ways than their hard skill counterparts. According to Post University, "the very first step in learning how to develop soft skills is to prioritize them." It's critical to have awareness of strengths and weaknesses within your soft skills so you can know where to improve.
The ideal employee has a strong grasp of what they are responsible for in terms of work duties. This individual is willing to take initiative on projects without being asked and is competent enough to work on these projects without direct supervision. Instead of battling out difficulties alone, if this person needs help, they will reach out to available resources for advice and guidance. The described individual has a healthy combination of soft and hard skills. Having awareness of both sets of these skills will benefit an employee in many ways - they will not only know how to do what needs to be done but also who to talk to for help.
Measuring and Evaluating
Hard technical skills are tangible and observable: you take the Java class, you learn the material, you take the test, and you pass. Meanwhile, soft skills are much more obscure to measure-how are you supposed to objectively know how effective an email message was? Considering the importance of both types of skills in a professional setting, employers will need to know how to frame their questions to elicit the best responses.
One of the best ways to learn more about a candidate's hard and soft skills include asking open-ended questions in an interview. Ironically, several important aspects of an interview-including timeliness, maintaining eye contact, and offering a firm handshake-are all representative of soft skills that can make or break a first impression. Outside of that first impression, however, open-ended questions provide a candidate with the opportunity to expound appropriately on their respective experiences. The following are some different examples of soft and hard skill-related questions that might be asked in an interview:
Hard Skill-Related Questions:
- Do you have any technical certifications, and if so, how have you used them to your advantage within your career?
- How did your education prepare you for this job?
- What are your strengths and weaknesses within OfficeSuite?
Soft Skill-Related Questions:
- What elements are necessary for a successful team and why?
- Describe a time you were able to improve upon the design that was originally suggested
- Give an example of where you have applied your technical knowledge in a practical way.
One interview response technique that does a great job in demonstrating a candidate's soft skills is called the STAR method. STAR is an acronym standing for situation, task, action, and result. This method allows the interviewee to create a coherent story describing a conflict and its resolution. For example, if the candidate is asked a question about facing a difficult problem at work, they could use this method to describe the original problem, their role or responsibility regarding the problem, what actions they took, and the extent of these actions' success. If you've ever found yourself on a long-winded ramble while answering an interview question, the STAR method is for you: it will help you keep your responses applicable, powerful, and succinct.
Now that you know the differences between hard and soft skills, start playing around with which skills you use and when. There will always be room for improvement if you know where to look!
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 Birt, Jamie. "Hard Skills vs. Soft Skills: What's the Difference?" Indeed, December 13, 2022. https://www.indeed.com/career-advice/resumes-cover-letters/hard-skills-vs-soft-skills.
 "Soft Skills Need Sharpening? 10 Ways to Improve Soft Skills." Post University, August 18, 2021. https://post.edu/blog/7-ways-to-sharpen-your-soft-skills/.
 Doyle, Alison. "Technical Interview Questions (with Tips for Answering)." The Balance, December 26, 2022. https://www.thebalancemoney.com/top-technical-interview-questions-2061227.
 Birt, Jamie. "How to Use the Star Interview Response Technique." Indeed, February 15, 2023. https://www.indeed.com/career-advice/interviewing/how-to-use-the-star-interview-response-technique.