Hard Skills Vs. Soft Skills: Definitions and Examples

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 27 May 2021

In job postings, you will often find employers looking for both hard skills and soft skills. Hard skills are job-specific technical knowledge and expertise, whereas soft skills are personal qualities such as communication, teamwork and leadership skills. In most jobs, you will need these two types of skills to perform your duties properly and advance in your career.

In this article, we make a detailed comparison between hard skills and soft skills and provide you a guide on how to highlight them on your resume and in an interview.

What are the main differences between hard skills and soft skills?

The main differences between hard skills and soft skills are the ways in which they are acquired and applied in the workplace. Usually, hard skills are obtained through specialised education and training. They include abilities to perform specific tasks, such as operating a machine or using a software application.

In contrast, soft skills are regarded as personality traits that you may inherently possess and develop throughout your life. They can help you communicate with other people, manage your time or solve problems more effectively. In other words, hard skills are your technical skills while soft skills are your work habits.

What are hard skills?

Hard skills refer to technical knowledge and expertise that you've acquired through your education, career and personal experience. Below are a few examples of how hard skills are acquired:

  • Studying accounting in a university, will help you use Microsoft Excel competently.

  • Experience as a cashier in the retail sector, will help you understand how a point-of-sale system works.

  • Learning a foreign language in school, will help you speak and write it fluently.

Regardless of your job, you will need to possess certain hard skills that are specific to your industry. For example, if you want to become an architect, you have to learn how to use architectural computer-aided design (CAD) software. Additionally, you're required to obtain a practising certificate from the Board of Architects (BOA). The BOA conducts the Professional Practice Examination (PPE), which consists of two written examinations and an oral interview that test the technical skills needed for the job. While employers in some industries require certification for certain roles, others may teach hard skills on the job.

Read more: What Are Technical Skills?

Examples of hard skills

Some of the most sought-after hard skills include:

  • Database management

  • Data mining

  • Data storage management

  • Statistical analysis

  • Network security

  • Adobe software suite

  • User interface design

  • Mobile development

  • Programming languages such as Java, Python, Perl and Ruby

  • SEO or SEM marketing

  • Marketing campaign management

  • Bilingual or multilingual

What are soft skills?

Soft skills refer to personal characteristics and habits that affect how you work as an individual or part of a team. For example, effective communication is a soft skill that many employers value. Other in-demand soft skills include active listening, dependability and teamwork.

Soft skills are important abilities that can help you secure your ideal job and progress in your career. While you need hard skills to competently perform the technical tasks in your job, you should also have the necessary soft skills to create a positive and highly functional work environment. This is the reason why most employers prefer to hire candidates who have proven hard skills and soft skills. In some cases, employers may regard soft skills as more important than hard skills because they're sometimes harder to develop.

For instance, you may apply for a human resources position but you aren't adequately skilled in using data analysis tools. However, if you have reliable references stating that you have strong soft skills such as communication, teamwork and empathy, an employer may decide to hire you instead of another candidate who has better technical skills but lacks the soft skills you possess.

Read more: Soft Skills: Definitions, Examples and Tips

Examples of soft skills

Some of the soft skills that are highly valuable to employers include:

  • Effective communication

  • Adaptability

  • Teamwork

  • Critical thinking

  • Problem-solving

  • Creativity

  • Organisation

  • Dependability

  • Empathy

  • Open-mindedness

  • Integrity

  • Willingness to learn

How to list hard skills and soft skills on your resume

Whether you're creating or updating your resume, you may want to add a “skills” section that shows the abilities you possess that are relevant to your desired position. This is particularly important if you're applying for a position that requires specific technical skills. If you want to know which skills you should list and prioritise in your resume's skill section, you have to carefully read the job posting you're responding to. The hard skills and soft skills the employer wants may be found in the “desired skills,” “requirements” or “education” section of the ad.

Both hard skills and soft skills are essential for your career success. While you may acquire and improve your hard skills and soft skills in a variety of ways, try to develop them as early as possible so that you can include them in your resume when you start applying for jobs.

Read more: 10 Best Skills to Include on a Resume

How to highlight your hard skills and soft skills during a job interview

When you are invited for an interview, use this opportunity to elaborate on your hard skills and show your soft skills. There's also a chance that your interviewer will ask you to demonstrate your hard skills in an exercise or test.

You can do the following to highlight your hard skills:

  • Provide a more in-depth explanation of your education, training and experience.

  • Show your portfolio in a digital or physical form.

  • Answer technical questions with confidence.

  • Pass the skills test with good results, if applicable.

  • Ask follow-up questions about the duties and responsibilities of the role.

Showcase your soft skills through the following professional conduct:

  • Arrive early for the interview to show punctuality and dependability.

  • Speak clearly and concisely to display effective communication.

  • Maintain good eye contact to demonstrate active listening.

  • Be honest when asked questions about your work experience to show integrity.

  • Ask appropriate follow-up questions to display enthusiasm.

The most effective way to highlight your hard skills and soft skills is to share a story from your past that reflects the requirements of the job you're applying for. Consider using the STAR technique when giving examples:

  1. Situation: Describe the situation you were in.

  2. Task: Explain the task you had to perform.

  3. Action: Describe the actions you took to manage the situation.

  4. Result: Finish with the result you achieved.

The STAR technique can help you provide examples in an organised manner so that your interviewer can easily understand them.

Read more: Common Interview Questions and Answers

How to improve your hard skills

Below are a few ways to improve your technical skills:

1. Practise your hard skills regularly

The more you practise your hard skills, the more proficient you will become in using them. This will enable you to perform your work duties more effectively and advance faster in your career. Create a regimen for practising your hard skills and closely monitor your progress.

2. Get feedback and constructive criticism

If you're working with other people who are highly competent in the specific hard skill you want to master, ask them to provide feedback and constructive criticism on your current performance. Additionally, you can learn how they mastered their technical skills and what you should do to improve yours.

3. Enrol in a class or course

Taking a class or course gives you the opportunity to gain more knowledge about a hard skill and complete assignments that help you become even more competent.

4. Pursue higher education

Getting a degree in your field of interest is another great way to upgrade your hard skills. For instance, if you want to become a computer programmer, you can pursue a degree in computer science. In most cases, a degree program allows you to learn technical skills related to your chosen profession and provides you with opportunities to master them.

How to develop your soft skills

The methods for developing your soft skills may vary depending on the specific skills you want to develop. The following tips can help you improve some important soft skills:

1. Communicate often

Good communication is an invaluable soft skill that can contribute to a positive work environment. Whether it's through emails, face-to-face conversations or presentations, you should try to communicate with your colleagues as often as possible. When you're communicating, pay attention to the way you address other people, the clarity of your speech, your tone of voice and your body language.

2. Emphasise teamwork

When you have to work with one or more of your colleagues in a project or shared task, take the opportunity to show your employer that you are good at collaborating with other people. Allow every member of your team to contribute their ideas and efforts and show their skills and personalities. Focusing on teamwork enables you to learn from your colleagues while improving your own soft skills.

3. Get out of your comfort zone

Putting yourself in unfamiliar territory is an effective way to learn new skills and prove to your employer that you are dedicated to your work. Consider offering to be the person in your team who will give the project presentation. Express your interest in taking on an available leadership role.

4. Observe others

You can also improve your soft skills by observing your managers and co-workers. Determine which individuals in your workplace are proficient in the soft skills you want to develop and observe how they go about interacting with others and completing their tasks.

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