Hard skills vs. Soft skills

What is the difference between hard skills and soft skills? Hard skills refer to the job-related knowledge and abilities that employees need to perform their job duties effectively. Soft skills, on the other hand, are the personal qualities that help employees really thrive in the workplace. Hard skills help you identify candidates who are good on paper, whereas soft skills indicate which of these candidates are good in person, too. This means that you need a good mix of hard and soft skills in every employee so that they can be successful in their role.

For example, imagine you’re hiring a developer. Some hard skills examples that are necessary for this role include knowledge of specific programming languages (e.g. Java), frameworks and tools. On the other hand, useful soft skills examples are: collaboration, problem-solving attitude and time management abilities.

Here are the differences between hard and soft skills in more detail:

Defining hard skills vs. soft skills

Hard skills, also called technical skills, are job-specific, relevant to each position and seniority level. In other words, each position in every company will require a unique hard skills list. For example, an accountant needs to know how to reconcile bank statements, while that knowledge is unnecessary for a developer. At the same time, reconciliation is important for accountants no matter their level of experience, but preparing business budgets is a skill that’s not usually required of a junior accountant.

Soft skills are general characteristics, relevant to personality traits. Some soft skills you’d like to see in all employees regardless of their position or expertise, while other soft skills make sense in certain jobs and are less important in others. For example, if you value collaboration in your company, you want to hire employees who are great team players and can communicate well with others. On the other hand, networking and relationship-building skills might be essential for sales and marketing roles, but irrelevant for engineering roles. Likewise, leadership abilities make sense for people who’ll manage a team no matter their department.

Developing hard skills vs. soft skills

Employees develop hard skills through education and on-the-job practice, while they develop soft skills through various, life-long professional and personal experiences. For example, marketers can learn marketing techniques and tools by attending a marketing course, whereas they could grow their collaboration skills by participating in a sports team.

Measuring hard skills vs. soft skills

Hard skills are measurable and can be described using numerical or yes/no criteria. On the other hand, soft skills are often intangible or hard to quantify and are usually described with qualitative scales. For example, one salesperson might be:

  • an excellent user of X CRM software having used its features on a daily basis for the past 5 years and;
  • a good communicator being able to explain ‘fairly well’ the benefits of a product to a potential customer.

Evaluating hard skills vs. soft skills

You can evaluate hard skills, through resumes, portfolios, job-related assignments and role-specific interview questions.

On the other hand, soft skills are better assessed by asking situational and behavioral interview questions, by using soft skills questions and tests and by taking into account a candidate’s overall personality characteristics as presented during the entire hiring process.

Want more definitions? See our complete library of HR Terms.

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