The difference between hard and soft skills (you need both)

man revealing the difference of hard skills vs soft skills

In an evolving professional landscape, the distinction between hard and soft skills is increasingly important.

Hard skills are the tools that allow us to get the job done with precision and expertise. Soft skills are the invisible threads that weave our professional interactions together. They encompass more people-connected abilities such as listening, empathy, adaptability, and communication. Unraveling the complexities of both is vital for teams, managers, and aspiring leaders.

At F4S, our performance and collaboration technology helps you understand your soft skill strengths and highlight any blind spots where you could benefit from personal development.

Table of contents
What is the difference between hard vs soft skills?
Why is it important to have both hard and soft skills?
What is the difference between soft and hard skills?
The rise of soft skills
What soft skills are in demand?
What hard skills are in demand?
When hard and soft skills collide
Hard skills vs soft skills: Hiring for soft skills
How to improve both hard and soft skills
Key takeaways
How can Fingerprint for Success help you find the balance between hard skills vs soft skills?
FAQs

What is the difference between hard vs soft skills?

Hard skills refer to quantifiable technical or job-related knowledge and expertise. They are teachable abilities often acquired through formal education, training programs, or practical experience.

Soft skills, or people skills, encompass a more nuanced set of qualities. These relate to how individuals interact with others and navigate social situations. Soft skills are not quantifiable. They are often developed through personal experiences and coaching. They play a crucial role in building effective relationships in professional contexts.

Both types of skills are valuable and essential in today's dynamic work environment. Both contribute to a well-rounded and successful individual.

a definition of hard and soft skills plus examples

What are hard skills?

Hard skills are specific and quantifiable technical knowledge or job-related abilities. Education, training, or hands-on experience can develop these skills. They are objective and measurable. This makes it easy to assess a person's skill in a particular area.

Some examples of hard skills include:

  • Data Mining: Extracting insights from datasets using data mining tools and techniques.
  • Data Management: The ability to organize, store, and maintain data, ensuring its integrity.
  • Statistical Analysis: Competence in analyzing and interpreting data for informed decision-making.
  • Coding and Programming: Understanding programming languages like Python, Perl, Java, C++, or JavaScript. Plus, the ability to write, test, and debug code.
  • Design: Utilizing graphic design software like Adobe Suite to create visual content.
  • Language Proficiency: Fluency in a foreign language. This is often demonstrated through language exams or certifications.
  • Mobile Development: Skills in designing, developing, and maintaining mobile applications.
  • User Interface Design: Expertise in creating interfaces for software applications and websites.
  • Storage Systems and Management: Knowledge of storage technologies and managing data storage.
  • Network Security: Safeguarding networks and data from cyber threats and security breaches.
  • Certifications: Certification in areas such as project management, network administration, or accounting.
  • Digital Marketing and Management: Online marketing techniques, including SEO, social, and email marketing.
  • Engineering Skills: Competence in fields such as mechanical, civil or electrical engineering.
  • IT and Computer Skills: Working understanding of computer systems, hardware, and software.
  • Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence: Machine learning algorithms, data modeling, and AI technologies.

What are soft skills?

Soft skills, also known as interpersonal, people, or social skills, are non-technical, personal attributes. They are qualities that help effective communication, collaboration, and interaction with others. These skills are generally subjective and less quantifiable. They reflect an individual's emotional intelligence and social awareness. Developing these attributes can enhance both professional and personal relationships.

a team showing interpersonal skills which is a soft skill as they gather around for a coffee break

Soft skills examples include:

  • Communication: Expressing ideas, thoughts, and information through written, verbal, and non-verbal means such as body language.
  • Empathy: Understanding and compassion for the feelings and perspectives of others. Empathy fosters better relationships and teamwork.
  • Teamwork: The capacity to work with others. Teamwork requires valuing diverse opinions and contributing to group dynamics.
  • Leadership: The skill to guide, motivate, and inspire others to achieve common goals.
  • Problem-solving: The aptitude to analyze complex situations, identify issues, and solve problems through practical solutions.
  • Integrity: Upholding ethical principles, honesty, and moral values in all actions and decisions.
  • Dependability: Being reliable and consistent. Fulfilling commitments and responsibilities and delivering high-quality work.
  • Adaptability: Being flexible, open to change, and able to adjust to new challenges.
  • Open-mindedness: Maintaining a willingness to consider different perspectives and adapt to changing circumstances.
  • Creativity: Demonstrating the ability to generate new ideas, solutions, and approaches to problems.
  • Critical thinking: The skill to analyze information, assess situations, and make well-informed decisions.
  • Organization: Managing tasks, time, and resources to enhance efficiency and productivity.
  • Willingness to learn: Maintaining a proactive attitude toward acquiring new knowledge and skills.
  • Time management: Managing one's time and priorities to enhance productivity and meet deadlines.
  • Active listening: Engaging in and comprehending conversations, with respect.
  • Conflict resolution: The capability to address and resolve conflicts and maintain harmony.
  • Stress management: Coping with stress, pressure, and adversity in a healthy, productive manner.

Why is it important to have both hard and soft skills?

an employee with hard and soft skills helps her colleague by pointing out areas of improvement on his report

Hard and soft skills are both vital for personal and professional success. They play distinct yet complementary roles in a job or career.

Hard skills provide the foundation and expertise needed to execute tasks. They are the prerequisites for performing the primary duties of a job. They are often industry-specific and can make a job candidate more competitive. Certifications and qualifications related to hard skills can set individuals apart from others. Hard skills ensure the quality and precision of work.

Soft skills are essential for effective communication, collaboration, and workplace harmony. They influence how individuals interact with colleagues, clients, and superiors. Soft skills are crucial for building positive relationships and working toward common goals. Soft skills such as conflict resolution, and adaptability are essential in leadership positions. These guide team dynamics and decision-making. Soft skills like active listening and empathy are invaluable in dealing with clients and customers. They help in understanding their needs and providing better service.

A balance between hard and soft skills is essential for success in most professions. A job requires a blend of technical competence and interpersonal finesse.

For example, a surgeon requires surgical technique and medical knowledge to operate. However soft skills in active listening, communicating with patients, and displaying empathy also play a critical role.

Combining hard skills with soft skills creates well-rounded professionals. It allows them to excel in their roles. A mix of hard and soft skills allows individuals to adapt to changing situations.

While hard skills might help you secure a job, soft skills often determine your progress. Effective communication, leadership, and teamwork contribute to promotions and career growth. While the interplay of hard and soft skills ensures client and customer satisfaction.

What is the difference between soft and hard skills?

a chart of the difference between hard and soft skills

How they're developed

Hard skills are learned through formal training, education, and specific courses. They often need structured instruction.

Soft skills are developed through personal experiences, coaching such as F4S' AI Coach Marlee, interactions, and personal growth. They evolve over time as individuals navigate various social situations.

How they're measured

Hard skills are measurable and can be assessed. These are quantifiable through exams, certifications, and practical evaluations.

Soft skills are usually seen as subjective and reliant on perception. However, with tools such as the F4S assessment, they are measurable as motivational traits. This allows objective evaluation.

How transferable are they between industries and roles

Hard skills are often industry-specific and may not transfer between different professions. For example, coding skills may not be applicable in healthcare.

Soft skills are transferable between industries and roles. Effective communication, leadership, and adaptability benefit individuals in diverse professional settings.

Adaptability to the Future

Hard skills can become obsolete over time due to technological advancements. For instance, programming languages may evolve or become less relevant.

Soft skills remain relevant in the face of change and automation. Skills such as problem-solving, adaptability, and creativity are enduring. They are adaptable to evolving workplace needs.

What hard skills and soft skills are employers looking for when hiring?

Traditional hiring processes have emphasized pre-existing competencies, experience, and specific skill sets.1 The focus has been on hard skills, as they are easier to measure and track.

Evaluating soft skills, such as empathy, which is more subjective and nuanced, is harder. Hiring often involves narrowing down a pool of candidates to present to hiring managers. A process that has traditionally leaned towards hard skills due to their objectivity.

However, there is emerging evidence that this paradigm is starting to shift. This has led to growing recognition of the importance of soft skills.

The rise of soft skills

So just how important will soft skills be in the future? Very! Deloitte Access Economics forecasts that soft skill-intensive occupations will account for two-thirds of all jobs by 2030.2
interpersonal skills such as these team members have show hard and soft skills

Backing these findings is a 2022 McKinsey Global Survey. The survey was conducted in October and November 2021 and polled more than 18,000 business executives from 15 countries. The survey found that soft skills are increasingly important as the world of work changes and evolves. It found that 94% of business executives believe soft skills are as important as hard skills for employee success.3

But let’s address the elephant in the soft skills room. According to the McKinsey and Company report, HR professionals are encountering challenges in finding candidates with the soft skills required for an increasingly automated workforce.

The Society for Human Resource Management conducted a survey in 2019.4 In the study, 51 percent of respondents felt education systems weren't addressing the soft skills shortage. It found problem-solving, critical thinking, innovation, creativity, and effective communication notably absent.

This scarcity of soft skills poses a deeper challenge. Especially as automation, from warehouse robots to driverless cars and AI, becomes more prevalent in industrialized societies.5

This suggests that in today's professional landscape, hiring managers should aim for a balanced skill set. This should comprise both nuanced, niche hard skills and a range of soft skills. This enables individuals to excel in their roles and foster relationships to shape their careers.

What soft skills are in demand?

Soft skills are in high demand. Employers are looking for adaptable candidates who can communicate, collaborate, and solve problems. Resilience, empathy, and cultural competency are also in high demand.

A 2021 study by the World Economic Forum found that soft skills are essential for success in the future of work. Creativity and critical thinking were expected to be among the most in-demand skills by 2025.6

In its 2023 Global Talent Trends report, LinkedIn took sample surveys from 20 countries to better understand how labor-market trends impact candidates, employees, and workplaces.7 The company identified communication as one of the most in-demand skills. The other most sought-after skills were collaboration and problem-solving.

Global recruitment company Michael Page recently surveyed hiring managers. They asked about the soft skills sought when interviewing candidates. Again strong communication skills came out on top.8 Willingness to learn came in a close second. Then came teamwork, enthusiasm, and problem-solving skills.

The World Economic Forum's Future of Jobs 2023 further identified desired soft skills.9 In predicting likely skill sets, and how demand for them could grow, they found creative thinking, leadership, social influence, and self-efficacy skills are in demand.

What hard skills are in demand?

In today's dynamic and competitive job market, the demand for specific hard skills continues to evolve. Vital qualifications significantly enhance your employability and effectiveness in many roles.

LinkedIn recently published a list of the most in-demand skills for 2023. They were software development, SQL, finance, Python, Java, data analysis, JavaScript, cloud computing, and CRM. Continuous development of these skills is necessary to stay relevant and competitive.
a person in front of a computer has hard skills from their tech training

Here are a few courses to help stay on top in these fields:

When hard and soft skills collide

It is important to remember that hard and soft skills complement each other. They make individuals more well-rounded and valuable in the workplace. Professions where both skills are crucial include data science, customer service, healthcare, and sales and marketing.

Case study 1: Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft

Nadella is a prime example of someone with a hard technical background. Specifically in cloud computing and software development. But empathy, adaptability, and inclusivity are the hallmarks of his leadership. These soft skills have played a significant role in Microsoft's resurgence under his watch.

Case study 2: Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer (COO) of Meta Platforms, Inc

Sandberg possesses advanced hard skills with her background in economics and business operations. However, negotiation skills and advocacy for women in leadership roles define her leadership. Her soft skills have been instrumental in building strong partnerships. And promoting diversity within Meta.

Hard skills vs soft skills: Hiring for soft skills

4 new candidates that show soft and hard skills

Job seekers: what soft skills to include on resumes

When creating a resume, it's important to include both your soft and hard skills. This will ensure you present a well-rounded picture of your qualifications and experience.

In the hiring process, soft skills are viewed as playing a pivotal role in a productive work environment. Interpersonal skills are essential for effective collaboration, communication, and team success. For job seekers, there are many soft skills that are valuable.

A consolidated list of essential soft skills for hiring success includes:

  • Creativity
  • Collaboration
  • Adaptability
  • Empathy
  • Active listening
  • Strong communication
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Initiative
  • Compassion
  • Attention to detail
  • Problem-solving skills
  • Positive attitude

For job seekers, the distinction between hard skills and soft skills does entail a dual focus. Emphasizing hard skills to get the job. Then demonstrating and developing soft skills once employed.

For those already in a job, the dynamic shifts. It involves solidifying existing hard skills. It also requires exploring innovative approaches to these competencies and acquiring new ones. But also maintaining a commitment to enhancing soft skills. This strategic approach positions an individual as a strong candidate for managerial roles.

Hiring managers: how to hire candidates with the right soft skills

a woman meeting with HR to help ensure she hires people with hard and soft skills

It can be challenging for employers to gauge soft skills through a resume.

Let’s delve into a mini-case study on nurturing one of the core soft skills, empathy, within the workforce.

First Round Review held a summit for tech CTOs. This involved both start-ups and established companies. It compiled the best advice they heard during the event.10 As relates to hiring for soft skills, this stands out:

"Institute roleplays in your interview process. For every engineering manager role, have the candidate sit with a member of the engineering team and play out a scenario 1:1. It can be about a technical process, an argument about prioritization, or giving feedback with both criticism and praise. It’s an effective way to test softer skills and replicate what you’ll get in a ‘real’ situation. Of course, using your engineers’ time like this may seem expensive, but it’s more costly to bring on an engineering leader who doesn’t jive with your team. Plus, after doing it for a few years, you’ll find it becomes a rite of passage, and engineers like participating in them."

Perhaps the most important part of that quote is “... it’s more costly to bring on an engineering leader who doesn’t jive with your team.”

When hiring, conceptualize the hard skills vs soft skills debate like this. You want to make sure the hard skills are there. If you need an engineering manager, you want someone with core engineering skills. As well as management experience, and more. But if that person completely lacks soft skills, they will sink the team they come to lead. So, you need hard skills as a baseline, but you need soft skills on top of that, or the hire won’t work out.

It is hard to assess soft skills in 30-minute interviews. But talk through situations and scenarios with people. How would they respond? How would a specific work situation make them feel? When are they at their best? What about their worst? Walk through roleplays if need be. From coming in late and staying too late to a death in the family, and more.

This is especially important for positions that will have direct reports. An over-focus on hard skills vs soft skills may land you a technically competent person who is not a good leader. That could result in a disgruntled team that cannot be saved by the technical competence of the lead.

To avoid this scenario, hirers can take F4S’s evidence-based approach to evaluate soft skills and assist in making more data-driven decisions that are devoid of bias and oversight.

The free F4S assessment plays a crucial role in aiding Canva, one of the world's fastest-growing tech companies, with its hiring procedures. Given the large volume of job applications the company receives, identifying top-tier candidates can prove daunting.

Canva's Internal Coaching Lead Sarah Nanclares incorporates F4S talent acquisition features such as benchmarking and evaluating cultural alignment when making hiring decisions.

She emphasizes the importance of having candidates complete the F4S assessment before the interview, as it serves as a valuable tool for insight into how these potential team members would integrate into the existing team.

How to improve both hard and soft skills

a team member is holding a magnifying glass over her colleague to help identify their hard and soft skills

10 tips for improving hard skills

  1. Formal education: Enroll in degree programs, workshops, or courses at an educational institution.
  2. Online courses and certifications: Leverage online learning platforms to gain specific skills and recognized certifications.
  3. Practical experience: Gain hands-on experience through internships, apprenticeships, or on-the-job training.
  4. Self-study: Research and study relevant materials, textbooks, and resources to expand your knowledge.
  5. Mentorship: Seek guidance and mentorship from experienced professionals in your field.
  6. Networking: Connect with peers and experts in your industry to exchange knowledge and ideas.
  7. Workshops and seminars: Take part in industry-specific workshops, seminars, and conferences to stay updated.
  8. Project work: Engage in real-world projects and assignments to apply and refine your hard skills.
  9. Collaboration: Collaborate with colleagues to share expertise and learn from one another.
  10. Continuous learning: Commit to ongoing learning and staying current with industry advancements.

10 tips for improving soft skills

1. Understand your work style motivations: Take the F4S assessment to identify your soft skill motivational strengths and highlight any blind spots you need to develop.

F4S dashboard shows your motivations and soft skills
F4S dashboard


2. Personal development: Consider coaching programs. F4S uses evidence-based technology to improve soft skills with coaching programs including Big Picture Thinker, Increase EQ, Personal Power, and Reflection & Patience, amongst many others.

F4S provides personalized coaching programs such as big picture thinking to improve soft and hard skills
F4S coaching programs


3. Effective communication: Focus on improving your verbal and non-verbal communication skills. This includes active listening and clear articulation. Some additional resources for enhancing communication skills and leadership include Dale Carnegie Training. Toastmasters International offers a supportive environment for improving public speaking and leadership skills. Coursera Communication Courses offers online courses on communication skills from universities and institutions.

4. Empathy development: Work on understanding others by acknowledging their emotions, perspectives, and needs.

5. Conflict resolution: Develop the ability to navigate and resolve conflicts.

6. Adaptability: Embrace change and practice flexibility in response to evolving situations and challenges.

7. Leadership skills: Cultivate leadership qualities to inspire, motivate, and guide others effectively.

8. Team building: Enhance your collaborative abilities to foster effective teamwork team-building exercises, or a team dynamics workshop. F4S provides a range of team tools that team leaders can access to gain a deeper understanding of the personal work style motivations of each team member. They can then leverage these insights to identify team affinities, differences and culture, and make use of F4S’s tools to gauge team ranking, success benchmarks and XFactors.

9. Stress management: Learn strategies to cope with and reduce stress in high-pressure situations

10. Time management: Develop effective time management skills for prioritizing tasks, setting goals, and enhancing productivity.

A soft skills mini-case study: Can you teach empathy?

a woman holding a magnifying glass over a colleague to find their hard and soft skills

Empathy remains a coveted soft skill. Particularly in the context of teamwork, collaboration, and understanding others' working preferences. Thus, a lack of empathy can hinder one's success. If you aim to enhance your career by becoming more empathetic, research suggests that recognizing that need is a good starting point. But, people already in positions of power may find it tougher to find empathy in their day-to-day lives.11

The Jefferson Scale of Empathy says empathy is a cognitive attribute, not a personality trait and it can be cultivated.12 The key lies in taking incremental, practical steps to refine these ‘soft muscles’.

This can be achieved through self-awareness practices. These include demonstrating positive regard for others by sharing compliments with co-workers. Honing good listening skills by restating a co-worker’s statements before responding. As well as development through leadership coaching and mentorship.

The free F4S motivational assessment identifies your soft skill work traits and pinpoints areas they fall short, to help you set goals and start relevant free coaching programs. Many employers incorporate the F4S assessment into their hiring process to enable soft skills to be assessed and team fit evaluated before interviews commence.

Key takeaways

Understanding and developing both hard and soft skills is crucial for achieving career success. Balancing these skills enhances one's employability, teamwork, leadership abilities, and career trajectory.

  • Hard skills develop through education, training, or experience. Soft skills develop through personal experiences and interactions.
  • Both hard and soft skills are essential for well-rounded career success. Hard skills provided technical expertise. Soft skills facilitate effective communication, collaboration, and teamwork.
  • More often employers place a high value on soft skills. There is an increasing recognition of their need to create cohesive and productive workplaces.
  • A balance of hard and soft skills is necessary for career growth, adaptability to industry changes, and career progression.

How can Fingerprint for Success help you find the balance between hard skills vs soft skills?

Explore our blog where we delve into daily discourse surrounding hard vs soft skills. There are also insightful case studies with valuable insights into soft skill development.

Our primary focus is on optimizing team dynamics, acknowledging the pivotal role that both hard and soft skills play. From coding skills and analytical reasoning to the imperative need for empathy and active listening, it’s a consistent discussion.

Curious about understanding your strengths to further enhance your soft skills?

Sign up for F4S for free to gain a comprehensive understanding of your natural talents and blind spots.

FAQs

a woman looking over a long list show the soft skill of attention to detail

How do emerging technologies impact the demand for hard and soft skills in the workforce?

Emerging technologies are increasing the demand for hard skills in areas such as data analysis, programming, and digital proficiency. At the same time, they highlight the importance of soft skills like adaptability, as technology continually reshapes job roles and requirements.

What strategies can individuals employ to continually improve their soft skills throughout their careers?

Individuals can improve soft skills through activities such as coaching, communication workshops, practicing active listening, seeking mentorship, and participating in conflict resolution exercises. Continuous self-reflection and learning are also key.

How are educational institutions adapting their curricula to address the increasing importance of soft skills in today's job market?

In response to corporate sentiment, educational institutions are now beginning to integrate soft skills training into their curricula, offering courses on communication, teamwork, and emotional intelligence. They are also focusing on experiential learning and real-world applications to develop these skills.

What soft skills should I highlight during an interview?

Focus on soft skills that are most relevant to the job. These may include communication, problem-solving, teamwork, adaptability, leadership, empathy, and time management. Provide specific, tangible examples. Use the STAR method (Situation, Task, Action, Result) to structure your responses. Start by describing the situation or task, explain the actions you took, and conclude with the positive result or impact.

How can I demonstrate that I not only possess soft skills but can also apply them in an organization?

Discuss your understanding of the company culture and values with your team leader and explain how your soft skills align with and support those values. Emphasize your willingness to adapt and contribute positively to the organization's dynamics.

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Show References
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  1. Bauer T, 2016, Hiring solutions: Competence is overrated, The Context of Things, https://thecontextofthings.com/2016/08/23/hiring-solutions/
  2. Deloitte, 2017, Soft skills for business success, Deloitte, https://www.deloitte.com/au/en/services/economics/perspectives/soft-skills-business-success.html
  3. McKinsey & Company, Soft skills for a hard world, McKinsey Quarterly,  https://www.mckinsey.com/featured-insights/future-of-work/five-fifty-soft-skills-for-a-hard-world
  4. SHRM, 2021, State of the Workplace Study 2021-2022, SHRM.org https://www.shrm.org/hr-today/trends-and-forecasting/research-and-surveys/Documents/SHRM%20State%20of%20the%20Workplace%20report%202021-2022.pdf
  5. Besanko D, 2017, Robots Are Taking Americans’ Jobs. What Can Be Done? KelloggInsight, https://insight.kellogg.northwestern.edu/article/robots-are-taking-americans-jobs-what-can-be-done
  6. World Economic Forum, 2020, These are the top 10 job skills of tomorrow – and how long it takes to learn them, World Economic Forum, https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/10/top-10-work-skills-of-tomorrow-how-long-it-takes-to-learn-them/
  7. LinkedIn Talent Solutions, 2023 Global Talent Trends Australia & New Zealand Edition, LinkedIn https://business.linkedin.com/en-au/talent-solutions/global-talent-trends
  8. Michael Page, The importance of good communication in the workplace, Michael Page, https://www.michaelpage.co.uk/advice/management-advice/development-and-retention/importance-good-communication-workplace
  9. World Economic Forum, 2023, Future of Jobs 2023: these are the most in-demand skills now- and beyond, World Economic Forum, https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2023/05/future-of-jobs-2023-skills/
  10. Review, The Best Advice We Overheard at First Round's CTO Unconference, Review, https://firstround.com/review/the-best-advice-we-overheard-at-first-rounds-cto-unconference/
  11. Schumann K, Zaki J, Dweck C, 2014, Addressing the empathy deficit: Beliefs about the malleability of empathy predict effortful responses when empathy is challenging, APA PsycNet, https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2014-34128-006
  12. Center for Research in Medical Education & Healthcare, Jefferson Scale of Empathy, Thomas Jefferson University, https://www.jefferson.edu/academics/colleges-schools-institutes/skmc/research/research-medical-education/jefferson-scale-of-empathy.html

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