March 18, 2020
Soft skills are having a moment.
Employers are realizing that there are some tasks that computers actually can’t do—at least not yet! So the words soft skills have started getting a lot of traction. One survey found that 92% of employers value soft skills as much as hard skills (1)! But what exactly is a soft skill? For that matter, what’s a hard skill? Let’s take a closer look at these two different types of abilities!
A hard skill is quantifiable. You can typically learn them through taking a class or reading a book. They’re almost always technically skills that can be used in very specific circumstances. For instance, knowing how to design a website or retrieve data are hard skills; they’re very narrow types of knowledge that require training and technical proficiency to master. Engineers, doctors, and accountants are just a few examples of jobs that are based around hard skills.
Defining soft skills is more tricky. Have you ever met a leader whose vision inspires you to work harder? Or have a coworker who’s able to rise above a stressful situation and keep a level head? Those are all examples of soft skills. They’re essentially people skills applied to the workplace.
Which one is more important?
It’s tempting to think that hard skills dominate the economy. The digital revolution is changing the way we interact with the world and tech related hard skills are becoming essential in more and more fields. But that doesn’t mean soft skills are going anywhere; one study from LinkedIn found that 57% of employers value soft skills more than hard skills! (2)
It’s easy to see why. A room full of super geniuses armed with quantum computers is useless if they can’t communicate effectively and don’t have a plan! Skills like leadership, conflict resolution, and stress management are just as important as ever and employers know it.
So let’s say you’re looking for a job and you’ve started working on a resume. How do you highlight both your hard skills and your soft skills? Hard skills often shine the most on paper. Portfolios, degrees, certifications, and recommendations all demonstrate that you’re actually proficient.
Soft skills tend to come out in interviews. Make sure you show up early and dress professionally. Making eye contact, smiling when appropriate, and asking thoughtful questions can all show that you’re the type of person who works well on a team and won’t start unnecessary drama. Those little things may seem insignificant if you’ve got a Ph.D from a top university with years of experience under your belt, but you might be surprised by how much they matter to employers and your coworkers!