While hard skills are important, savvy companies know that excellent employees have another skill set that may be harder to cultivate: soft skills. Turns out, hard skills vs soft skills isn't an either/or proposition. It's a both/and package worth cultivating in potential and long-term employees alike.
What’s the difference between the two? Before you can write a job description or a resume, mentor team members, or design a learning program, it’s crucial to thoroughly understand the difference between hard skills and soft skills. This guide will get you started, and will contain long lists of examples to structure your job searching, training, and more.
🔍 What you’ll find in this post
What is the difference between hard skills vs. soft skills?
Hard skills are easy to measure and define, while soft skills are a bit more nebulous. Hard skills are those talents and abilities that can be measured. They are usually specific to a particular job, and they can be learned through schooling or on-the-job training. Soft skills are less defined skills that often apply not only to one specific job but are universal. Some recruiters or HR personnel might define these vaguely as “people skills.” Think of empathy, creativity, adaptability, and collaboration.
Hard skills are often those you list on a resumé or the areas in which you hold certifications. Soft skills are those that help you build longer-lasting coworker and customer relationships. The importance of hard skills vs. soft skills should not be underestimated.
Soft skills vs hard skills stats
Hard skills and soft skills are both important in the workplace, but they represent different types of abilities that someone can bring the table. Some statistics and insights on the importance of both hard and soft skills in the workplace include:
- Soft skills are highly valued by employers, with 93% of employers stating that soft skills are either an essential or very important factor in hiring decisions
- Employers are increasingly seeking employees with soft skills such as dependability, teamwork/collaboration, problem-solving, and flexibility
- According to LinkedIn's Most In-Demand Hard and Soft Skills, the top five hard skills in demand in 2023 were software development, SQL, finance, Python, and Java
- The top five soft skills in demand were management, communication, customer service, leadership, and sales.
While hard skills are important for performing specific responsibilities, soft skills are highly valued by employers and can have a significant impact on a person's ability to work effectively in a team, communicate with others, and adapt to new situations. As we’ll discuss later, it’s essential to develop and maintain a balance between the two types of skills to excel.
What are soft skills?
Soft skills are skills and abilities that are much harder to measure and a bit fuzzier to define. In general, these are interpersonal skills that help people get along with each other and communicate and collaborate effectively. They relate to how someone interacts with others, manages their time, and handles their emotions and actions.
Challenging to train explicitly, soft skills include things like character, ability to work on a team, and overall understanding of and participation in your company culture. Employees just entering the workforce or transitioning to a new career may struggle with soft skills, especially as they relate to fellow employees.
Reviewing different examples of soft skills can help you better understand this concept, too.
What are the most common soft skills examples?
Soft skills are often interpersonal skills that can be difficult to train for. They can include the following examples:
|Teamwork||Ability to “read a room”|
|Attention to detail||Responsibility|
|Strategic thinking||Problem solving|
|Good decision making||Conflict resolution|
|Work ethic||Critical thinking|
Why are soft skills important to train for?
Of these skills, emotional intelligence is arguably the hardest to teach. This includes a person’s ability to empathize with others, regulate their own behavior, and develop self-awareness. Emotional intelligence also indicates a level of intrinsic motivation that contributes to a strong work ethic.
However, developing soft skills matters. A Carnegie Mellon Foundation study found that 75% of long-term job success depends on the level of soft skills employees had. Another LinkedIn study found that 57% of employers value soft skills more than hard skills when making new hire decisions.
Put simply, you can be a certified expert in your field, but that won’t matter much if you just can’t work with your fellow employees, customers, leadership, and others.
👉Learn more: Find our full guide on how to train employees on soft skills
What are hard skills?
Hard skills are much easier to quantify and measure. These are things that employees are specifically trained for, like a plumber who learns to fix a leaky faucet or a nurse learning to draw blood.
Through specific instruction, on-the-job training, and trial-and-error, hard skills form the backbone of the job.
What are the most common hard skills examples?
For new employees with little practical experience or track record, hard skills can be measured in terms of test scores and recent degrees or certifications. Hard skills examples include:
|Proficiency in a foreign language||Inventory control|
|Surgical proficiency||Musical ability|
|Financial forecasting||Data analysis|
|Graphic design||Data mining|
|Database management||Machine learning|
|Artificial intelligence (AI)||Virtual & Augmented reality (VR/AR) development|
|Statistical analysis||Digital marketing|
|Electrical repair||Mobile app development|
|Data visualization||Information security|
|Product management||UI/UX design|
|Video production/editing||Game development|
|IT troubleshooting||CAD (computer-aided design)|
|Mechanical engineering||Public speaking|
|Teaching/instruction||Writing and editing|
|Logistics management||HVAC maintenance|
|Event planning and coordination||Medical billing and coding|
But truly, this list of hard skills examples is as long as the number of different professions in the world!
Why are hard skills important to train for?
The importance of hard skills is that they establish the backbone of the services your business provides or the products it creates. You would not hire a heart surgeon without the hard skills to perform heart surgery, or someone to design a bridge who only had experience in retail. Hard skills training ensures that your employees are equipped to do good work in their field.
What’s the best approach to this type of training? The answer to that depends on your employees and what skills they need. Starting with a training needs analysis can help target specific hard skills, which can then help you decide which approach will work best.
You might consider eLearning options to train for some of these skills, especially mobile microlearning resources that are easy to reference back to. Some industries have also had great success with AR/VR learning, and others prefer to offer blended learning that includes both instructor-led and digital modules.
The goal is to offer hard skills training that is relevant, engaging, and supportive of the types of hard skills your employees need to do their job.
How to train for both hard skills and soft skills
Truly, the best way to train employees is not to pit soft skills vs. hard skills but to develop both in tandem. The good news is that many of the same tools used to train for hard skills can easily be modified to work on soft skills development.
This might be as simple as modifying training modules to be completed in teams, highlighting teambuilding and collaboration. You might also include time for reflection and refinement in each training session. This gives employees practice in analyzing what they did well and identifying their growing edges.
In addition to modifying your learning experiences to incorporate soft skills development, there are other ways to train employees for both hard and soft skills. One effective method is to use simulation-based training, which allows employees to practice both hard and soft skills in a safe and controlled environment. For example, if you're training employees in customer service, a simulation-based training program can provide realistic scenarios that allow them to practice both technical skills like using the company's CRM software and soft skills like empathy and active listening.
Another approach is to use coaching and mentoring to develop both hard and soft skills. Mentoring can provide employees with guidance and support to develop their soft skills, while coaching can help them improve their hard skills by providing feedback and guidance on specific tasks or projects.
Ultimately, the key to successfully training employees for both hard and soft skills is to take an integrated approach. By incorporating both hard and soft skills into your training program, you can develop well-rounded employees who can effectively navigate any challenges they may encounter in their jobs.
As you plan your training sessions for your new hires or long-term employees, don’t think hard skills vs. soft skills. EdgePoint Learning can help you find a training approach to both that works for what your employees need right now. Get in touch today to learn more.