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What's The Difference Between Hard and Soft Skills?

by Karyn H. Rhodes | SHRM-SCP, SPHR on May 12, 2022 5:00:00 PM

It’s not easy to know which employees will lead in performance and productivity when you’re hiring, especially because everyone has different talents they bring to the table. Sometimes, these are hard skills and other times, soft. Ideally, you may want employees who have a mix of both. But just what is the difference between hard and soft skills?

Here, we’ll help you spot the difference between hard and soft skills, understand why they’re both important, and learn ways to teach them to employees so you can help every worker be successful in their role.

What are hard and soft skills?

Employee competencies are often categorized into hard and soft skills. Generally speaking, hard skills can be defined as technical knowledge while soft skills are overall habits in the workplace. But we’ll get into more specific details about them.

Hard Skills

Hard skills are quantifiable abilities that are teachable. For example, they’re often learned through education, specific training, or on the job. They can be things like foreign language proficiency, computer software skills, bookkeeping, or machine operation abilities that a job candidate will likely include on their resume.

Since they indicate an employee’s technical knowledge and expertise, hard skills demonstrate that an employee has the capabilities needed to carry out their job tasks. As a result, they can benefit your company in several ways:

  1. They can predict productivity. Ensuring employees have a certain level of proficiency means they will be able to perform more effectively and efficiently.
  2. Hard skills can help generate revenue. For example, knowledge of search engine optimization (SEO) to create an online campaign can lead to new subscribers, who may eventually turn into paying customers.
  3. They may improve day-to-day operations. With capabilities in the technologies and processes that keep things running, employees with hard skills can help ensure your business operates smoothly.

Soft Skills

These skills are more subjective in nature and are generally thought of as people skills. Some examples of soft skills include effective communication, problem solving, critical thinking, teamwork, and adaptability. Unlike hard skills, there’s no easy way to identify that a candidate possesses the ability other than to ask about examples of situations from your past experience.

Soft skills can be important to your company for a number of reasons:

  1. They may indicate longevity. Skills like conflict resolution and commitment can indicate that a worker will stay at your company.
  2. Soft skills can predict teamwork. Listening, communication, and flexibility can show that an employee will work well as part of a team, which can help promote a healthy work environment.
  3. They can help build relationships with customers and partners. If you’re looking for workers who can foster professional relationships, soft skills can indicate their ability to represent you well.

Are soft or hard skills more important?

When evaluating hard versus soft skills in a candidate or employee, it’s important to note that both can be vital to a role. For example, hard skills can demonstrate an employee’s understanding of a particular ability while soft skills indicate their ability to work with others. Think about a lawyer or doctor; those professionals must complete certain educational requirements but must also be able to communicate well.

However, sometimes you may choose a worker with more of one set of skills than the other based on your workplace, culture, and needs. If you’re hiring a research scientist who works independently, you may look for a candidate with particular education and training and not worry a lot about teamwork. On the other hand, if you’re filling a customer service job, soft skills like communication and patience may be more valuable than a certain degree.

How can I develop hard and soft skills in an employee?

Whether a candidate or existing employee needs to develop their hard or soft skills, there are ways you as an employer can help. For example, more than 80% of companies are willing to hire candidates without requirement skill sets and then train them to fill roles.

When it comes to hard skills, helping your employees develop is a little more straightforward. For example, you can offer online training through a learning management system, have them enroll in a professional course to learn a required skill, or encourage them to join an industry group that offers opportunities to download resources or attend events where they can learn.

With soft skills, it’s a little more challenging. That’s probably why 57% of employers value soft skills more because you can’t teach someone how to get along with others, for example. However, there are steps you can take to support development of soft skills in your workers. Providing one-on-one coaching, creating a culture of mentorship, and offering continuous feedback are some ways you can help nurture and grow these abilities. There are also trainings specific to developing an employee’s EQ, or emotional intelligence.

How to Best Support Hard and Soft Skill Development\

Developing hard and soft skills can help you cultivate new and current employees alike so they can be successful in their role – and contribute to your company’s success as well. A key component of promoting these skills is providing your team the training they need to develop and improve them.

Skills training can offer a big return on investment by enhancing performance, preparing your company for the future, showing you value employees, and more. If you’re ready to start on a plan to best develop hard and soft skills in your workers, our FAQ on training employees should be your next step.


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