Soft and hard skills: why employees need both to be successful
In business, there’s a saying: “Hard skills will get you the interview. Soft skills will get you the job.” So, what's the difference between soft skills and hard skills?
Organizations of all sizes and in all industries need employees who possess more than just a technical skill set to complete job tasks. They need employees who have the personal qualities to significantly impact their teams, customers, and the industry. As you compare soft skills vs. hard skills in hiring decisions, consider the value of each at your organization and how the ideal candidate demonstrates a balance of both.
Having a good balance of soft and hard skills is a must, especially with the increase in remote work. Communication and teamwork are highly valued soft skills examples that are even more critical in virtual and hybrid work environments. These are the types of skills that enable people to build professional relationships and ensure productivity even across distances.
The 2020 LinkedIn Workplace Learning Report found that despite varying interests in the types of technical vs. soft skills, employees of all generations want to continue learning and growing:
- Gen Z workers are most interested in their tech and creativity skills
- In contrast, Millennials and Gen Xers feel confident in their hard skills and are more interested in developing their leadership and management skills
The common denominator is a desire to master a mix of soft and hard skills for professional development and personal growth.
In this article, we’ll break down the meaning of soft skills and hard skills, discuss why they're both important for employee and organizational success, and share how your company can upskill your team members with these necessary skills in a competitive global marketplace.
What's the difference between soft skills and hard skills?
So, now that you’ve had a brief introduction to technical vs. soft skills, you’re probably wondering about the difference between soft and technical skills.
Let’s look at the meaning of soft skills and hard skills and some examples of each.
Hard skills (technical skills) defined
Hard skills are technical job functions that people learn through education or training. They’re specific to a job type or field and sometimes require the use of specialized software or technical tools.
Recruiters and hiring managers initially look for these hard (or technical) skills as a baseline on resumes. They need to gauge how well a potential employee can perform the position's most basic duties. For example, you can’t be a successful software engineer without the necessary coding experience and tech language fluency.
Once a recruiter or HR professional narrows down the list of candidates who meet the basic job requirements, that's when soft skills (or power skills) come into play.
Hard skills examples
You can review hard skills by job-type categories since different roles require different technical skills. Some of the most desirable hard skills are in data, cybersecurity, and computer science. However, skills in other fields like sales, marketing, finance, and accounting are also in-demand.
Here are some hard skills examples:
Data and engineering skills:
- Data analysis and data mining
- Coding (HTML, Java, Python, Ruby, etc.)
- Machine learning
Sales and marketing skills:
- Social Media
- Product and specialty knowledge
Finance and accounting skills:
- Financial modeling
- Risk Analysis
- Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP)
- Cash flow management
These hard skills are certainly essential to complete basic job functions. But to really succeed and make an impact in your company, your employees need to possess soft skills as well.
Soft skills defined
Soft skills are more nuanced and tend to result from life experiences and reflection. They’re interpersonal, non-technical skills applicable across industries, job functions, and career paths. These skill sets can have the greatest impact on an employees’ performance within your organization.
Though they can be challenging to quantify, these skills are no less critical than hard skills. In fact, soft skills are highly valued and sought after since they’re not as easily taught or measured.
But that doesn’t mean that employees can’t learn new soft skills or grow in areas of weakness. As a manager or director, you can provide training opportunities to help your employees master soft skills.
Soft skills examples
Soft skills are always necessary regardless of the job or position. As workplace culture continues to be a priority for potential employees, the importance of soft skills is only growing.
Here are some soft skills examples:
- Adaptability and flexibility
- Work ethic
- Time management
- Attention to detail
- Ability to manage multiple priorities
- Innovation and creativity
The hard and soft skills difference is clear. However, both are necessary for a high-performing company. But as a leader in your organization, it can still be tough to know why investing in soft skill training is beneficial for employees.
Why employees with both hard skills and soft skills are successful
The goal isn’t to simply choose soft skills over hard skills or vice versa—both are vital for an effective team and company. Hard skills show technical proficiency and mastery, while soft skills showcase self-awareness and interpersonal competence.
Employees who have both soft and hard skills benefit your company for several reasons:
- They can adapt quickly to changes in the market
- They’re resourceful and consistently think on their feet when out in the field
- They’re great problem solvers, especially when facing new challenges or customer complaints
- They support effective collaboration, which leads to better results, stronger retention, and higher morale
Soft skills are difficult to quantify on a resume. Some candidates might mention specific skills and how they implement them in their cover letter, but the interview is really the time for you to ask about and assess the soft skills that your company values.
But why do employees need both sets of skills?
Here’s an example:
Let’s say that you have two employees. They both have the same degree, years of experience, and technical knowledge. One of them is always eager to provide input, listens attentively to others, receives feedback well, responds in a timely manner to internal and client requests, and can be counted on to meet deadlines and do excellent work. The other one gets their work done, but can often be rude to other employees or clients, doesn’t receive feedback well, show up late or unprepared to meetings, and is tough to communicate with.
Which employee sounds like the one you’d rather have in your organization and interfacing with clients?
Hopefully, you choose the first one. Now, think about what it would be like if all your employees had both the technical expertise and soft skills of that first employee explained above. It would probably change the entirety of your organization—in a positive way.
Having a team that’s filled with soft skills and hard skills will add great value to your organization internally and externally.
However, if you find that a large number of your employees could use some help with soft skills, you can always start providing them with soft skills training opportunities.
Upskilling soft skills with Unboxed Technology
Now that you’ve learned the answer to the key question, “What's the difference between soft skills and hard skills?” the next question you should ask yourself is, “How do I upskill my employees?” It shouldn’t be a debate about technical vs. soft skills. Continuous professional development and upskilling of BOTH soft and hard skills is vital to your company’s continued success.
Organizations that simply focus on technical skills training are missing the bigger picture. Enhancing your employees' soft skills will have the greatest impact on the team and overall company performance.
So, how do you capitalize on the best of your employees’ skills and bring their full potential to life?
At Unboxed Training & Technology, we believe that one of the best ways to upskill employees is by delivering engaging and strategic training content that’s easily accessible from anywhere.
Enter Spoke®, our award-winning Learning Technology Platform.
Spoke® helps organizations learn continuously and adapt rapidly in an increasingly competitive world. It’s a platform that brings Skill Agility® right to your workplace—the ability to quickly identify and acquire skills in response to changing business needs. With Spoke, you can deliver industry-leading soft skills training as soon as your team needs it so that they’re always ahead of the game.
Contact us today to see how Spoke® can maximize your employees' most critical soft and hard skills in a collaborative, entertaining, and effective way.
Get a demo to see how Spoke® Learning Technology Platform can help upskill your employees and turn your organization into a hub for Skill Agility.