When trying to get a job or earn a promotion, you always want to put your best foot forward. That means knowing what makes you the best candidate for the position and highlighting your best skills. But what are those skills?
Should you focus on your soft skills or hard skills? What’s the difference and what do employers want more?
Soft Skills vs Hard Skills
Many professionals miss the difference between skills, and that can be a critical mistake on the job market, greatly affecting your overall assessment as a candidate. The problem is that the terms hard skills and soft skills are often inadequate and misleading.
Is assertiveness a hard skill or a soft skill? How about emotional intelligence? According to Laura Wilcox, the director of management programs at Harvard Extension School, “Emotional intelligence is no soft skill,” she told Forbes.
So, what’s the difference?
Also watch: How to Think Strategically Like a CEO
Hard skills are teachable, most often technical, skills that no one is born with. Examples include economic analysis, strategic planning, design, coding, etc. These skills are ideal for showing why you’d be great for a specific job. They’re also easy to describe and demonstrate.
The measurability of hard skills means that—on a resume, LinkedIn, or in an interview—you can refer to a project, course, or education that helped you gain the skill. For example, it shouldn’t be too difficult for an accountant to show they understand asset management and account analysis.
Examples of hard skills include:
- Data analysis
- Foreign language proficiency
- A degree or certificate
- Resource management
On the other hand, soft skills are often interpersonal. They are cultivated instead of taught, and people can be predisposed to be better at certain soft skills than others. For example, you might naturally be a better communicator or enjoy working in teams.
The personal nature of soft skills means that they are harder to quantify and demonstrate to employers. How do you show that you are great at listening, are self-aware, demonstrate empathy, and make a trustworthy leader? It’s not quite as easy.
Examples of soft skills include:
- Time management
Read Do You Have the Soft Skills in the Workplace that Today’s Employers are Demanding? for more insight.
Which Skills do Employers Want More?
There’s an ongoing debate about the importance of hard skills versus soft skills in the workplace. The main thing to remember is that employers look for both before hiring—they are both necessary and complementary to each other.
For example, great leaders (a soft skill) are required to be able to handle really tough hard skills such as changing strategic direction and laying off employees, all with a deft touch. In this case, the hard and soft skills can’t really be separated from each other.
According to a 2014 CareerBuilder study of over 2,000 HR professionals, 77% of those surveyed believe that soft skills are just as important as hard skills, and 16% believe they are more important. And based on a 2015 workforce study, only 55% of HR professionals would prioritize hard skills.
The reality is that there is no key formula for highlighting hard skills VS soft skills. Both are critical to landing an interview and setting yourself apart from other applicants. The trick is knowing the exact qualities that your employer wants and going from there.
Additional reading: Turning Your Quirks Into Your Competitive Advantage
3 Steps to Highlighting Your Soft & Hard Skills
When updating your resume, cover letter, or LinkedIn profile, your hard and soft skills are going to be key to your success but only if you handle them correctly. So, how do you make sure you put your best foot forward?
Step 1: Assess Your Skills
To determine your skills, you’ll first want to complete a self-assessment and take inventory. Then, in an excel spreadsheet, write down as many skills as you can think of. Don’t worry about breaking up your soft and hard skills, just start writing every skill that you can think of in no particular order.
Pro Tip: Don’t be afraid to talk to your network for help. Reach out to your mentor to see what skills they think you excel at. Talk to friends and family to see how they would describe you. Ask your coworkers. Look at prior performance reviews.
Step 2: Organize Your Skills
Once you have a list of all of your skills—hard and soft—start placing them into the right pot. Hard skills are those that are easy to quantify and prove either through work examples or hard documentation. On the other hand, soft skills are far more subjective and will require more specific evidence to demonstrate.
Then, once all of your skills are set in the right pot, start prioritizing them based on what’s most important to your career. The best way to do this is to look at specific job descriptions or company profiles that interest you and see what traits they point out. You’ll then want to shift your attention to those skills that will lead to your success.
Pro Tip: Your end goal should be to highlight four or five of your top hard skills and four or five of your top soft skills.
Step 3: Demonstrate Your Skills
Finally, you want to demonstrate both your soft and hard skills in your resume, on LinkedIn, and in your interview. This means coming up with specific examples for each of your skills.
For hard skills, this won’t be too difficult. A background check will verify your education and a project where data analysis was used is enough to demonstrate your expertise. However, soft skills are a little more problematic.
For example, for a soft skill such as communication, you’ll want to talk about a time where you used communication effectively to achieve success. And when it comes to leadership, you’ll need to demonstrate times where you’ve been a leader and then mention the specific outcome of those efforts, hopefully with quantifiable results.
Pro Tip: Read How to Show Emotional Intelligence in Interview and Other Soft Skills for more great advice.
A balance of hard and soft skills is your best bet. They go hand-in-hand for employers and only by knowing how to leverage both of them will you improve your chance of being the best candidate for the job.
Just remember that it’s not enough to say, “I’m a great team player.” Anyone can say that. You have to show your employer that you have that skill, so always be prepared with specific examples.