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What's the Difference Between Hard and Soft Skills?

These days it often takes more than a stand out CV to get you through the interview process and land you the role of your dreams. On the contrary, interviewers in the new world of work are looking for more than just education and work experience, they’re looking for what you, as an individual, can bring to the table outwith quantifiable skills.

In other words, employers are looking for candidates with the right mix of hard and soft skills to ensure their organisations are thriving.

Now you’ve likely heard about hard skills and soft skills in your career so far, but to give you more valuable insight, below we break down exactly what each set of skills means, the differences between them, and how to showcase the valuable ones you have.

Hard Skills & Soft Skills: Definitions

What are Hard Skills?

Hard skills are abilities, capabilities and aptitudes that can be learned and taught to other people.

They’re skills that are generally thought of as being ‘practical’ or something that you can demonstrate easily to other people. They are usually able to be quantified and measured – after all, you either know how to do something, or you don’t. One easy way to identify a hard skill is to think if you can easily demonstrate it to someone else.

Examples of hard skills include things like:

  • Computer skills: web development, programming, operating a particular piece of software etc.
  • Knowing another language
  • Knowing how to operate a particular skill
  • Project management skills
  • Copywriting: writing content aimed at particular audiences

What are Soft Skills?

Soft skills, on the other hand, are slightly more subtle than hard skills. They are usually focused on how you relate to other people and are generally quite abstract. They are definitely skills – just as important as hard skills – but they are harder to demonstrate and can often be quite hidden unless you’re specifically looking for them. 

Common soft skills include things like:

  • Conversational skills
  • Confidence skills
  • Leadership
  • Motivation
  • Time management
  • Teamwork
  • Work ethic


Woman Typing Laptop 2

Why are Hard and Soft Skills Important?

It sounds obvious, but it’s worth making this clear: hard and soft skills are the combination of traits that employers look for when it comes to hiring new employees. They are the core elements that define how well you can perform an integral function for a business: in other words, how well you can do your job.

 As a result, employers have an interest in finding candidates that have the unique blend of hard and soft skills that their organisations need to grow and thrive.

Hard and soft skills aren’t different words for the same thing though – they’re actually both very different skill types. These differences have clear effects on the decisions that interviewers and employers make when trying to source the best people for their organisations.

Hard Skills & Soft Skills: Key Differences

So in what detailed ways do hard skills and soft skills actually differ? Here are five of the key differences between these two very important skill types.

1.   Hard skills are generally technical skills

One of the key things that sets hard skills apart from soft skills is the fact that they are generally more focused on technical capabilities. They are those skills that seem to be rooted in the reality of a role and in the day to day, practical activities we need to complete in our jobs. For example, a Web Developer will need hard skills in coding and programming languages like HTML, PHP and Java to name a few.

In effect, hard skills are very technical skills that require time to learn.

2.   Soft skills are more abstract

Soft skills on the other hand are more abstract and often take the form of non-physical skills and attributes related to interpersonal skills – how you engage and relate to others. The word ‘skill’ is a bit of a misnomer because soft skills are grounded more in emotion and intuition rather than a physical action that you complete (although some soft skills can have physical elements). Think things like communication, confidence, critical-thinking etc.

3. Hard skills can taught…

Another key difference is that hard skills can be taught fairly easily. You can enrol on that accountancy course to learn how to do double-entry bookkeeping, or you can do an apprenticeship to learn how to become a welder. In both of these cases, double-entry bookkeeping and welding, are two hard skills. They are practical and physical actions that you complete and that you can learn if you have the time, money and patience.

The key difference between hard and soft skills is that anyone can potentially learn how to perform a hard skill, given enough time and support (aptitude not withstanding of course). Some people may not be able to perform a soft skill though, no matter how hard they try to learn it. This is because a soft skill is a non-technical skilll (to use a phrase from this great article by The Balance Careers)

4. ..but soft skills can’t be taught easily

You might think that the fact that hard skills are rooted in reality means that they’re the most sought after skills by employers, but you’d be wrong.

Soft skills can’t usually be taught to others very easily. They’re skills that you develop yourself through a period of self-study or self-development. They’re usually inherent things that define the type of person you are, which also makes them hard to describe and thus, even harder to teach. You can learn particular soft skills but it will take a while and won’t be as natural as if you develop them yourself over a long period. 

For example, imagine that you have to teach someone about the soft skill of reliability. How on would go about trying to teach someone the skills that make it up?

The answer is, probably, with a lot of difficulty, because a soft skill like this is something that you steadily learn over a long period of time – it’s not something that can be taught to you in an afternoon. After all, finding candidates with a particular set of hard skills isn’t that difficult. Finding candidates with a particular set of soft skills is a lot harder.

5. Soft skills are related to your unique attributes and personality

As you delve into the lists of particular soft skills, it’s clear that some of them share a few similarities: they seem to be connected to your own personality and how you relate to others. In short, they reflect the particular set of interests, behaviours, strengths and weaknesses that make you, you.

This makes soft skills something that employers are increasingly on the lookout for when choosing candidates. Soft skills are unique attributes that come in an almost infinite series of combinations and a range of these in employees at an organisation can help it to gain an advantage over competitors. It’s easy to see why employers would consider people with both the hard skills and the soft skills they’re looking for key candidates for job roles.

Developing your skills is essential

Hard and soft skills are just as important as each other. Having one or the other will not make you as effective a professional as having both! That’s why it’s important that we continue to develop our hard skills through training and study, and our soft skills through self-reflection.

We hope this blog has helped you understand the key differences between the two skillsets a bit more.

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