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Hard Skills vs. Soft Skills: What’s the Difference?

Rockstar. Ninja. Unicorn.

Have you seen companies listing these words on job postings? It seems like employers expect nothing less than superheroes to apply these days. While you may not be a mythical creature, it’s important to know what you bring to the table and how to best showcase it. This means examining – and highlighting – both your hard and soft skills. But what’s the difference?

The Difference Between Hard Skills and Soft Skills

The key differences between hard skills and soft skills are how you acquire them and how they are applied in the workplace, according to Indeed.

Hard Skills

Hard skills are easy to quantify. They are something you typically would learn in a classroom, through books or training materials, or on the job. For example, if you’ve collaborated on a work project, you may know how to use Microsoft Project. Hard skills are easy to demonstrate and describe, and show that you are technically capable of a specific position. Other examples of hard skills include:

  • Foreign language proficiency
  • Programming languages (e.g., Python, Java, Ruby)
  • SEO marketing
  • Copywriting
  • Data mining
  • Statistical analysis
  • Microsoft Excel and PowerPoint proficiency

Soft Skills

Soft skills are interpersonal traits that shape how you work and interact with others. You grow soft skills over time, instead of being taught, and they can be difficult to quantify. Some people might be more predisposed toward certain soft skills, such as communication and teamwork, than others.
Other examples of soft skills include:

  • Flexibility
  • Dependability
  • Leadership
  • Creativity
  • Time management
  • Critical thinking
  • Organization

How to Highlight Your Hard and Soft Skills

Employers are seeking candidates who fulfill both their hard skills and soft skills requirements. To highlight your skills, you first need to complete an assessment of what they are. Career site IvyExec recommends a three-step process:

  1. Assess: Take an inventory of your skills by writing all of your skills you can think of in a spreadsheet.
  2. Organize: Categorize your skills as being hard or soft and then prioritize them according to your career goals. You can do this by looking at job descriptions that interest you to see what traits are listed.
  3. Demonstrate: Discover how you can showcase your hard and soft skills on your resume, in your cover letter and at the interview.

Each part of the interviewing process provides an opportunity to demonstrate your skills.

Your Resume
To showcase your hard and soft skills on your resume, consider adding a “Skills” section. Emphasizing your technical skills that relate to your desired occupation is important here, especially to get your resume past applicant tracking systems and into the hands of the hiring manager. While customizing your resume for each job application can be a tedious task, modifying the “Skills” section to match the “requirements,” “education,” and “desired skills,” sections of the job posting can be well worth the effort.

Your Cover Letter
Your cover letter is an opportunity to highlight your hard and soft skills by including professional anecdotes that demonstrate how you have successfully applied these skills. For example, you can discuss how you led a process improvement at your company by not only knowing how to automate in Microsoft Excel using Visual Basic, but also by using your leadership and communication skills to coordinate the effort across multidisciplinary teams.

In the Interview
The interview is really when your soft skills can shine. While demonstrating your listening and communication skills should happen right off the bat, you can also discuss how you’ve applied your combination of soft and hard skills on projects you have worked on or tough work situations you have overcome. Your hard skills can be highlighted as well by discussing your training and experience.

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