The Difference Between Hard and Soft Skills

The day-to-day skills required to do the job are often referred to as “hard skills”. Hard skills include things like design, project management, sales, or other areas in which a candidate has demonstrated proven, measurable experience in a particular area.

Accomplishments are an extension of hard skills – how did you achieve X result through hands-on experience? While it’s true that these hard skills and achievements will often hold the most weight in a hiring manager’s decision, it’s also important not to overlook the soft skills that also add value.

You can think of a “soft skill” as something of an attribute or personal quality that enhances your ability to do the job. Soft skills include qualities like leadership, interpersonal skills, work ethic, and ability to problem-solve. These aren’t specific to once vocation, but that are developed over time.

Soft Skills Companies Hire For

For the most part skill sets like these fall into the category of “soft skills”, personal attributes that enhance a person’s performance and interactions by complementing their hard (or learned) skills. Often they’re referred to as “interpersonal” skills, but they expand outside the realm of communication and customer interaction to include other proficiencies like creative problem solving, negotiation, critical or strategic thinking, and other traits.

Soft skills alone aren’t necessarily adequate qualifications for the job, but more so serve as complementary qualities. You can make those otherwise “blah” skills actually work in your favor by pointing to unique examples of value that you bring to the table. The trick here is to understand why those skills are of value by providing examples of how you’ve leveraged them in the past.

Here are some of the top soft skill sets employers are looking for, and if demonstrated effectively, can absolutely help you nab your next job offer:

Ability to Work Remote

In today’s digitally-driven workforce, hiring remote talent is becoming more popular among companies that are fighting for top talent. It’s no longer required in many cases that an employee be able to work onsite in order to thrive and succeed in their role. While this may not be true for all occupations, it has become the case for sectors in which there has been significant growth, and thus more competition for talent (i.e. tech).

Being able to work effectively in a remote capacity isn’t simply about having a home office and equipment. Those who work in a virtual environment generally lack the kind of structure that exists in having a team and/or supervisor present to provide feedback and collaboration. For some, this is a downside of working remotely, while others thrive in a self-directed, flexible environment.

This is an important soft skill because it speaks to one’s ability to manage their time, workload, and priorities in an effective manner, to maintain productivity and still be able to collaborate with peers without the framework of a traditional office.

Creativity & Innovation

Creativity may seem like more of a buzzword than an actual skill these days – after all, everyone cites themselves as “creative” or “innovative” on their resume. But when these traits are effectively demonstrated through your work history, they can add immense value and position you competitively in your search.

Creativity itself is less about having a creative portfolio and more about your approach to problem-solving – finding interesting, effective solutions to common (and not so common) challenges. Creativity is key in a sales role, for instance, when you’re constantly faced with clients who don’t understand the value of what you’re selling and are hesitant to make an investment in a “nice to have” versus “need to have” product or service.

How do you get that message of value across the client? Many salespeople tell me that it’s about truly knowing your prospect’s business inside and out, feeling their challenges, and then being able to offer innovative solutions that not only speak to their needs but respect their budgetary constraints.

Strong Grasp on Technology

You might not be physically handling the social media or website design functions day to day, but illustrating your technical savvy positions you as someone who understands what’s currently being utilized and leveraged by your competitors.

Where this is really going to be effective is if you understand what role these technologies play for the organization. Are they underrepresented in the social media space, lacking a cohesive online brand presence, falling short of the same levels of customer engagement as their competitor brands?

It may not be part of your job, but it’s still valuable insight that you bring to the table.

Management & Leadership

Management & leadership skills are something to be developed at any level of your career, not just when you’re pursuing a role where you’re leading a team or managing direct reports. It goes beyond organizational structure and hierarchy. Leadership is about taking initiative, developing creative vision, seeing opportunities to leverage your knowledge and expertise, and having the confidence to bring that to the table.

Where have you stepped up in the past on projects, brought in new ideas, or assumed responsibility for something that was maybe outside of your role?

Entrepreneurial Mindset: Think Like a Manager, & Know How to Manage Yourself

You don’t have to own a business to understand the idea of an entrepreneurial mindset. An entrepreneurial mindset means being able to step back and take yourself out of the equation on a personal level and understand what the higher objectives of the project and the organization are.

One of the facets of entrepreneurship is being able to manage yourself – your time, your workflow, and thus your productivity. You know how to navigate a less structured environment as much as you can follow the protocol in a very structured role.

It’s also about being able to look at the organization as a whole and understand how your role and the work that you do contribute to the overall growth and goals of the company.

Think of your role as your own ship, and you and only you are accountable for running it day to day, seeking out the necessary resources you need to do the job, and tracking your progress.

Another piece of this is being able to think like a manager (or CEO), even if you’re not one.

A friend of mine was sweating a conversation with his CEO the other day in regards to a website project he was managing that was behind deadline. Even though other people were involved, he was afraid the blame and accountability for it not being done would be placed on him, and he immediately felt on the defensive.

Being someone myself who runs a business, I told him to put himself in the CEO’s shoes: “Your website is your core product. Are you more interested in scolding your employee and blaming them for it not getting done, or in walking out of that meeting understanding WHY it’s not done, what needs to happen to move it forward, and with a definitive timeline of when you can expect it to be up and running?”

Sure enough, that’s all he wanted – a game plan.

Chances are you’re well-acquainted with the hard skills you bring to the table.

Instead, think about:

  • What soft skills do you possess that can potentially give you a step up?
  • What traits have proven valuable to you in the past, and how might you position those in your next conversation, so that you’re able to differentiate yourself from candidates with similar skill and experience-based qualifications?

If you’re unclear on it, ask a coworker, a friend, or even a former supervisor to provide some insight on your best professional and personal qualities, and how you’ve illustrated those in the past.

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