Mastering the Balance: Soft vs Hard Skills in the Workplace

Smiling man holding a briefcase

If you’ve ever looked at a job application in detail, you may have noticed employers referring to things called hard and soft skills. However, if you’re not sure what those are, it can be tricky to know whether you’ve got them and will be a good fit for the job or not.

The good news is that the nuances between these two types of skills aren’t hard to understand. And, once you have them down, you’ll be better equipped to apply for certain jobs. 

In this guide, I’ll go over what each of these skills is and why they matter. Plus, I’ll give you some examples of each one. Let’s dive in!

What are Hard Skills?

Hard skills, or technical skills, are the concrete, measurable abilities that often spring to mind when we think about job qualifications. These are skills that are learned through education or specific job experience. They are acquired through practice and learning, often taking the form of identifiable, tangible knowledge. 

For instance, the ability to perform surgeries is a hard skill for surgeons, the ability to program in Python is a hard skill for a software engineer, and knowing how to operate a forklift is a hard skill for a warehouse worker.

What are Soft Skills?

Soft skills, or ‘people skills’, tend to be more nebulous but just as vital as hard skills. These are the abilities that speak to your personality and behavior. They influence how you interact within a work environment, including how you communicate, your ability to work as a team, and how you solve problems. 

For example, the ability to communicate effectively is an essential soft skill, as is the ability to work under stress or the aptitude for building strong relationships. 

Importance of Soft and Hard Skills for a Good Career 

While hard skills can get your CV noticed, soft skills get you hired – and help you keep the job. They are what make you more than a list of qualifications. So, as we go forward, remember that both hard skills and soft skills complement each other, forming the complete professional profile that employers are searching for.

Let’s go over a few other reasons why each of these skills is important and how they relate to your career.

Importance of Soft Skills 

Soft skills, often referred to as “people skills,” play a fundamental role in facilitating communication and interaction among team members in the workplace. 

For instance, imagine working in a team project. Technical knowledge alone might not lead to successful outcomes. Effective communication, leadership, and empathy are soft skills that ensure smooth collaboration with your team members. 

Moreover, soft skills can make you stand out in a competitive job market. Many employers report difficulty finding candidates with adequate soft skills. So, if you can demonstrate strong problem-solving abilities, show adaptability to changes, and possess stellar communication skills, you’ll definitely shine brighter in the eyes of your potential employers. 

Importance of Hard Skills 

On the other hand, hard skills are the cornerstone of job competence. These are the technical skills that are needed to complete job tasks. 

For instance, if you’re a software engineer, your proficiency in coding languages, such as Java or Python, is crucial to performing your daily duties. If you’re a graphic designer, your ability to use design software, such as Adobe Illustrator, is your ticket to delivering quality work. 

Hard skills are often the primary focus of your education and training. They are indispensable to your performance in a specific job and can often be the deciding factor in getting hired. Especially in highly specialized fields, like healthcare or engineering, honed hard skills are highly sought after by employers.

Examples of Soft Skills

As a career coach, I often find myself emphasizing the importance of soft skills. They’re called “soft” not because they’re minor or neglected but because they are less tangible and harder to quantify than hard skills. 

Soft skills complement hard skills and can significantly boost your performance in the workplace. They involve how you interact and work with others, how you solve problems, and how you manage your work. Here are a few examples.

Communication Skills

Arguably one of the most critical soft skills, communication is about more than articulating your own ideas. It also involves listening to others to understand their needs and ideas, being able to give and receive feedback constructively, and conveying your thoughts and ideas effectively in writing and verbally.


No matter your role or level in a company, being able to work well with others is vital. Teamwork involves being cooperative, respecting others’ ideas and contributions, resolving conflicts maturely, and working towards a common goal.

Critical Thinking

The ability to analyze situations, consider multiple perspectives, and make sensible decisions is crucial in the workplace. Critical thinking involves being able to evaluate different options and choose the most appropriate one based on the data or information available.

Conflict Resolution

Disagreements or conflicts are bound to arise in the workplace. How effectively you handle these situations can significantly impact your success and professional relationships. Being able to listen, communicate, and negotiate to resolve conflicts constructively is an essential soft skill.


Leadership isn’t only about managing others directly. It’s about inspiring, motivating, and supporting those around you. Even if you’re not in a managerial role, behaving like a leader by taking initiative, demonstrating accountability, and embracing change can set you apart.

Examples of Hard Skills

In today’s fast-paced and technologically advanced world, hard skills are the specific technical knowledge and abilities required for job success. These are often achieved through formal education, training, and hands-on experience. Hard skills are quantifiable and easy to demonstrate, making them critical for job applications and career advancement. Let’s look at some common examples of hard skills.

Computer Programming

This is one of the essential skills in the tech industry. From creating websites to designing applications or developing video games to implementing algorithms, computer programming skills are in high demand across several sectors.

Machine Operation

In sectors like manufacturing, construction, or automation, the ability to operate and maintain machinery is an invaluable hard skill. It involves understanding the mechanics, troubleshooting, maintaining safety standards, and coordinating with a team.

Project Management

Although it might seem like a soft skill, project management is a practical hard skill because it involves concrete techniques and methodologies. It includes preparing project plans, setting deadlines, allocating resources, and risk management, among other things.

Foreign Language Proficiency

As businesses become more global, people who are multilingual are increasingly valuable to companies. This is particularly crucial in roles related to international relations, travel, or hospitality.

Graphic Design

This skill is vital for roles in advertising, marketing, web design, and other creative fields. It entails the ability to create visual elements such as logos, original images, and illustrations that capture attention, communicate messages, and solve problems.

Development of Soft vs. Hard Skills 

Learning new skills is a continuous process that is extremely important to keep up with the ever-evolving job market. Whether it’s honing existing skills or developing new ones, it requires focus, determination, and consistent efforts. But don’t worry, it’s completely achievable!

Here are a few things to know about developing your soft vs hard skills.

Methods for Developing Soft Skills 

Developing soft skills starts with self-awareness. Being mindful of your strengths and areas for improvement is an important starting point. Here are some examples of different soft skills and how to develop them:

  • Communication skills: Actively listening during conversations. Listening attentively not only helps you understand better but also shows respect and fosters better relationships. 
  • Problem-solving skills: Consistently face challenges head-on and don’t be afraid to make mistakes.
  • Teamwork skills: Seek out collaborative projects and embrace each team member’s unique contributions. Joining group activities, either in or out of the workplace, can also be useful in gaining teamwork experience

Methods for Developing Hard Skills 

For hard skills, targeted and specific learning is key. Classroom-based professional development, online courses, workshops, and on-the-job training can all be effective ways to learn new hard skills. A few examples include: 

  • Programming: Take a relevant course on sites like Coursera or Udemy
  • Foreign language: Immerse yourself in the language through a language exchange program.

Measurement of Soft vs. Hard Skills 

In this section, we’ll discuss the various ways in which both soft and hard skills can be measured. Assessing these skills often requires different strategies due to their distinct characteristics, but it’s certainly possible and crucial in various professional contexts, ranging from hiring decisions to performance evaluations.

Techniques for Measuring Soft Skills 

Measuring soft skills is no easy feat, primarily because they are less tangible than hard skills. However, there are a few effective techniques we can use. 

A few techniques for measuring them include: 

  • Observation: Through daily interactions and observations, we can see how a person’s soft skills develop.
  • Feedback: Through discussions with colleagues, superiors, or subordinates.
  • Assessment tools: Psychometric exams can measure skills such as emotional intelligence or personality tendencies.

Techniques for Measuring Hard Skills 

We use more straightforward and quantifiable methods when evaluating hard skills. A few examples include: 

  • Tests or exams, such as TOEFL
  • Perofrmance metrics
  • Certifications, such as a CFA
  • Portfolios of past work

High Demand Skills

In today’s ever-changing job market, it’s essential to stay ahead of the curve and understand what skills employers are looking for. A couple of hard skills that are in high demand include: 

  • Data analysis: As daily business operations continue to digitize, many companies seek professionals who can manipulate big data and convert it into actionable strategies.
  • Coding and programming: If you know your way around languages like Python, JavaScript, or SQL, you’re likely to catch the eye of prospective employers.
  • Digital marketing: Expertise in SEO, Google Ads, and content marketing, to name a few, can set you apart in your job search.

In terms of soft skills, a few in-demand skills to hone in on include: 

  • Emotional intelligence: Employers value emotional intelligence because it enhances interpersonal dynamics in the workplace.
  • Adaptability: The world of work is fluid and rapidly changing. So, being someone who can adapt quickly and efficiently to new situations, processes, or environments is a huge bonus. 
  • Problem-solving: A problem-solving mindset can mean the difference between success or failure of an entire project. 

By enhancing these in-demand hard and soft skills, you put yourself in a much more competitive position in the job market. Not only does it show that you’re dedicated to continuous personal and professional development, but it also indicates that you are in tune with the needs of the evolving workplace.

How to Include Hard and Soft Skills in Your Resume 

One of the key components of a well-rounded resume is presenting not only your hard skills but also highlighting those significant soft skills. Let’s look at some strategies to effectively include both on your resume.

Methods for Including Hard Skills

Including hard skills on your resume is often straightforward. Start by scanning the job description for the relevant hard skills the employer seeks. You can then list these skills in the skills section of your resume. 

For instance, if you’re applying for a programmer job and the job description mentions knowledge of specific programming languages, include those that you are proficient in. This could look something like:

Technical Skills:

  • Proficient in Python, Java, and C++
  • Experience with Agile project management
  • Expert in data analysis using Excel

However, it’s also beneficial to showcase these hard skills throughout your work history. For example, in your experience as a data analyst, you might have a bullet like this:

Data Analyst, XYZ Firm

Utilized Python and Java to create and modify software tools, increasing department productivity by 30%.

Methods for Including Soft Skills

When it comes to soft skills, they can be trickier to include. Rather than simply listing them, it’s meaningful to show how you’ve applied these soft skills in your previous roles. 

For example, instead of just stating that you have “strong communication skills,” provide context. You could write something like: 

Customer Service Representative, ABC Corporation

Leveraged strong communication and problem-solving skills to resolve customer issues, leading to a 20% increase in customer satisfaction scores.

Remember, for both hard and soft skills, use the language from the job description where appropriate. This can help your resume get past applicant tracking systems and ensure that the hiring manager sees you as a good fit for the role. 

By properly showcasing your hard and soft skills on your resume, you’ll present yourself as a well-rounded candidate, ready to bring a complete set of skills to your next job.

Showcasing Soft and Hard Skills in an Interview

One of the best opportunities to demonstrate your soft and hard skills is during a job interview. Below, I share some methods and examples of how you can effectively showcase both skill sets.

Showcasing Soft Skills

For one thing, you can showcase good communication skills by succinctly answering interview questions and engaging in active listening when your interviewer is speaking.

You can also demonstrate teamwork skills by sharing specific instances when you worked as part of a team to accomplish a task. You could talk about a project where you worked with colleagues from different departments to meet a common goal.

To demonstrate leadership skills, talk about the responsibilities you handled. Mention scenarios where you motivated your team, handled conflict, or made strategic decisions.

Showcasing Hard Skills

To demonstrate hard skills, things can look a little bit different. For instance, to demonstrate technical abilities, you can prepare a portfolio that showcases your work. For example, if you’re a graphic designer, bringing samples of your work could make a significant impact.

Another way to show off hard skills is to talk about any certifications or special training you’ve acquired that align with the job role. If you’re applying for a project management role, discussing your training with tools like Trello or Asana can be beneficial.

Finally, you can give specific examples of tasks or projects where you applied your hard skills and achieved positive results. For instance, if you streamlined a process that increased productivity by 20%, be sure to mention it.

Remember, when highlighting both hard and soft skills, specificity and direct relevance to the job you’re applying for are key. Always aim to demonstrate these skills rather than just stating them.

Wrapping Up: Master Both Hard and Soft Skills

No matter where you’re at in your career right now, remember that you have the power to learn, grow, and excel. Both your soft and hard skills are valuable, and as you improve them, you are boosting your chance to succeed in your career. Keep up the good work, stay positive, and remember, success is a journey characterized by continuous learning and improvement.

And, if you need additional support in mastering these types of skills? Check out our insights on career development for even more helpful tips and tricks.

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