Both businesses and job candidates often wonder whether hard or soft skills are more important in today’s world. There’s a common perception that for certain jobs, such as engineering or programming, hard skills are most important, while in more people-centered positions such as sales, soft skills are the key to success. While there’s some truth to this, it’s more accurate to say that both are equally important.

Hard Skills: Tangible and Measurable

Hard skills are usually associated with technical professions. If you’re programming computers, repairing hardware, or analyzing data, you need the appropriate skills. One of the advantages of possessing hard skills is that they’re easy to quantify. Here are some examples of hard skills:

  • Programming.  A programming language such as PHP, C++, Java, etc. Candidates may have certification for this.
  • Machine, tool, or vehicle operations. Knowing how to operate a certain tool, machine or drive a certain type of vehicle.
  • Fluency in a language. Speaking Spanish, Mandarin, Arabic, etc.
  • Create a dish or drink. Chefs and bartenders need to demonstrate they can create specific meals or drinks with proficiency.

These are just a few examples of hard skills. Candidates with hard skills often get diplomas, degrees, or certifications in their areas of expertise. Some employers take this a step further and give candidates tests to demonstrate their abilities.

Soft Skills: Vital but Hard to Quantify

Soft skills, by contrast, are harder to measure. They are, however, just as important as hard skills. Some examples of soft skills include:

  • Attitude and motivation. No matter how skillful an employee is, no one wants someone around who has a negative attitude or who isn’t self-motivated. A poor attitude or the inability to work without close supervision are serious flaws that no amount of proficiency can make up for.
  • Communication skills. Most jobs require employees to communicate, either with managers, team members, subordinates, or customers. For technical positions, an important skill is the ability to explain complicated issues to non-technical team members or customers.
  • Flexibility and adaptability. In every position, there are times when flexibility is needed. This may include working with different people, acquiring new skills (including hard skills), and approaching problems from a different perspective.
  • Teamwork. There are positions where lone wolves thrive but these are the exception. Most jobs require some teamwork. The inability to work with others limits your career potential regardless of how proficient your hard skills are.

These are some examples of soft skills that are essential for performing well on the job and contributing to any organization. In many cases, without soft skills, hard skills are less helpful. For example, an IT specialist who can’t communicate solutions to team members or customers isn’t very helpful.

Integrating Hard and Soft Skills 

Instead of trying to determine which skills are more important, hard or soft, try to combine them. If you’re the candidate, take an honest look at yourself and decide which of the two you need to cultivate. Some people have devoted most of their efforts at acquiring hard skills and need to learn better communication or teamwork skills.

Soft skills can, in fact, be learned. The first step is understanding the need to cultivate them. On the other hand, if you’re a natural salesperson or team player, you may need to add some hard skills to your resume. This is relatively straightforward, as it often involves taking a course or getting a certification.

Chart Westcott, COO of Ikarian Capital, says, “While certain hard skills are necessary for any position, employers increasingly look for job applicants with particular soft skills. This is because it is much more difficult to teach an employee a soft skill.”

The ideal candidate will likely be one who possess a rare synthesis of hard and soft skills. There are also ways to help employees improve their soft skills. Whether you’re a candidate or hiring manager, don’t make the mistake of focusing solely on one or the other. In today’s increasingly complex and connected world, it takes a mix of hard and soft skills to succeed.

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