Hard Skills vs. Soft Skills: Key Differences and Examples

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 18 November 2021

Published 15 October 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

As a prospective employee, it may be beneficial to develop your skill set. A hard skill refers to what you do in your occupation, while a soft skill dictates how you handle your job duties. Learning how to identify your skill set can help you communicate your credentials to hiring managers effectively. In this article, we define hard skills vs. soft skills, including their meanings and key differences, and explain how to highlight them for your job search.

What are hard skills?

Hard skills are technical abilities you can obtain through work experience and training. They are often requirements for you to perform your job effectively. For example, to administer a medical procedure, you can use knowledge of surgical techniques and human anatomy. Other examples of hard skills include:

  • Operation of heavy machinery

  • Equipment repair

  • Research

  • Data analysis

  • Writing

  • Programming languages

  • Network security

  • Computer application

Read more: Everything You Need To Know About Hard Skills

What are soft skills?

Soft skills are habits or attributes that reflect how you build relationships in the workplace and approach your list of assignments. They can also enhance your technical skills. For example, while conducting a proper safety audit is a technical skill, you use your soft skill of time management to perform multiple audits before the deadline. Other examples of soft skills include:

  • Adaptability

  • Attention to detail

  • Verbal communication

  • Integrity

  • Problem-solving

  • Conflict resolution

  • Teamwork

  • Creativity

Related: 10 Best Skills To Include on a CV

Hard skills vs. soft skills

Here are the key differences between hard skills and soft skills:

Attainability

The process for obtaining your hard skills differs from your soft skills. You often undergo specialised training to gain a technical ability. For example, to learn how to navigate photo editing software, you might watch tutorials or enrol in a course to learn from an expert. While there are programmes for you to develop soft skills, such as communication, it's more common for them to concentrate on your personal traits that you may have had your entire life. For instance, you may be naturally strong at collaborating with your coworkers because of your extroverted personality.

Hard skills typically refer to your ability to operate external equipment, whereas soft skills emerge from your professional conduct.

Measurability

Another contrast is the ability to determine your level of proficiency. Hard skills are measurable, where you can rank your aptitude from being a novice to an expert. Mentioning your master of a hard skill to an employer can help you distinguish your qualifications from other candidates. For example, saying you're fluent in a foreign language may impress a hiring manager more easily than explaining that you're a beginner or intermediate. Your performance on certification exams also measures your technical abilities.

Soft skills, such as time management and problem-solving, aren't measurable. Although you can improve your soft skills as your career progresses, there may not be a formal process that ranks your competence.

Related: Technical Skills: Definition and Examples

Application to the industry

Hard skills depend on your position and the field where you work. For example, professionals in human resources may be experts in employment law and have business acumen. Employees who work in the media may be proficient in interview styles and broadcasting techniques.

Soft skills are more transferable across industries, where you can use the same abilities in the same way regardless of your job type. For instance, HR specialists practise critical thinking similar to news anchors, although they use the skill for different reasons. When you transition to a new field, you may rebuild your technical background, while your set of soft skills remain the same.

How to include hard and soft skills on your CV

Your CV can encompass the hard and soft skills that apply to the job you're seeking. Employers often use applicant tracking systems (ATS) to identify CVs that best align with their interests. Consider naming your skill set the same way the job description does to help your application advance past the pre-screening process. You can also include content that makes it easy for the recruiter to identify your capabilities. Here are three sections where you can identify your credentials:

  • Objective statement: The objective statement contains two or three sentences that overview why you're the most qualified candidate for the job. You can emphasise both the hard and soft skills that you can apply to your desired career.

  • Work experience: Your employment history may not name your skills clearly, but you can communicate your abilities by summarising your job duties. For example, a description of you developing reports on social media engagement can show you can manage your time and interpret analytics.

  • Key skills: The skills section is a list of bullet points where you can identify your hard and soft skills directly. If your list is extensive, then consider compiling them in separate lists, or you can organise them based on their importance to the job.

How to highlight hard and soft skills in an interview

The interview is another opportunity to demonstrate your abilities, where you can distinguish yourself from other candidates and impress the hiring manager. When responding to interview questions, it may be helpful to provide specific examples of you practising your hard and soft skills in the workplace. Briefly describe the situation, the action that you took and the result. Listed below are the steps for showcasing your qualifications when meeting with the employer:

Emphasising your hard skills

Here are options for showcasing your technical skills in an interview:

  1. Explain your responsibilities for previous jobs. Talk about the assignments you've fulfilled in the past and the skills you used to meet your deadlines. For example, recalling a complicated software development project can indicate you're proficient in programming languages, coding and algorithms.

  2. Describe the extent of your training. When you outline your professional certifications, the employer can conclude you have the technical skill set to meet the standards of your field. For instance, holding a health care license can mean you're qualified to administer diagnostic tests and perform medical procedures on patients.

  3. Discuss your industry knowledge. Referencing your industry knowledge can show you can understand how professionals in your field operate. You can use technical language to pique the interviewer's interest, such as the name of a popular technology or an acronym that only experts may comprehend.

  4. Bring a copy of your portfolio. Your portfolio is a compilation of successful projects you completed in the past, which can show the employer you're capable of delivering quality work. For example, if you have a portfolio of cuisine you've prepared as a chef, then the hiring manager can conclude you can measure and cook ingredients and present them to appeal to guests.

  5. Agree to participate in a skills test. The interviewer may assign an assessment that requires you to practice your technical abilities, such as a multiple-choice quiz with questions specific to your industry. Performing well on a skills test can show you're qualified to perform the duties of your desired position.

Related: Why Creating Multiple Versions of Your CV Works

Emphasising your soft skills

Here are options for showcasing your soft skills during an interview:

  1. Arrive on time for the interview. Punctuality can be an important soft skill for employees, especially if your role involves following strict deadlines or attending important meetings with clients. Consider coming to the office building or logging into the video conference a few minutes before the meeting is due to begin.

  2. Maintain eye contact with the interviewer. Your body language, such as eye contact, can represent your active listening skills and strong nonverbal cues. You may also benefit from paraphrasing the question in your answer to prove you were paying attention.

  3. Pause before delivering your response. The interviewer may appreciate how you think about what you want to say before you answer the question, which can indicate critical thinking. For example, if they ask you what type of animal best resembles your personality, your brief pause can show you want to respond thoughtfully.

  4. Answer interview questions clearly and concisely. The delivery and clarity of your responses can illustrate your verbal and interpersonal communication skills. You can describe a scenario that enables the interviewer to visualise what happened and understand your message.

  5. Be honest about your qualifications. Transparency can unveil your integrity as a potential employee. If you acknowledge your weaknesses and commitment to ethical standards in the interview, then the hiring manager may feel confident you may behave similarly if they hire you.

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