Soft skills and hard skills: What’s the difference?

If you want to take your career to the next level, you’ll need to showcase your development in two key skill areas: hard and soft skills. A hard skill is essentially your ability to carry out a specific task, while a soft skill is the way you perform that task within a workplace setting.

In the past, employers had a tendency to focus on hard skills, but in today’s modern workplace, they are increasingly seeking soft skills as a differentiator. In fact, soft skill-intensive occupations will account for around two-thirds of all jobs in Australia by 2030, Deloitte reports.

So what’s the difference between hard and soft skills, and how do you demonstrate you have both to employers?

Hard and soft skills: The difference

Hard skills are easy to quantify – they are the technical knowledge you learn either in the classroom or on the job, and you prove them through certifications, degrees or other qualifications. Soft skills, on the other hand, are a bit more subjective – you can’t show a potential employer you scored an A in teamwork, for example. Instead, you have to show you’ve developed these interpersonal skills through offering instances of where you’ve used teamwork in a particular setting.

In today’s workforce where technology and automation predominate, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking hard skills are all you need, that they are the key differentiator that will help get you a job or your next promotion. However, while hard skills are certainly important, in a tech-dominated world it’s your soft skills that are really going to make the difference. After all, while machines can carry out a lot of tasks that were previously only performed by humans, they can’t practice emotion or empathy – this remains the preserve of humans.

Now let’s take a look at some examples of hard and soft skills.

Examples of hard and soft skills

LinkedIn has compiled a list of the most in-demand hard and soft skills in 2019. When it comes to hard skills, predictably, the majority are technology-based, however languages and marketing also feature highly.

The top 10 are as follows:

  1. Cloud Computing.
  2. Artificial Intelligence.
  3. Analytical Reasoning.
  4. People Management.
  5. UX Design.
  6. Mobile Application Development.
  7. Video Production.
  8. Sales Leadership.
  9. Translation.
  10. Audio Production.

When it comes to soft skills, creativity tops LinkedIn’s list, followed by persuasion, collaboration, adaptability and time management. Creativity and adaptability clearly complement many of the harder skills outlined above. With technology changing at a faster pace than ever, organisations need people who can think innovatively and adapt to new circumstances in order to survive.

Other examples of soft skills include:

  • Communication: The effective sharing of ideas, perspectives and information between parties inside and outside the business.
  • Critical thinking: The ability to analyse situations and understand the implications of a problem to find solutions.
  • Global citizenship: Being aware and cognisant of your place in a culturally and economically connected world.
  • Innovation: The ability to conceptualise new or improved ideas, processes and ways of doing things.
  • Problem solving: Defining problems, finding potential solutions, and evaluating each one’s impact to choose the one that will work best.
  • Professional ethics: Understanding the ethical expectations of professionals and organisations in the modern business environment.
  • Self-management: Taking responsibility, working independently, managing your own career, planning and pursuing opportunities, and reflecting on performance.
  • Teamwork: With many projects in today’s work environment needing input from multiple people, the ability to work effectively in a team is a skill many organisations need their employees to have.

So those are some of the most common hard and soft skills employers look for, but how do you acquire them?

How do you develop hard and soft skills?

As we said before, hard skills are often developed in a classroom setting. If you want to learn about social media marketing, for example, you can take an online course in it. It’s also possible to pick up hard skills in the workplace, but this will still generally require some sort of formal training.

Meanwhile, soft skills are a lot more intangible – you’ll normally develop them through experiences in everyday life or on the job, and they can’t be taught in quite the same way as technical knowledge, although coaching and mentoring certainly helps.

To pick up soft skills, employees need to be self-reflective. They must look at different situations at work and see how they could have handled it differently, either through communicating in another way, organising a task differently or thinking about something in a more innovative way. It’s also helpful to look at how other people (particularly managers) handle certain situations. If you reflect on your own and other peoples’ interactions in the workplace regularly, you’ll eventually build up a bank of different soft skills.

But without formal qualifications, how do you prove that you possess these soft skills to employers during the interview process?

How to demonstrate you have hard and soft skills

Even with hard skills, simply saying you have a degree in X isn’t enough. In the early 1980s, only 5 per cent of the Australian working population had a bachelors degree or above. Now, according to Deloitte, this figure stands at 25 per cent and rising. It’s therefore likely that other candidates in the hiring pool have exactly the same degree as you.

Instead, you need to talk to potential employers about your experiences using that technical knowledge in specific real-world scenarios. For example, how has an instance where you used your technical knowledge helped further the success or revenue of the business?

Soft skills are also now essential in getting your next job or promotion, especially if you’re going for a leadership or managerial role. But how do you prove you have these types of skills?

Look no further than Deakin’s professional practice credentials. These are university-level micro-credentials that provide an authoritative and third-party assessment of your capabilities in a range of areas, including employability and soft skills, as well as leadership proficiencies and even technical knowledge.

Find out more about our credentials here or contact a member of the team today to find out how you can take your career to the next level by showing you’ve got the soft skills they need.