As the Soft Skills vs Hard Skills Infographic illustrates, students, faculty, alumni, and employers all agree that soft skills such as effective communication and decision making are a top priority in the workforce. Want to ensure that your graduates are career-ready and have the confidence needed in today’s workplace?

Hard Skills vs. Soft Skills – What’s the difference and is one more important than the other to your career success?  Here is the highlight of three key differences between hard skills and soft skills and how their importance depends highly on the career you are in.

Three Key Differences between Hard Skills vs. Soft Skills

To be good at hard skills usually takes smarts or IQ (also known as your left brain-the logical center).  To be good at soft skills usually takes Emotonal Intelligence or EQ (also known as your right brain- the emotional center).  Examples of hard skills include math, physics, accounting, programming, finance, biology, chemistry, statistics, etc… Examples of soft skills include self management skills like self confidence, stress management and people skills like communication or networking skills.  To find out a full list of 28 soft skills, click here.

Hard skills are skills where the rules stay the same regardless of which company, circumstance or people you work with. In contrast, soft skills are skills where the rules changes depending on the company culture and people you work with.  For example,  programming is a hard skill.  The rules for how you can be good at creating the best code to do a function is the same regardless of where you work.  Communication skills are a set of soft skills.   The rules for how to be effective at communications change and depend on your audience or the content you are communicating.  You may communicate well to fellow programmers about technical details while struggle significantly to communicate clearly to senior managers about your project progress and the support needed.

Hard skills can be learned in school and from books.  There are usually designated level of competency and a direct path as to how to excel with each hard skill.  For example, accounting is a hard skill.  You can take basic accounting and then advanced accounting courses.  You can then work to get experience and take an exam and be certified as a CPA, etc..  In contrast, there is no simple path to learn soft skills.  Most soft skills are not taught well in school and have to be learned on the job by trial and error.  There are many books and guides on soft skills.   I also recently wrote an article on How to Improve Your Soft Skills as a starting point.  They help to an extent.  Unless you can apply the tips you learn and be adaptable, there aren’t any easy step-by-step instructions on how to master a soft skill.

Hard Skills vs. Soft Skills – Which is more important?

It depends highly on the career you choose.  Here is why.

Careers can be put into 3 kind of categories.  It is up to you to figure out which category your career is in.

  1. Careers that need hard skills and little soft skills (example: Physicists);   This is where you see brilliant people who may not easily work well with others.  They can still be very successful in their career – look at Albert Einstein
  2. Careers that need both hard and soft skills – many careers are in this category (example: Accountants, Lawyers – they need to know the rules of accounting or law well but they also depend on selling to clients to build a successful career.  Dealing well with clients require excellent soft skills like communication skills, relationship skills etc…)
  3. Careers that need mostly soft skills and little hard skills (example: sales. A car salesman don’t really need to know that much about cars, just a little more than the consumer.  His job is more dependent on his ability to read his customers, communicate his sales pitch, persuasion skills, and skills to close to deal.  These are all soft skills)

Food for thought – most of us have spent at least 16 years in school focused mainly on building our hard skills full time and a little on our soft skills through team projects, sports, and social activities.  To succeed in our career, shouldn’t we spend at least another 16 years or more to proactively master the soft skills necessary to advance our careers?






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