It’s likely that you have already heard of the term ‘soft skills’, but perhaps you are wondering what this really means, or would like to appreciate the differentiation between so called hard skills and soft skills. The very term ‘soft skills’ can lead people to believe that these skills are less important, but this couldn’t be further from the truth and people that fail to master soft skills will find it hard to succeed in business, no matter how strong their hard skills may be.
Here, we take a deep dive into hard and soft skills, looking to recognise the differences and how we might be able to develop and highlight soft skills, so that we can perform the very best we can while at work.
When working in, or applying for jobs, employers are looking for people who possess both hard skills and soft skills. Being able to put both on display is crucial to securing jobs in a competitive environment.
Arguably, hard skills are easier to indicate on paper, and soft skills need to be proven or displayed in person. There’s a good chance you possess both hard and soft skills that are beneficial in your field, but it can be a challenge to really make an impression.
Understanding the difference between the two is the first step in knowing how to grow and improve each.
What are hard skills?
Hard skills refer to skillsets and abilities that are learned through training, education or experience. We could say that they are specific, easy to define and measurable.
Examples of hard skills may include:
- A degree (or other academic qualification)
- Industry-specific certifications
- Coding skills
- Foreign languages
- Typing speeds
- Data Analytics
Hard skills are often part of essential job requirements, meaning they are rarely overlooked.
What are soft skills?
Soft skills are harder to measure and more complicated to define. They are more like attributes, and they aren’t specific to a role. Having a strong set of soft skills means you have great interpersonal skills, can work well in a team and understand your role in the company culture.
Soft skills aren’t taught in the same way as hard skills, though training can help individuals develop them! They are self-developed attributes, some may come naturally, and others may be picked up through experiences.
The best way to understand what soft skills are is to consider some examples:
- Emotional Intelligence
- Time Management
The list is relatively endless, but the above indicates a range of soft skills to highlight how they are harder to measure. You can be expertly trained and knowledgeable in your field, but unless you can work with your fellow employees and deal with external people, your hard skills often don’t matter!
Soft skills lead to better working relationships, better customer relationships, increased efficiency, improved opportunity for career advancement and contribute to the overall culture of your workplace.
How can I learn soft skills?
There are several ways to develop soft skills.
For employers, soft skills as a part of training and development can be overlooked due to their less tangible nature. That doesn’t mean it isn’t possible to improve the soft skills of your employees. There are a number of options for delivering soft skills training to your workforce.
- Classroom training
- Coaching and mentoring
- Online courses
Traditionally, soft skills have been the domain of the classroom. Forward-thinking businesses understand the importance of these skills and will either have their own team of trainers that are equipped to help develop these skills in the workforce, or they will bring in experience from outside. The benefits of this approach are that the training can be targeted to the specific requirements of the participants on the course and the training itself is often linked to business objectives and performance issues within the business.
Coaching can be useful for developing soft skills as it allows a specific skill to be targeted. A coach or mentor can tailor an approach to an individual to help them understand, and then put into practice specific skills that they may be lacking.
Meanwhile, online courses are an excellent source for training soft skills despite how often they are overlooked. Granted, the success of this type of training may be more difficult to measure in the short term, but online courses allow employees to be educated on specific skills that are useful to them and their jobs. Besides, success will show in the long run through business efficiency and productivity.
In this sense, learners can be informed about the skill and its benefits, offered tips on how to employ the skills, and in the best cases, be given scenarios and gamification techniques which force them to put them into practice. The best way to develop soft skills is through practice, and online learning allows this to be done without any risks.
For individuals looking to develop or display their soft skills as they approach new job opportunities or further their career and ability to perform well in their role.
How can I develop my soft skills?
If you know you’re weak in one or more areas, working on yourself before you seek a new job can help you stand out among other candidates.
- Choose one or two to prioritise
- Ask for feedback
- Seek online or classroom training courses
- Push out of your comfort zone.
Due to their complex nature, it can be intimidating to work on one’s soft skills. We suggest choosing a couple that are most useful to you in the here and now and starting there.
Asking others who know you, ideally as a professional, where your skills may be lacking can be useful as you most likely have blind spots. We often cannot recognise our own areas for improvement – or else we’d have probably improved them already!
Once you know what skills you’re working on, it’s important to self-reflect. Take time out of your day to consider how much or little you employed certain soft skills and how you could have done better, i.e., your communication or your patience. Reflect on the situation for next time.
There are plenty of courses available online that you can access or purchase for yourself to improve and develop your own skills.
We must challenge ourselves if we want to see change!
How can I highlight my soft skills?
Unlike hard skills, soft skills are difficult to prove, especially when it comes to your CV or resume.
The most effective applications will always use real, practical examples of times soft skills were genuinely put to use.
Validate any claim you make about possessing a soft skill by including an example of a time you used it.
Remember to focus on skills that are most relevant to the job you are applying for! If you are invited for an interview or to further stages, you have an opportunity to not only highlight your soft skills further in your answers but by genuinely putting them to use for the interview itself.
Your communication skills and all interpersonal skills you put to good use in the interview reflect on your soft skills, and how you are perceived by the interviewer.
Ultimately, soft skills and hard skills are equally important for professional success. As individuals and employers, we can develop our own, or our employees’ soft skills through reflection, coaching and training.
Trainer Bubble provide an extensive range of training resources in a variety of formats which can be explored here. This includes extensive training materials for soft skills in communication, personal development, leadership and more.
For more information, and to discuss the learning needs of your business, contact us and we’ll be happy to help.