Hard vs Soft Skills

In an ever changing and fast-paced working environment, candidates possessing both hard skills and soft skills are now being actively targeted. Why is this?

Employers are finally seeing the value of soft skills. They see the positive contributions made by workers with strengths in communication, team building, relationship development, etc. and the value of these skills in terms of employee retention, elevating client and/or customer experience and creating a positive, collaborative (and productive) workplace culture. Coworkers with strong soft skills not only add to the success of an organization, but to the wellbeing of their fellow employees.

Hiring with a focus on both hard skills AND soft skills can help create a more positive – and healthier – working environment. What do we mean when we talk about hard and soft skills, and why are they both equally important?

Hard Skills

Hard skills are job-specific skills that require study, development and/or dedicated training. Examples might include learning how to write or type, machine operation, learning a foreign language, computer programming, data engineering, electrical engineering, graphic design, automotive repair, etc.

Soft Skills

Soft skills, or “people skills”, are personality traits that are either innate or developed through one’s lived experiences. Examples of these skills might include the ability to network on social media, a strong sense of empathy, a propensity for conflict-resolution, excellent presentation or public speaking, relationship-development aptitude, organizational or multi-tasking abilities, or having a great sense of humor.

Traditional job descriptions focused on the responsibilities for which one would be held accountable, the skills one would need to be considered qualified, location, reporting hours, etc. There was no mention of soft skill requirements. That newspaper ad would’ve cost a fortune!

The Internet gave birth to company career pages, job boards and access to an infinite number of characters with which to craft job postings. Position descriptions shifted from almost exclusively hard skill based to now including soft skill requirements, like multi-tasking capabilities, organizational and presentation skills, flexibility, adaptability, etc.



Traditionally, a company’s hiring strategy was once to hire the best candidates who possessed the skills that they needed and who also lived within a commutable distance to the worksite or office. The Internet provided companies with a broader candidate reach and the ability to tap into a remote workforce.

A larger applicant pool allowed hiring managers to be more selective and to now consider factors like “likability” and “culture fit” when qualifying and interviewing candidates.

Remember, this team isn’t just hiring a skill set, they are hiring their new co-worker… someone with whom they will spend 40 hours per week. Personality matters.

“You don’t hire for skills.  You hire for attitude.

You can always teach skills”

-Simon Sinek

Hand in Hand

Research shows that “Hard skills will get you the interview, but soft skills will get you the job”. Northwestern’s Lauren Rivera study found that, when background and skill related aspects were at similar qualification levels, the candidate seen as more likeable was hired nearly 90% of the time. Curious what more recent studies’ results might yield, given the frequency with which the term “culture fit” is used in decision-making conversations. A job seeker’s professional experience and his/her/their unique attributes go hand in hand as assets into the interview process.

As a candidate, ensuring you highlight BOTH your hard and soft skills throughout the interview process will not only help you stand out from candidates opting for a traditional “stick to business” approach, but it will also help you to better gauge whether you will be able to bring your “whole self” to work, if hired. Work environments where employees are empowered to use their own authentic voices and offer their own unique perspectives often see a higher level of productivity and greater employee retention levels. So, how do you highlight your soft skills on your resume, cover letter and in your interview? 

In your resume:

Don’t sell yourself short by listing overused phrases like great multi-tasker, quick learner, or hard worker. Reserve precious resume real estate to include professional skill-related words that may be used as qualifying “buzz words” in the AI era, but, also provide an idea of who you are as a unique individual. What sort of skills are you praised for by your peers? Does your team constantly talk about your awesome PowerPoint presentations? Do you write really thorough project documentation? There will be a human completing the final resume selection / screening to determine who will be shortlisted for the next round of interviews. Humans like to feel a connection and you cannot accomplish that if your resume is identical to the last 34 resumes the Hiring Manager has just reviewed. What makes you unique beyond the required skills? If we asked your current co-workers or peers, what would they list as your superpowers? Are you empathetic? Creative? Get inspired to tell your story! 

In your cover letter:

Your cover letter is not only a place where you get to emphasize your hard skills, like marketing or coding, but this can be an effective tool to introduce who you are personally. If you are applying for a position with a startup because you believe in their mission, don’t wait until then interview to let your prospective employer know. Why if you don’t have the opportunity to interview? Think of your cover letter as your first chance to have a conversation with your hiring manager / interviewer. Highlight your strongest personal attributes, add in an example of where or how you applied your soft skills to impact an outcome. Focus on the skills that will set you apart. If your distinctive skills will not be valued or appreciated by a particular employer, it’s best to determine that on the front-end of an employment relationship.

In an interview:

Soft skills can be a lot harder to demonstrate than your hard skills. At interview stage, it is really important to highlight your soft skills and talk about the strengths you could add to the team. Talk about what you know, discuss your personal experiences. How have you used your soft skills to handle certain situations and tasks throughout your career? Don’t forget about body language and your nonverbal communication. And, while your natural tendencies are to focusing on getting the answers right, don’t forget to smile when you are answering – your smile can be your best weapon in an interview. Last, but most important of all, be yourself! After all, if you are hired, that is who is going to be showing up to work every day.

Benefits of this Hiring Approach

For employers, hiring candidates based on both hard and soft skills ensures that there is potential for cohesion and may ultimately increase proficiency, productivity and problem solving amongst your team. Your employees will be motivated and inspired by their colleagues and peers to work together, resulting in a lower turnover rate. Creating a positive culture facilitates social interaction, innovation, collaboration and open communication and can lead to some amazing results.

Employees, you also stand to benefit greatly by bringing your whole self to the interview process. You will have the advantage of reporting to work without feeling a need to alter your personality and natural instincts. You will be viewed as a unique asset to the team with a distinct voice and talents that are recognized across the organization. You will be able to use the entire interview process to tell your story, so that you can find your next career home… and not just a job.