Hard Skills vs. Soft Skills: What's the Difference?

Updated September 7, 2023

Image description

The image is split between hard and soft skills. There's a laptop and a potted plant in the image as well. The left is the hard skills side. The headline says "Hard skills" The list below says:
• Bilingual or multilingual
• Database management
• Adobe software suite
•Network security
•SEO/SEM marketing
•Statistical analysis
• Data mining
•App development
• UX design
• Campaign management
• Storage systems and management
• Programming languages (Python, Javascript, Swift)
A definition is below the list in a small box with a white background. It says, "Hard skills are technical knowledge or training that you have gained through any life experience, including in your career or education"
On the right side is the soft skills. The list says:
• Integrity
• Dependability
• Effective communication
• Teamwork
•Critical thinking
• Adaptability
• Organization
• Willingness to learn
• Empathy
Near the top of the list on the right side, there's a definition of soft skills. It says, "Soft skills are personal habits and traits that shape how you work, on your own and with others."

In job descriptions, employers often ask for a combination of hard and soft skills. Hard skills are related to specific technical knowledge and training while soft skills are personality traits such as leadership, communication or time management. Both types of skills are necessary to successfully perform and advance in most jobs.

Below, we’ll explain the difference between hard and soft skills, examples of each, and how to highlight your skills on your resume and in interviews.

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Hard skills vs. soft skills

The key differences between hard skills and soft skills are how they are gained and put to use in the workplace. Hard skills are often gained through education or specific training. They include competencies like how to use a certain machine, software or another tool.

Soft skills are more often seen as personality traits you may have spent your whole life developing. They are called upon

when you manage your time, communicate with other people or confront a difficult situation for the first time.

Related: 10 Best Skills to Include on a Resume (With Examples)

What are hard skills?

Hard skills, also known as technical skills, are technical knowledge or training that you have gained through any life experience, including in your career or education. For example:

  • If you’ve worked in food service or retail, you may know how to use a point-of-sale system.

  • If you've taken an accounting class, you may know how to use Microsoft Excel.

  • If you’ve studied a foreign language, you may be able to speak it fluently.

Every job will require certain technical skills specific to that industry. If you want to work as an architect, for example, you will need to know how to use drafting software. The National Council of Architectural Registration Boards also requires architects to be licensed. The NCARB maintains the Architectural Registration Examination, a series of tests required of architects that test different technical skills necessary for the work.

Many other industries have such tests in place, requiring prior knowledge and skills essential for career success. Other employers may have the availability to teach certain technical skills on the job.

You can learn more about the requirements of different jobs and the skills employers are looking for on Career Paths.

Hard skills list

Some of the most in-demand hard skills include:

  • Bilingual or multilingual

  • Database management

  • Adobe software suite

  • Network security

  • SEO/SEM marketing

  • Statistical analysis

  • Data mining

  • Mobile development

  • User interface design

  • Marketing campaign management

  • Storage systems and management

  • Programming languages (such as Perl, Python, Java, and Ruby)

Related: 52 Hard Skills To List on a Resume and Why They're Important

What are soft skills?

Soft skills are personal habits and traits that shape how you work, on your own and with others. Effective communication, for example, is a key soft skill many employers seek. Some others include dependability, effective teamwork and active listening.

Soft skills are essential to your career and as you search for jobs. While hard skills are necessary to successfully perform technical tasks in a job, soft skills are necessary to create a positive and functional work environment. For this reason, employers often seek individuals who possess proven soft and hard skills. Some employers may prefer to select candidates who have a stronger set of soft skills over hard skills, as soft skills are at times more difficult to develop.

For example, you may be seeking a job in human resources but lack prior knowledge of data analysis tools. If you have references that can attest to the effectiveness of your soft skills, such as empathy, open-mindedness and communication, an employer may choose you over another candidate whose hard skills are stronger but who lacks the same level of soft skills.

Related: 6 Important Job Skills You Can Learn at Work (And How to Learn Them)

Soft skills list

Some of the most in-demand soft skills include:

  • Integrity

  • Dependability

  • Effective communication

  • Open-mindedness

  • Teamwork

  • Creativity

  • Problem-solving

  • Critical thinking

  • Adaptability

  • Organization

  • Willingness to learn

  • Empathy

Related: Soft Skills In the Workplace

How to include hard and soft skills on a resume

When updating or creating your resume, you might consider including a “Skills” section that highlights your abilities most relevant to the position. This is especially important for positions with specific technical skills requirements. For clues on what to include and prioritize in your skills section, carefully review the job posting you’re applying for. Hard and soft skills that employers want to see might be found in the “requirements,” “education” or “desired skills” sections of the post.

Hard skills and soft skills are both necessary to find career success. Although people gain and develop these skills in different ways, you can learn and develop both hard and soft skills prior to applying for jobs.

Related: 20 Skills in Demand in Today's Workforce

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How to highlight your skills throughout the interview process

Once you make it to the interview phase, you will have an opportunity to display your soft skills and elaborate more on your hard skills. You may be asked to display your hard skills with a test or portfolio.

You can highlight key soft skills by:

  • Showing up on time or early to the interview (punctuality or dependability)

  • Maintaining eye contact (active listening)

  • Speaking clearly when prompted (effective communication)

  • Answering questions about your resume and experience honestly (integrity)

  • Asking follow-up questions (active listening)

Related: 10 Best Skills To Include on a Resume (With Examples)

You can highlight your hard skills by:

  • Elaborating on your experience and training

  • Providing a portfolio (digital or physical)

  • Effectively answering technical questions related to the work

  • Asking follow-up questions related to the work

  • Effectively working through skills tests (if required at the interview)

The most effective way to showcase your hard and soft skills is to share specific stories from your past experience that directly relates to the requirements of the job you’re interviewing for. When you’re telling a story, begin by presenting the situation, describe the task at hand, explain the actions you took and end with the result you achieved. This is called the STAR technique and it is a recommended method for providing examples with structure your interviewers can easily understand.

Frequently asked questions

How many hard skills and soft skills can a resume have?

When creating a resume, it's advised to include at least five to 10 hard skills and soft skills. You can select the skills you have which are most relevant to the role you are applying for as this can demonstrate your competence to an employer.

Which is more important between hard skills and soft skills?

Employers value both hard skills and soft skills. It's worth acknowledging that certain roles require candidates to possess specific hard skills, as this ensures that you can successfully complete certain job duties. Soft skills are still essential and can enable you to develop and apply your hard skills effectively.

Is it easier to learn hard or soft skills?

Soft skills are attributes that you can develop through everyday interaction, and hard skills are often acquired in the workplace. You can develop both soft skills and hard skills in many ways, including on-the-job training, apprenticeships, online courses and college programs.  

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