Let’s break down the difference between hard skills and soft skills, and explore the importance of these two main types of skills for resumes.
Table of Contents:
- The Difference between Hard Skills and Soft Skills
- Which are more important?
- How to Showcase Them on Your Resume and Cover Letter
1. The Difference between Hard Skills and Soft Skills
Hard skills are specific concrete professional abilities you can either perform or you can’t.
They’re techniques or knowledge you usually learn at school or through on-the-job training. They’re usually quantifiable and teachable such as accounting strategies, computer programming, or plumbing techniques.
Once you acquire a hard skill, it usually stays with you throughout your entire career.
For example, once you learn how to drive a semi and you hold a CDL, you carry that skill with you for life. The only way you might lose it is if you run into trouble with the law.
A few examples include:
- Error-free 70 wpm typing speed
- Expert-level proficiency with WordPress blog writing
- Red Cross certification in first aid, CPR, and AED
- Programming languages
- Forklift operation
Soft skills are usually related to your personality and your “people skills.”
They are more subjective and emotion-based than hard skills.
Most of the ones you possess were not taught to you but are the natural result of your emotional intelligence and experience.
You can’t quite quantify your soft skills either, such as how good you are at communicating, even if you took a communications class in school and interact with customers daily.
Some, such as your work ethic, take time to demonstrate to your employer.
By contrast, you could demonstrate a hard skill like Photoshop techniques right away.
Some notable soft skills worth mentioning on your resume include the following:
- Self-motivated personality
- Ability to use time effectively
- Active listening
Hard Skills vs. Soft Skills
Let’s take a look at how hard and soft skills compare for one specific profession, an executive assistant position.
Our candidate possesses both hard office management skills and soft interpersonal abilities.
Their hard office management abilities include:
- Expert-level proficiency with Google Calendar, Docs, Sheets, and Slides.
- Planning and reshuffling complex travel and event arrangements for three top executives.
- Researching and writing various executive materials including announcements, agendas, and slide decks.
Their soft interpersonal skills include:
- Maintaining a calm demeanor despite tight schedules and other difficult situations.
- Organizing personal and professional schedules for three top executives and three level II executive assistants.
- Ability to think on my feet, changing venues, presentation slides, and meal options, often at the last minute.
Remember that on an actual resume, these skills will be mixed together and spread throughout the page. Here’s what some of the above skills might look like on an actual resume:
- Researched, wrote, and planned announcements and agendas for 3 top executives, resulting in optimal utilization of all executives’ time.
- Facilitated last-minute venue changes for important events on 4 separate occasions flawlessly, ensuring all events went off without a hitch.
- Google Suite expert, with advanced proficiency in Google Calendar, Docs, Sheets, and Slides.
- Superb Organizational and Scheduling Abilities
What’s the difference between hard and soft skills? From this list, you can see how cut-and-dried hard skills are and how nuanced soft skills are. So, which is more important?
2. Are hard skills or soft skills more important?
As you can see with our executive assistant, both are equally crucial. If they couldn’t stay calm under pressure or use organizational software, they would find keeping up with the demands of their job difficult.
Likewise, if you think about a teacher’s job, you can appreciate how both their teaching credentials (hard) and classroom disciplinary abilities (soft) are necessary to run their classrooms.
Every job requires a nuanced balance between hard and soft skills.
The Value of Hard Skills
Hard skills are mandatory for certain jobs.
You probably wouldn’t land a graphic artist position unless you knew how to use editing software.
You need to have a certain level of proficiency in your profession to competently perform your job.
Even though hard and soft skills are equally valuable, some careers have a higher demand for one over the other.
For example, the hiring personnel at a small business may place more importance on the hard programming and computer abilities of their IT applicants than on their interpersonal strengths, especially if the IT staff mostly work alone.
If you’re applying for a position that values hard over soft skills, make sure to emphasize your hard skills accordingly.
The Value of Soft Skills
Your hard skills demonstrate your ability to perform a job, but they don’t indicate how well you work on a team or how organized you are. Your soft skills help define the type of person you are to work with. If you’re a “self-starter,” for example, your employer knows you’re not going to need a lot of hand holding.
Some positions place a higher value on soft skills than hard ones, such as sales or human resources positions that require you to interact face-to-face or possess savvy interpersonal abilities.
3. Three Tips for Showcasing Hard and Soft Skills on Your Resume
So, just how do you showcase hard and soft skills on your resume? We have three tips that will help you to enhance your resume Skills section:
Tip #1: Consult the job description
Keep the job description next to you as you refine your resume for each position. Make sure to mention every skill from the description that you have. The closer your skills match what’s listed on the description, the more suited for the position you appear.
Tip #2: Show, don’t tell
Elaborate your soft skills with examples to lend some objectivity to your subjective abilities.
For example, instead of listing “strong teamwork” in your Skills section, you can say “Coordinate daily with marketing team to develop new sales tactics.”
Which sounds more powerful to you?
You can also use your soft skills, especially the soft skills in highest demand, to make up for hard ones you don’t have.
Let’s say your prospective employer is looking for someone with WordPress experience, which you don’t have. You can say “I currently possess advanced proficiency with Squarespace and could easily adapt to new CMS platforms such as WordPress” on your cover letter.
Tip #3: Think outside the “skills box”
Don’t just highlight your strongest abilities in the Skills section of your resume. Use your cover letter, Qualifications Summary, and resume appearance to further demonstrate your expertise.
For example, you could showcase your attention to detail by creating an error-free and correctly formatted resume as well as your communication prowess with a well written cover letter.
What to Do Next
Now that you understand the difference between soft and hard skills, take another look at your resume. Get out your resume and our comprehensive resume skills section writing guide and give it a touch up.
Take a look at the hard and soft skills you have listed.
Make sure you balance both and that they align with your employer’s requests. Use the examples on our skills list to help guide you, and make sure your best qualities shine through in your resume.