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Published on February 5, 2020

Hard Skills vs Soft Skills: Why Are They Important to Your Career?

Hard Skills vs Soft Skills: Why Are They Important to Your Career?

Throughout your career, you will be judged on your hard skills. But you will advance faster and further based on your soft skills. Having technical skills that qualify you to do the work will only take you so far. Soft skills bolster your career by allowing you to effectively interact with others in your work setting.

In this article, you will understand more about what hard skills and soft skills are, and how to equip yourself with these skills to advance your career.

Hard Skills vs Soft Skills: What Are They?

First, let’s start with some definitions.

Hard skills are the technical skills and knowledge that you need to do a particular job. Depending on your field, these hard skills will vary quite a bit.

If you are a coder, for example, you will need to become proficient in one language (such as JavaScript), develop your logic skills, and learn to think like a computer.

If, on the other hand, you are a hedge fund manager, the hard skills you’ll need to master will include having a deep knowledge of hedge funds and superb analytical skills, among others.

Soft skills, by contrast, are the skills it’s useful to have in any job. Since most jobs involve interactions with people, skills such as patience, listening ability, and enthusiasm will get you far. Other soft skills, such as dedication, organization, and having a good work ethic will make your hard skills shine brighter.

Your hard skills define your level of expertise; your soft skills define your personal character and often, promotability.

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How to Improve Your Hard Skills

All skills — be they hard or soft — improve with practice. You may well have to take classes to master the technical skills you need to succeed in today’s rapidly changing economy, and because the technical requirements of many jobs keep changing, you may have to continuously learn new skills.

If you’re rusty, the good news is that hard skills are teachable.

Brush up on your hard skills by taking refresher courses. Continuous learning is already built into some professions. In some states, real estate brokers need to complete 22 to 90 hours of coursework every two years to be eligible for renewal. Lawyers who move from one part of the country to another may have to sit for a bar exam in every new state.

Take a look at these 11 Hard Skills That Will Land You More Career Opportunities.

How to Improve Your Soft Skills

Unlike hard skills, where you can always show your grade in a class, it’s sometimes hard to prove that you possess a particular soft skill. After all, saying that you’re a team player or super organized does not always sound believable. However, if you can get someone else to say that you are — a former boss or colleague, for example — that makes a more credible case.

Check out these 10 Essential Soft Skills That Will Help Advance Your Career

According to LinkedIn, the five soft skills most sought after by employers today are:[1]

Creativity, persuasion, collaboration, adaptability, and time management.

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Think you can’t learn creativity? Think again. There are numerous online classes that show you how to stretch your creative muscle. You’ll earn a badge, which attests that you’re creative.

The trick, of course, is taking what you learn online and remembering to apply it to the real-life situations you find at the office.

Soft Skill Improvement — without Taking Any Classes

And what if you need a break from continuous learning? Is there a way to build your soft skills without taking another class?

Improving Creativity Skills

Actually, yes when it comes to boosting your creativity. And it’s easy and fun. Try taking your cues from other industries. Learn which ones are dominating and why. Is there any way to transfer what worked in a different industry to the one you’re in?

Let’s say you are in publishing. You might look to the fashion industry for inspiration. See what colors are hot for the year. Maybe it will inspire a book jacket, or even an idea for a book. Let’s say you are running a chain of restaurants. You might look to the travel industry to see what destinations are popular this year. Maybe it will give you an idea for a new special to put on the menu. These days curiosity equals creativity. Start learning about other business as well as your own and your creativity will soar.

Another creativity enhancer: walking. According to a study conducted at Stanford,[2] creative thinking sharpens while a person is walking. You don’t have to walk outdoors to be creative either. Walking indoors is just as impactful. The next time someone at your company suggests a brainstorming session, why not ask if you can all walk while you toss out ideas instead of just sitting stationary.

Enhancing Persuasion Skills

Developing your art of persuasion can also happen outside a classroom. Keep in mind that persuasion doesn’t just fall under a prosecutor’s or salesperson’s purview. Working on your own power of persuasion starts with becoming more aware of your colleague’s preference or viewpoint — and addressing his particular concerns. Listen hard to understand his perspective, and then try to find common ground upon which you both can agree.

Start by observing coworkers who excel at persuasion. They often begin by building rapport, and then adapting their pitches to address the individual or team’s needs. Some will be moved by numbers and data. Other colleagues may prefer a more emotional approach. Your task is to persuade hearts and minds, so you may want to prepare in advance to make both types of arguments. In either case, make every effort to show your authentic passion for what you’re pitching.

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Honing Collaborative Skills

To hone your collaborative skills, take note of the personalities on your team. Think of the team in terms of a wolf pack.[3] Only one alpha is allowed to preside. The beta types will follow and the omegas will do their own thing regardless of the group’s decision. If your team needs an alpha, be prepared to step up. This means understanding how to build alliances and trust, and to communicate so that others know precisely where they fit in any plan to move forward.

Some self-awareness on your part regarding whether you prefer to give direction, take direction, or go off on your own direction will give you a sense of your collaborative style. Asking family members or close friends if they perceive you as a leader or follower can provide insight. Tread carefully if you set out to unseat an alpha. Understanding that a cohesive pack is the basis of collaboration will work in your favor.

Developing Adaptability

Adaptability as a soft skill has become a more desirable trait than ever as companies face disruption and must continually remake themselves with new technology, new products, and new services.

Hard skills alone won’t help you to navigate industry shifts. Adaptability comes from staying future-focused. You know change is coming soon; therefore you are prepared to embrace it.

Improving Time Management Skills

Finally, when you can show your manager that you have excellent time management abilities, you automatically become a person he or she will look to. This means that you’re able to prioritize your tasks, know when to delegate, and always meet (or surpass) your deadlines.

Start each day by putting together a list of all that needs to be done. Then, separate the priority tasks from those that can wait. Look for any work that you can delegate to an assistant. Then, put the tasks queue aside while you dive in and give the priority assignment your full attention. For complex, long-term projects, try to make incremental progress each week so that the giant project doesn’t loom over you.

If you tend to lose track of time, consider assigning a timeframe for addressing each item on your list, and cross off each item once it’s accomplished. This gives you a sense of forward progress. Give yourself a mini-celebration of a coffee break, a walk around the block, or a quick chat with a coworker before tackling the next item. This will clear your head and reset your focus.

Another key to time management: limit the number of phone calls, meetings, texts, and interruptions. There is some evidence to show that few workers can multi-task effectively. It’s best to complete a task before you check your texts and emails.

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Strive for a Hard Skills-Soft Skills Balance

It’s necessary for those with technical jobs to adopt some soft skills and those with soft-skill jobs to adopt more hard skills. Both hard skills and soft skills are important to employers.

So, work to cultivate each set of skills. Strive to excel in any course work related to your essential hard skills to ensure technical expertise.

To improve your soft skills, intentionally put yourself in team-related projects or in leadership roles that provide opportunities for personal development. (If you can’t seem to do that at the office, consider joining a volunteer organization. Volunteering is a proven way to burnish your soft skills.)

As there’s really no metric for knowing precisely how adept you are at soft skills, ask for feedback. It will help you see how others perceive you — an important diagnostic for your own improvement. And remember, the more you practice, the better you will become.

In sum: Master your hard skills because they are the foundation of your career. And then resolve to treat bosses, coworkers, and underlings with civility. Listen well, and regularly deliver more than is expected. By doing so, you’ll stand out to your superiors and your career will soar.

More Career Tips

Featured photo credit: Mia Baker via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Vicky Oliver

Author of 6 best-selling books on job-hunting and job interview questions, business etiquette, frugalista style, advertising, and office politics.

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Last Updated on November 24, 2020

50 LinkedIn Influencers To Follow, No Matter Your Industry

50 LinkedIn Influencers To Follow, No Matter Your Industry

LinkedIn is an excellent platform to network with great people to help you in your career and businesses. However, with over 575 million people on the site, who should you follow? This list will steer you to the right people to follow, organized by categories of expertise.

Job Search Experts

You will likely have several jobs throughout the course of your career, and you will constantly need advice on new trends and strategies out there in the job market. Here are the LinkedIn experts who you should follow on these matters.

1. Liz Ryan is the CEO and founder of Human Workplace. Her articles on job searching are filled with creative and colorful cartoons.

2. Lou Adler is the author of The Essential Guide for Hiring and Getting Hired.

3. Dr. Marla Gottschalk will help you make an impact in a new job.

4. Hannah Morgan runs CareerSherpa.net, where she gives expert advice on job searching and how to be more visible online.

5. Alison Doyle is the CEO and Founder of CareerToolBelt.com.

Management Experts

They say that people leave managers, not jobs. These experts in LinkedIn will help you become your employees’ dream manager.

6. Jeff Weiner. How can we leave out the CEO of LinkedIn himself?

7. Nozomi Morgan is an executive coach. She can help you transition from a boss to a true leader.

8. Mickey Mikitani is the CEO of Rakuten. He constantly shares his expertise in managing a global player in e-commerce platforms.

9. Andreas von der Heydt was the head of Amazon’s Kindle Content and now the Director of Talent Acquisition. He has extensive experience in management, branding, and marketing.

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Productivity Experts

By maximizing your productivity, you can win in all aspects of life. The following LinkedIn experts will help you win big in your career.

10. Gretchen Rubin is a happiness coach and the bestselling author of the The Happiness Project.

11. Carson Tate is the founder of Working Simply. She advises us to include play in our schedules.

12. Greg Mckeown is an essentialist. Part of being an essentialist is saying no to many things so that we can focus on the things that matter.

13. Brian de Haaff, CEO of Aha! Labs Inc. provides strategies on how to be productive and happy at work at the same time.

Marketing Experts

14. Sujan Patel is VP of Marketing at When I Work, an employee scheduling software. He is an expert in content marketing and he even shares his ideas on content marketing in 2020.

15. Megan Berry is the Head of Product Development at Rebelmouse, a content marketing and AlwaysOn powerhouse.

16. Sean Gardner will help you navigate the social media landscape. This includes how to use different platforms to help accelerate your career. He is also the bestselling author of The Road to Social Media Success.

17. Christel Quek is an digital and marketing expert. She is the VP of South East Asia at Brandwatch. Their products help businesses utilize social media data to make better business decisions.

18. Jeff Bullas is a digital marketing expert. His blog has over 4 million readers annually.

19. Michael Stelzer is the CEO and Founder of social media powerhouse site, Social Media Examiner.

20. If you’re looking for inbound and content marketing expertise, follow Dharmesh Shah, Founder and CTO of Hubspot.

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21. David Edelman is a McKinsey partner and is at the helm of the Digital Marketing Strategy Practice Department.

22. Dave Kerpen leads the social media software company Likeable Local. He is the author of Likeable Social Media: How to delight your customers.

23. Clara Shih is the CEO of Hearsay Social and the author of The Facebook Era.

24. Aaron Lee is Grand Master of Customer Delight at Post Planner. He is an excellent resource for everything social media.

25. David Sable is the CEO of Y&R, one of the largest advertising firms in the world.

26. Content marketing trumps traditional marketing these days, and who else better to lead you in this area than Joe Pulizzi, Founder of Content Marketing Institute.

Personal Branding Experts

Part of what we market in our personal career is our brand. When people hear your name, what kind of brand comes into their mind? What traits and qualities do they associate with you?

Here are some personal branding experts from LinkedIn to improve your own brand.

27. Dorie Clark is the author of Stand Out and Reinventing You. He can help you craft the professional image you’ve always wanted.

28. Dan Schawbel is the managing partner of Millennial Branding. If you’re a millennial, Dan is the guy to help you craft your personal brand.

Other Notable Experts to Follow

29. Lisa Gates is the expert to follow if you’re negotiating for higher salaries and promotions.

30. If you’re a Baby Boomer, Marc Miller will help you navigate the continually changing landscape of the workplace.

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31. To avoid getting your resumé moved to the “No” pile, read Paul Freiberger’s excellent advice.

32. James Caan provides insightful ideas on careers in general. He is also a serial entrepreneur.

33. Jeff Haden writes on various topics, such as leadership and management. He is the owner of Blackbird Media.

34. If you’re looking for expert business advice on getting new customers and keeping them, follow Jay Baer.

35. Suzanne Lucas, aka Evil HR Lady, is a great human resources specialist.

36. If you need help in using Twitter to boost your career, Claire Diaz-Ortiz can guide you in the right direction.

37. Ryan Holmes is the CEO of Hootsuite, a social media management tool.

38. Customers are the lifeblood of a business and Colin Shaw focuses on revolutionizing this customer experience.

39. Brian Solis often reflects on the future of business and how technology can disrupt our world.

40. Nancy Lublin provides advice on more lighthearted topics, which are perfect after a long day’s work. She is the CEO behind Dosomething.org, a portal designed for social change; and the founder & CEO of Loris.ai and Crisis Text Line.

41. Katya Andresen provides advice on how to manage your career. She was the CEO of Cricket Media and now responsible for the SVP Card Customer Experience at Capital One.

42. Gallup has created a system to test what your strengths are and how to use them at work. Jim Clifton is the CEO of Gallup.

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43. Adam Grant is a Wharton Professor and the author of Give and Take, which provides advice on why being helpful at work can accelerate your career.

44. Hunter Walk is a partner at Homebrew Venture Capitalist Company and has specialty in product development and management.

45. If you’re running a nonprofit organization, follow Beth Kanter for expert advice on this area.

46. Emotional Intelligence is necessary to succeed in your career, and Daniel Goleman is your expert for that.

47. Rita J. King connects science, technology and business.

48. Tori Worthington Rose is a Creative Director at Mary Beth West Communications, LLC. She has extensive experience in sales and digital media.

49. If you’re looking for some advice on how to use writing and personal content marketing to boost your career, follow Ann Handley.

50. Tim Brown is the CEO at IDEO and shares his insights on Leadership and Creativity.

These are just some of the key thought leaders and movers in various industries. They will provide you with constant inspiration, as well as the willpower to pursue the career that you’ve always wanted. Their stream of expert ideas in their respective fields will help you become well-equipped in your professional pursuits.

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Featured photo credit: LinkedIn Sales Navigator via unsplash.com

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