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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 May 28, 2020

13 Critical Things to Consider Before Switching Careers

13 Critical Things to Consider Before Switching Careers

Do you have a path not taken? Maybe you had big career dreams when you were younger, but somehow they didn’t materialize.

Maybe you took your first job, thinking it would be a stepping stone to a better job. It seemed like a good idea at the time, you recall, except the better job never came along. Or perhaps, saddled with student loans, you took a job that helped you pay them off. You paid them all right, but now you feel stuck in a career you don’t really like.

The average person spends 90,000 hours in their lifetime at work[1]. That’s too much time to be doing anything you don’t love!

Is it time to think about switching careers? Here are 13 things to do when making the big leap.

Diagnose Your Current Work Situation

Before switching careers, it’s important to figure out why you’re currently unhappy so you don’t step into another situation that isn’t right for you. Start with these considerations before making any big decisions.

1. What Are You Passionate About?

It’s somewhat shocking, but research shows 87 percent of workers have no passion for their jobs[2]. Passion can be measured many ways, and one person’s passion is another’s poison. Still, if you believe in your company’s core mission, it really helps.

How can you find your passion? You may have to switch careers. Try to arrange informational interviews with as many people as you can who work in the field of your dreams to be certain that making the switch will make you feel more engaged with your work.

Your aim: To be as happy walking into the office on Monday morning as you are leaving the premises on Friday afternoon. When you love your job, no day feels too daunting. When you love your job, it doesn’t feel like work.

Need a little help finding your passion? This article can help: How to Find Your Passion and Live a Fulfilling Life

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2. Can You Keep up With Technology?

Are you keeping up with it? And is your current company supporting your efforts? The speed of technology is so fast that many companies today can’t keep up. This may result in anxiety among the company’s leadership. The sense of anxiety can filter down and impact the workers. Morale is low, and everyone fears for their job.

When switching careers, try to find a company that will allow you to learn as you grow. It also helps to consider yourself a lifelong learner. These days, we all have to be.

Invest the Time to Dream Big

If you’re now sure of why you want to make a move, it’s time to dig into your dreams to find exactly which direction to go.

3. What Does Your Vision Look Like?

Athletes visualize their signature moves. Politicians fantasize about winning. Your task is to visualize your dream. Where do want to be working five years from now? Ten years from now? Fifteen years from now? Figure out what your titles will be at each point along your new trajectory. Will you be living in your current geographical area or will you have moved?

Ask yourself the hard questions as well. Can you afford to switch careers right now? Will you be making more money or less than you currently do? How will you support those who depend on you?

Once you have your vision clearly committed to paper, run your vision by a few of the people who know you best. Do your friends encourage you to pursue your vision? (If they don’t, consider finding more supportive friends.)

4. Do You Know What to Expect?

It’s harder to switch careers than to find a new job in your current field. You may have to accomplish the move in several discreet steps. Will making a lateral move at your current company take you one step closer to your ultimate goal?

In addition to researching your dream field online, try to surround yourself with some friends who have recently switched careers. After you have formed a rough idea of the steps you will need to take to get from where you are now to your new career, consider committing it to an action plan. The more concrete you can make your Plan, the better.

Should you be attending more networking events? Do you need to burnish your online profile? Commit to action steps, and then put those steps into your daily calendar. You’re going to do this!

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If, for instance, you’ve decided to move from marriage counseling to financial planning — you’ve seen enough divorces resulting from money matters to know there’s a better way to help people — your listening skills and discretion will be an asset. Your research will reveal whether you need specialized training or licensing to qualify. If so, go online and add your name to every list you can find to learn more information. Start calculating how to pay for your courses. A bonus you’ll get with continuing ed courses: you’ll gain access to a strong peer network.

Take Action

Time to make the move. Start considering how you will approach these steps to get where you want to go.

5. Who Will Support You?

What if, early in your career, you made a job switch that you regret? Now is the time to call your ex-boss and try to get together for lunch or a cup of coffee. Let them know you are thinking of making a U-turn back to your former field.

What if your sister disapproves of every idea you have? Either resolve to avoid her for the next 12 months or call her right now — and tell her you’re switching careers and you don’t care whether she approves! Keep all naysayers at a distance during this transition time.

6. What Can You Do Each Day to Accomplish Your Dream?

Switching careers can be quite time-consuming, but if you break down the task into small chunks, tracking your progress as you go, you’ll have a better chance of success. Whether you spend a few hours today googling your dream career, or refurbish your LinkedIn profile to emphasize the skills you have that will help you land this new job — just keep at it.

Career-switcher’s hint: Working on your new dream for one hour each day is more productive than spending 12 hours working at it on a Sunday. The more committed you are to achieving your goal, the faster it will happen.

7. Does Your Resume Highlight the Correct Skills?

First, research the qualifications of the position you hope to land. Then, look for ways to mesh them with your own skills. While some careers require specific degrees and credentials, there are many positions you can transition into that require no additional education. Sometimes, what you bring from your own background is perfect.

Take inventory of all the hard and soft job skills you possess. For the skills you don’t have, put a plan in place to acquire them!

Highlight your qualifications in a way that makes a well-argued case for your compatibility with the organization and the position you’re after. Keep in mind that all employers look for candidates with skills that show leadership and the ability to solve problems, persevere through challenges, and get results.

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Refine the skills on your resume to incorporate these resume “musts.” Make sure, though, to only claim skills you truly possess. Unless you’re proficient in a software program or are fluent in a second language, leave any mention of them off.

Switching Careers Shortcuts

When switching careers, there are ways to make it easier. Look into these questions to see what can work for you in your search.

8. Do You Have Any Contacts in Your Desired Career?

People are remarkably forthcoming on their LinkedIn profiles. This helps when you search out employees in your dream field or a targeted company. But before you take full advantage of online networking, first make sure that your profile content is fresh.

Curate all social media accounts to reflect your new direction. Social media can increase your networking opportunities exponentially. Comment on the posts of your targeted contacts and pose pertinent questions to get on their radar.

9. Are You Networking Enough?

While it may be considered old-school to tap your organically grown (offline) network, it still comes with the best odds of success. Reach out to your friends and acquaintances with industry connections who can help you make a connection.

Make a point of meeting face-to-face with anyone who can offer you a lead or provide a reference. You never know what kind of opportunity will unfold from these offline connections.

Learn more about networking here: How to Network So You’ll Get Way Ahead in Your Professional Life

10. How Can You Become an Expert in Your New Field?

Start building the skills you’ll need to make your career switch. LinkedIn and many other providers offer online courses in everything from accounting software to mastering Excel. For extra credit, see if you can find classes that award online badges for completing each course. Don’t be shy about adding these certificates to your online profile.

Read trade magazines and study up on industry trends. Write and post articles on timely topics. Develop an online presence in the field of your dreams.

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11. Are You Willing to Put Yourself out There?

Nonprofit organizations often look for volunteers to help them with their outreach, social media, fundraising, and more. Once you’ve mastered the needed skills, be sure to have the head of the organization or a board member write a glowing recommendation for you.

Depending on your desired career, it may be possible to take on a contract assignment at a company where you learn on the job. A freelance gig allows you to polish your skills, make connections, and prove you’re serious about this career change.

For example, if your dream is to transform your knack for attracting followers through pithy postings into a career as a social media manager, don’t be afraid to pitch your services. Most companies need someone to manage their online presence and may welcome your fresh new strategy.

Switching Careers Results

Now that you’ve taken the steps to switch careers, bask in the success you’ve found in doing so.

12. How Can You Reward Yourself?

Set whatever benchmarks you need to achieve as you embark on switching careers, and think of them as cause for mini-celebrations. Find frugal ways to reward yourself.

However, hold out for the big, pop-the-champagne celebration until you land your dream job.

13. Has the Risk Paid Off?

People who prefer to play it safe throughout their careers often fall short of their potential. Research shows the primary reason executives derail is an inability to change[3]. It takes a large measure of courage to pursue a new path. And when you succeed, it fuels your confidence.

You have an air of self-assurance about you and a can-do spirit that stands out. And best of all, you’ll have moved from a dead-end or lackluster job to one into which you can pour your passion and realize the feeling of self-fulfillment.

The Bottom Line

Don’t be afraid to switch your career path once you’ve outgrown the one you’re in. Set out to intentionally pursue career satisfaction and you’ll reap great rewards by realizing the joys of job satisfaction.

More Tips on Switching Careers

Featured photo credit: Kevin Bhagat via unsplash.com

Reference

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