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

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

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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 June 1, 2021

10 Effective Ways To Make You a Fast Learner

10 Effective Ways To Make You a Fast Learner
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The importance of learning cannot be underestimated. Learning empowers us to fulfill our ideas and realize our full potential. The speed of gaining new knowledge is practically as important as its volume. Who wouldn’t love to remember tons of information as quickly as possible?

If you want to start learning faster, you need a new approach towards the process which would enable you to comprehend the essence of the matter and relate it with new concepts you encounter.

The following 10 tips will help you become a fast learner:

1. Analyze Your Learning Style

Before you can start experimenting with different studying methods, you need to understand what type of learner you are:

Is your memory associated to sound?

Maybe you can remember what you were reading when a particular song was playing? If this is your case, then you fall into the category of auditory learners.

If you want to start studying more efficiently, then it would be wise to record the lectures and listen to them instead of reading textbooks.

Do you relate information to visual content?

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If you are a visual learner, you should implement images, graphs, charts, infographics, colorful lists, flashcards, and other types of visual content when you study.

Are you a physical learner?

If your learning style is not auditory or visual, then you might be a physical learner. Some students have too much energy; they tap their feet or play with a pen during lectures.

A walk before a lecture will calm your nerves down. You can try studying or listening to audio lectures during a walk. That will help you remember the information more quickly.

2. Use the Right EdTech Tools

Technology has the power of making everything easier. There are plenty of websites, online tools, and smartphone/tablet apps that will boost your skills of planning, writing, time management and brainstorming, etc.

One way of improving your productivity is using flashcards. You can make your own cards, but you can also download pre-made kits online:

  • StudyBlue is one of the best online destinations when it comes to creating and discovering flashcards from all areas of study.
  • If you are looking for a tool that makes the process of brainstorming more effective, then you should try PapersGear.
  • You also need the SelfControl app, which will eliminate all distractions when you need to stay focused.
  • Quizlet is another website you should bookmark; it offers study tools that will transform the learning process into a fun activity.
  • Notella is an app that will help you take quick notes at any time.
  • Brainscape is an educational platform that makes complex subjects easy by relying on cognitive science.
  • You can also try Dragon Dictation, especially if you are an audio learner.

3. Train Your Brain to Accept New Information

Efficient studying is a habit. Your brain needs constant training if you want to improve your focus and complete complex tasks without taking breaks.

One way to achieve this goal is to create a private learning space in your home. You’ll also need a specific time of day that you’ll devote to studying. That will make your brain ready to accept the information it gets, so you’ll notice you’re starting to learn much faster by the day.

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4. Get Some Exercise

You are aware of the fact that physical activity is good for your body, but your brain needs it too!

Light exercise, such as yoga, can help you learn much faster. If you are inactive throughout the day, your body will want to move, so it will be difficult for you to stay focused.

If, on the other hand, you canalize your energy through light training sessions, you will be ready to study productively.

5. Work on the Ambiance

If you have a noisy neighborhood or a working environment full of distractions, you won’t be able to learn or study no matter how hard you try.

If you want to learn quickly, you need a quiet, distraction-free environment that won’t disturb the mind in any way. Such a peaceful place will set you in learning mode as soon as you find yourself in it.

6. Take a Lot of Notes

Only few people are capable of remembering information as they read it. If you don’t belong to this category of privileged learners, then you absolutely need to start taking notes.

This simple learning method will force you to think about the essence of the material. It will also give you a nice framework that will help you review the things you’ve learned.

Write down only the most important information. That will help you remember all the other things you’ve learned.

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Here’re some tips to take notes effectively: Why Successful People Take Notes And How to Make It Your Habit

7. Make Mind Maps

Mind maps are among the best tools to speed up the learning process. Your mind will process information effectively if you create a visual representation of the things you’re about to learn.

You can create a nice mind map in the old-school way: take a large sheet of paper and organize all facts and explanations. Use pictures, note-cards, and other symbols you can think of. Group similar items together and connect them with colorful pens.

Some tips mind-mapping here: How to Mind Map: Visualize Your Cluttered Thoughts in 3 Simple Steps

Of course, you can also use an online mind mapping tool if you want to save yourself some time.

8. Experiment with Memorization Methods

Memorizing is often misused in the process of studying. Some people memorize whole sentences, paragraphs and lectures without grasping their essence.

However, memorization can be useful when you need to learn definitions and classifications really quickly. Don’t avoid this technique if you want to fill your brain with information without wasting any time.

Try this if you want to memorize more and faster: How to Memorize More and Faster Than Other People

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9. Find the Right Context

Memorization works solely in times of urgency. If you want to learn in the most effective manner, then you need to have context for information.

Find an aspect that’s interesting for you; try to research for related information, and you’ll discover the joy of learning.

The first step? Jot down as much information and as many ideas as possible: How Simply Jotting Down Ideas Can Make You Smarter

With time, this practice will make you a faster learner.

10. Study Every Day

It will take some time before you get used to a daily studying routine, but your mind will eventually grasp the habit.

The more frequently you study, the less time it will take for you to remember the things you read.

If you start studying as soon as possible after you have learned some new concepts, it won’t take long at all for you to get ready for an exam. Now that sounds really good, doesn’t it?

More to Help You Learn Quicker

Featured photo credit: Becca Tapert via unsplash.com

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