Hard Skills vs Soft Skills

Technical capabilities are not the only important aspect of an employee. The discussion of hard skills vs soft skills occurs a lot in recruitment. Both are needed, but how do recruiters find the right balance?

Every job is different, but a fine understanding of hard vs soft skills will help identify what to look for during the hiring process.

Published April 20, 2022
Last updated April 27, 2022

What are hard skills and soft skills?

Hard and soft skills refer to two different sets of qualities. Hard skills are specific capabilities picked up during someone’s life or career. Soft skills are often tied to their individual personality. 

Everyone has a mix of both. Likewise, every job requires varying amounts of each. Often, one can be more vital than the other.

Soft skills meaning

Soft skills are defined as non-technical skills that are related to how individuals work. In other words, they are not based on technical knowledge. They can be both interpersonal or focused on one particular individual. 

Soft skills examples

Every job has examples of soft skills. If we look at a support manager’s skills, some of the most important are soft in nature.

Communication, motivation and conflict resolution are three of the best soft skills examples. They are not specific to the role but nonetheless are essential to performing the duties required.

Hard skills meaning

Hard skills are defined as specific capabilities, such as technical competencies or trained capabilities. Typically, they can be measured or graded in a specific way. Some can simply be tested, while others are achieved through education or certification. 

Hard skills examples

Most jobs have hard skills specific to their role. If we consider the skills needed at a call centre, bilingualism is a good example. It is learned and can be measured. 

At more advanced levels, data analytics, customer management and understanding of key technologies are all hard skills examples.

Difference between hard and soft skills

Soft skills can indicate an employee’s flexibility in regard to other roles. This is why they are often called transferable skills. If someone is good at problem-solving, organisation or a team leader, it is easy to imagine them in other roles. 

However, without key technical competencies, there are many jobs they won’t be able to complete. This is where hard skills matter. Many positions require very specific skills. In these roles, soft skills alone are not enough. 

Hard skills alone, likewise, can often make an employee effective in other areas, such as teamwork.

Soft and hard skills in the hiring process

Now the nature of hard vs soft skills has been covered, how do we find them when hiring? We can advertise the essential skills in the advert, but it is up to recruiters to validate them.

Hard skills are often quantifiable and can be seen in the early stages. Does a candidate have previous experience? If not, are they qualified or certified in any way? 

For example, if someone claims to have experience with certain software, such as a POS or analytics program, it should be clear where this skill came from. Did they do specific training, or was it a frequent aspect of a previous position?

Soft skills, on the other hand, are not so clear from a CV. Often, they can be tested during the later stages. For example, interviews will highlight communication and interpersonal skills.

Methods for testing

The right questions will uncover a lot of soft skills. If you’re looking for good salesperson qualities, for example, ask about their goals. If they are able to demonstrate a forward-thinking attitude, you tell if they’re goal orientated and self-managing.

In other areas, you can conduct tests. Puzzle-solving is one such example, but you can also consider test scenarios. For example, role-playing a potential problem can highlight a candidate’s empathy and other skills related to customer experience.

Please note that you can also do this for hard skills. It is not uncommon to ask candidates for certain tests to demonstrate their competencies. However, given that these are easy to validate in earlier stages, it is best to focus on soft skills where possible.

What if a candidate is lacking hard vs soft skills?

When a job has a very specific profile, the chances of finding the ideal candidate become smaller. Often, you will find people with nearly all the required skills. Which, then, can be overlooked?

If hard skills are defined as trained and certified competencies, this makes them more important. Soft skills can be trained and developed in the right environments. 

What training could be made available? What soft skills are essential and which are nice to have? A candidate with hard skills and a lot of promise can be readily developed, given the right opportunities. 

As a recruiter, you should ask the respective manager for this position about such options. This can then help you during the recruitment process.