If you’re met with the task of putting together a resume and applying for new jobs, you’ve probably seen a few resume examples during your research that have listed soft and hard skills.
You’re not alone in wondering: What exactly are hard skills?
Don’t worry, we’re here to help you out.
We’re going to explain exactly what hard skills are, and answer a number of common questions surrounding this specific group of skills, such as:
What is the difference between hard skills and soft skills?
What is the importance of hard and soft skills in the workplace?
How do you highlight your hard skills on your resume?
What are the top hard skills employers are looking for?
How can you improve your skills?
Let’s start with the broadest and most important question:
You might be wondering: “Are we talking about difficult skills here?”
Well, some hard skills might be tougher to learn than others, but that’s not exactly what the term describes.
We’re talking about specific skills that you learn to perform a job, and to perform it well.
Examples of hard skills include:
This in contrast to soft skills, which are more about communication, organization, critical thinking, and people skills.
It’s important to note that recruiters and potential employers value both types of skills. However, some roles require very specific hard skills (such as accounting), where others may draw more on interpersonal skills (like management roles).
At a high level, hard skills are based on specific knowledge you’ve learned on the job or through some form of course, online tool or training (like at college, Adult Basic Education, or trade programs), and through general life experience.
Conversely, soft skills tend to be personal habits and personality traits that influence the way you work both individually and as part of a team.
Hard skills tend to be much narrower and more definable. For example, whether or not you know how to operate a chainsaw.
Soft skills, however, tend to be a little more intangible, involving things like emotional intelligence, adaptability, and leadership skills, all of which are less concrete.
There are some overlaps between the two types of ability, and one important area of overlap is in communication.
For example, your ability to persuade and convince others would be considered a soft skill, whereas being able to speak a foreign language is seen as a hard skill.
Let’s review a few more examples of hard skills so you can gain a better understanding of hard and soft skills.
Hard skills, sometimes referred to as technical skills, encompass a wide range of abilities, such as:
All of these skills look good on paper, sure, but why do they actually matter in the job search process or in the workplace?
Generally speaking, hard skills give you the capability to perform a specific job or task, whereas soft skills improve your adaptability, work ethic, and ability to work efficiently with your colleagues.
Let’s imagine you’re applying for a Data Entry role at a virtual assistant firm. To be effective (both at landing the job, and at the actual role itself), you’re going to need to display a selection of hard and soft skills.
Hard skills for such a role might include knowing how to use Excel or FreshBooks, and general computer skills.
Desirable soft skills for this role might include a strong independent work ethic, great teamwork skills, and a high level of problem-solving skills.
Makes sense, right?
But how do you show a prospective employer that you’ve got what it takes?
The essence of an employee’s value often rests in their specific set of hard and soft skills. So it’s fair to say that being able to accurately and effectively communicate on your resume what you’ve got to offer is vital.
Shortly, we’ll discuss the top hard skills employers are looking for, that is, the ones you should be listing on your resume (if you have them, of course).
But before you start rattling off your list of hard-earned abilities, you need to have a good grasp on how you’re going to highlight them in your resume.
There are a few ways you can do this.
The first way to highlight your skills on your resume is to create a skills section.
Rather than writing out a huge, cumbersome list, focus on the skills that are relevant and use a star or bar ranking system, like this:
Acknowledging that you aren’t a 10 out of 10 in every area and that you’re aware you have room for development is not only honest, but is something hiring managers look upon favorably.
You don’t have to dedicate an entire section on your resume to your hard and soft skills, though.
Another way to highlight your skills and attributes is to show how you’ve used those skills in each position.
Note how in this resume example, Emma has highlighted some of her key hard skills by demonstrating how she used them in her previous roles as a Digital Media and Connected Home Specialist.
The third way you can show prospective employers how your hard skills fit the job description is by including them in your summary, or career objective.
This is a section at the top of your resume that summarizes what you’re looking to achieve, and what you’re able to bring to the team.
You’ll see that in the above example, Emma has highlighted her hard skills in her summary section as well.
Though most skills are valuable, at least to some degree, there are certain hard skills that employers are seeking out more than others.
Let’s take a look at the seven hard skills you should be highlighting on your resume and during your interview.
Computer skills: most jobs these days require you to use a computer, so you’ll need to know how to work with email, Microsoft Office, and web browsers.
Analytical skills: analytical skills involve data analysis, research, and database management.
Writing skills: at a basic level, most employers will be looking for a certain level of proficiency in English, and the ability to read and write documents and emails. More developed writing skills might include the likes of copywriting or presentation writing.
Design skills: desired design skills include the ability to use Photoshop and Illustrator, as well as sketching, layout, and color theory skills.
Presentation skills: as part of a team, you may be required to give presentations at one point or another. So, it’s often desirable that you are able to use tools like Powerpoint.
Marketing skills: marketing skills that employers are looking for often involve SEO, social media, funnel management, and email marketing abilities.
Project management skills: to be a skilled project manager, you’ll need experience both in using PM platforms, as well as having a degree of proficiency in project planning and scheduling.
Soft skills are part of your personality (though they can be developed), but hard skills are almost entirely learned on the job or through education or training.
That means that they’re not going to grow on their own, and you’ll need to actively work to improve them.
Practice regularly: practice makes perfect! With some hard skills, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to practice, as they’ll be part of your current job. With others, you’ll need to seek out situations where you can apply them.
Ask for feedback: it’s quite often that you won’t receive feedback from your peers, and even managers, unless you ask for it. Don’t be afraid to find out where others think you could improve.
Take a class or course: if you’re looking to tackle a new hard skill, then the best way to go about it is to immerse yourself in a class or course. This can be online or in-person, long-term or one-off, the main thing is that you jump right in and do it!
Consider higher education: some hard skills require a significant amount of study to learn. If you’re looking to take on an advanced subject, like engineering, you may need to go (back) to college or university.
Absorb as much content as possible: take advantage of free content like podcasts and free online courses. Find ways to learn while you’re doing something else, like reading on your daily commute or listening to a podcast while you clean the house.
Get a mentor: one last tip for you is to find someone who is already great at the skill you’re looking to improve at. You can ask them to give feedback on your development or provide advice, or you can just observe and absorb!
Despite their name, hard skills don’t have to be hard to master.
Often, with a bit of perseverance and a bunch of practice, you can master a ton of new hard skills over the course of your career, and improve your prospects for the future.
A good place to start is to take stock of your hard skills as they stand today, and give yourself an honest assessment of where you could stand to improve, maybe even asking for a bit of feedback from peers and managers.