What are hard skills and how do I highlight them on my resume?

Last updated: June 19, 2024
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Kai Dickerson
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What are hard skills and how do I highlight them on my resume?
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What are hard skills, and how can I highlight them on my resume?

If you’ve put together your resume and are applying for new jobs, you’ve probably seen a few resume examples. During your research, have you noticed resumes often include a list of hard skills and soft skills?

Soft skills are types of behaviors and traits such as emotional intelligence, collaboration, and communication.

But, what exactly are hard skills? Don’t worry; we’re here to help you out.

Keep reading because we’re going to explain what hard skills are and answer some common questions, 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 skill sets on your resume?

  • What are the must-have skills potential employers are looking for?

  • How can you improve your skills?

Let’s get started.

What are hard skills?

You might be wondering: “Are we talking about difficult skills here?”

Some hard skills might be tougher to learn than others, but that’s not exactly what the term means.

We’re talking about specific skills that you learn to perform a job well. You can get hard skills through experience or education.

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Examples of hard skills include:

  • Technical skills in certain software, such as Microsoft Word or Google Analytics

  • Experience in cash handling and point of sale (POS) systems

  • Knowledge of business procedures and administrative skills

  • Understanding industry-specific norms and processes

  • Technical skills like coding or knowing how to operate a forklift

It’s important to note that recruiters value both hard and soft skills. However, some roles require very specific hard skills (such as accounting), whereas others may draw more on interpersonal skills (like management roles).

Hard skills vs. soft skills: what’s the difference?

Hard skills can be learned on the job or through a course, online tool or training (like college, adult education, or trade programs), and general life experience.

Soft skills are 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 easier to measure with a yes or no answer. For example, do you know how to use 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 harder to assess.

There are some overlaps between the two types of skills. One example is communication.

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.

Types of hard skills

Hard skills, sometimes called technical skills, cover a wide range of abilities, such as:

  • Understanding food safety protocols

  • Web development skills such as CSS and cloud computing

  • Knowing how to operate a compactor

  • Marketing skills such as search engine optimization and social media marketing

  • Being skilled at fixing a clogged or broken drain

  • Business knowledge and customer experience

  • Computer skills like data analysis and Microsoft Word

  • Design skills such as Adobe InDesign and Photoshop

  • System-based skills like processing customer refunds

  • Accounting skills such as QuickBooks and Microsoft Excel

  • Communication skills like copywriting and transcription

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The importance of hard and soft skills in the workplace

All of these skills look good on paper, but why do they matter in the workplace?

Hard skills give you the ability 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.

This role's desirable soft skills might include a strong independent work ethic, teamwork skills, and problem-solving skills.

But how do you show a prospective employer that you’ve got what it takes?

How to highlight your hard skills in your resume

An employee’s value often rests in their specific set of hard and soft skills. Being able to accurately and effectively communicate what you’ve got to offer on your resume is vital.

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.

1. Create a skills section on your resume

The first way to highlight your key skills on your resume is to create a skills section.

Rather than writing out a long list, focus on the skills that are relevant and use a star or bar ranking system like this:

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You can acknowledge that you aren’t 100% in every area and that there’s room for development. It isn't only honest, but it’s something hiring managers look upon favorably.

2. Include your skills in your work experience

You don’t have to dedicate an entire section of your resume to your hard and soft skills.

Another way to highlight your skills and attributes is to show how you’ve used those skills in previous roles.

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:

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3. Add skills in the summary section

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.

In the above example, you'll see that Emma has highlighted her hard skills in her summary section.

The top 7 hard skills employers are looking for

Though most skills are valuable, there are certain hard skills that employers are looking for.

Let’s take a look at the seven hard skills you should be highlighting on your resume and during your interview. How many of these do you have?

1. Computer skills

These days, most jobs require basic computer skills. The most relevant skills will depend on the job, but the essentials usually include Microsoft Office, email, Google Workspace, and video chat.

If you have experience using accounting software such as MYOB, Xero, or Quickbooks, this can also be beneficial. If you know how to use different operating systems, graphic design software, and social media, these skills can be appealing to employers.

Read the job description carefully, as it could feature a list of essential computer skills that you can mention on your resume.

2. Analytical skills

Strong analytical skills suit a range of industries, including finance, business, programming, cybersecurity, and marketing. This hard skill is all about investigating and solving problems.

Some analytical skills are counted as soft skills. These include creativity, active listening, teamwork, and critical thinking.

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But, other analytical skills require technical training. These are hard skills. For example, you could have experience in data analysis, research, or database management.

Analysis skills are transferable skills and can be useful throughout your career.

3. Writing skills

Employers will usually be looking for the ability to read and write in English. Basic writing skills could include experience typing and sending documents and emails.

If you know how to use word processing programs such as Google Docs and Microsoft Word, you can list them on your resume.

Some jobs will require more advanced writing skills. For example, the employer might be looking for copywriting or presentation writing skills.

They might need someone to write for the company blog or use content management systems.

4. Design skills

Most employers appreciate design skills. Whether it’s a company brochure, social media graphic, or website redesign, your design skills can be useful.

For some jobs, desired design skills can include experience with the Adobe Creative Suite, such as Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign, and apps like Canva.

Creative jobs might have a list of other design skills. For example, the employer could be looking for someone who's good at sketching or painting. And, they may expect you to have a degree in a specific field.

5. Presentation skills

When you work in a team environment, you may need to give presentations and create company resources. To be successful, you’ll need soft skills, such as excellent communication skills, time management, and organization.

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If you want your presentation to be engaging and informative, you’ll also need a few hard skills. Having experience in presentation software, such as Microsoft PowerPoint and Google Slides, could be a priority for the hiring manager.

And, if you know how to resize images and use a projector or SMARTboard, it’ll enhance your presentations.

6. Marketing skills

Running a business is competitive, and marketing skills are highly sought after. The types of digital marketing skills employers are looking for include search engine optimization (SEO), content creation, social media, campaign management, and email marketing.

If you’re involved in marketing, the manager might want to know how you track results. Do you have the skills to analyze a campaign, create reports, and make changes?

Marketing skills aren’t just for tech brands. For example, if you’re working in retail, you could have experience displaying products and running sales.

7. Project management skills

More companies are looking for project managers to oversee their remote and hybrid workforces.

If you have skills in this area, you could also use them to change careers. For example, you could apply for a job in management.

To be a skilled project manager, you’ll need experience using project management software. You’ll also need to be proficient in project planning and scheduling.

You can gain project management skills from experience, degrees, and short courses.

How to improve your hard skills

Soft skills are part of your personality (though they can be developed). On the other hand, hard skills are almost entirely learned on the job or through education or training.

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This means that they’re not going to grow on their own, and you’ll need to actively work to improve them.

Here’s how:

Practice regularly

Practice makes perfect. With some hard skills, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to practice, as they’ll be part of your job. With others, you’ll need to seek out situations where you can apply them.

Ask for feedback

You won’t always receive feedback from your peers or 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, the best way to go about it is to sign up for 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’ll have to enroll in college or university.

Take advantage of free resources

Take advantage of free content like podcasts and online courses. If you’re short on time, you can find ways to learn while you’re doing other activities.

For example, you can read during your daily commute or listen to a podcast while you clean the house.

Get a mentor

Find someone who's already great at the skill you’re looking to improve at. Mentors can include teachers, managers, and friends who have experience in the industry.

You can ask them to give feedback on your development or provide advice. Your mentor may even give you a referral for a job.

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Hard skills or easy skills?

Despite their name, hard skills don’t have to be difficult to master.

Hard skills are measurable and can usually be learned through education or on-the-job training. Some are job-specific skills, while others are transferable skills.

With a bit of perseverance and practice, you can gain new hard skills and improve your prospects for the future.

Some of the top hard skills right now are computer skills, analytical skills, writing skills, design skills, presentation skills, marketing skills, and project management skills.

If you do have any of these hard skills, make sure you mention them on your resume.

Is there room for improvement? You can boost your hard skills by practicing, taking a short course, enrolling in higher education, or asking someone to mentor you.

Ready to start working on your job application? You can find current job postings on our job board. If you're looking for more career advice, you can head over to our resource center.

1 Comment


Danielle Hardin
Bullet point
Lead Sales Associate Full Time Keyholder at Dollar General

Is it possible to take some courses that are legit without actually taking 'college' level courses? My Title IV cannot be released at this time. But I sure would pay a fee out of pocket for a course teaching certain hard skills, if I knew they would be sufficient in getting me hired on faster! Thanks in Advance, D. Hardin