Hard Skills vs. Soft Skills: What's the Difference?

Image by Melissa Ling. © The Balance 2018

During the job application and interview process, employers look for applicants with two skill sets: hard skills and soft skills. Successful candidates will make sure to put both sets of skills on display. In order to do so, it helps to understand the difference between these two types of skills. Get definitions and examples of hard and soft skills, along with tips for how to showcase them throughout the job application process. 

The Difference Between Hard Skills and Soft Skills

Hard skills are teachable abilities or skill sets that are easy to quantify. Typically, you'll learn hard skills in the classroom, through books or other training materials, or on the job. 

Examples of hard skills include:

  • Proficiency in a foreign language
  • A degree or certificate
  • Typing speed
  • Machine operation
  • Computer programming

These hard skills are often listed in your cover letter and on your resume, and are easy for an employer or recruiter to recognize. 

Soft skills, on the other hand, are subjective skills that are much harder to quantify. Also known as "people skills" or "interpersonal skills," soft skills relate to the way you relate to and interact with other people. 

Examples of soft skills include:

Unlike hard skills, it's hard to point to specific evidence that you possess a soft skill. If an employer is looking for someone who knows a programming language, you can share your grade in a class or point to a program you created using the language. But how can you show that you have a work ethic or any other soft skill? Just saying you have the skill isn't very meaningful. Instead, with this — and any other soft skills — your best bet is to demonstrate that you possess this quality by sharing examples of times when you used it.

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Top Skills Employers Look For

While certain hard skills are necessary for any position, employers increasingly look for job applicants with certain soft skills. That's because it's generally easier for an employer to train a new employee in a hard skill (such as how to use a certain computer program) than to train an employee in a soft skill (such as patience).

Here's a list of some of the top skills employers seek in candidates for employment. Incorporate these skills into your resume and cover letters, and mention them during job interviews.

Emphasize Both Hard and Soft Skills

Since they're both important, you'll want to emphasize both your hard and soft skills during the job application process. This way, even if you lack a hard skill required by the company, you can emphasize a particular soft skill that you know would be valuable in the position.

For example, if the job involves working on a number of group projects, be sure to emphasize your experience and skill as a team player and your ability to communicate with team members.

How to Highlight Your Skills

To make sure potential employers are aware of your skills, highlight them on your resume and cover letter. You'll also want to weave in mentions of your skills during job interviews. 

Incorporate skills into your resume. On your resume, you can include a skills section that lists out relevant skills. As well, you can point to your skills in the job description. For instance, if you're applying for a job where you'll need to have legal knowledge, and also communicate with clients successfully, you can include similar experience in job descriptions.

Include relevant skills in your cover letter. Your cover letter is also an opportunity to highlight both sets of skills. When it comes to soft skills, however, rather than saying you have a soft skill, demonstrate that you have it. For instance, rather than saying "I have leadership skills," you can say, "At my role at Company ABC, I steered the sales team to record numbers, creating a bonus structure that generated strong results." 

Share your skills during job interviews. During interviews, the STAR interview response technique can help you show off soft skills. 

Review Skills List

But which skills should you highlight? Browse through this list of skills for resumes, cover letters, and interviews, employment skills for a variety of different types of jobs, and information on job specific skills, to get inspiration for which skills to highlight during the job application process.

As well, read the job description carefully to get a sense of which skills the employer is looking for in applicants. Finally, there are some skills that you shouldn't include. Review a list of skills not to put on your resume.