The Hard Skills Employers Seek

Image by Emilie Dunphy © The Balance 2019

If you’ve ever spoken with a career counselor or spent much time learning about the job search process, you’ve probably heard of hard skills. But what are hard skills, and how are they different from soft skills?

Hard Skills Defined

Hard skills are part of the skill set that is required for a job. They include the expertise necessary for an individual to successfully do the job. They are job-specific and are typically listed in job postings and job descriptions.

Hard skills are acquired through formal education and training programs, including college, apprenticeships, short-term training classes, online courses, certification programs, as well as by on-the-job training.

Employers also seek applicants with good soft skills. These are the interpersonal skills that enable you to succeed in the workplace. You’ll often hear these referred to as “people” skills, and while they’re absolutely necessary for success on the job, they’re harder to quantify and less often taught formally in schools and vocational programs.

Both hard skills and soft skills are important in the workplace. Here's information on both, with examples of each type of skill.


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Types of Hard Skills

Hard skills include the specific knowledge and abilities required for success in a job. Examples of hard skills include computer programming, web design, typing, accounting, finance, writing, mathematics, legal and other quantifiable skills that are included in the requirements for a job.

These types of skills are learned and can be defined, evaluated and measured.

They are most commonly used during the hiring and interview process to compare candidates for employment. In some industries, employers may even test candidates’ hard skills, to make sure that they can really do what their resume claims they can do.

Once you have the job, your employer may evaluate your hard skills again, if you’re up for a promotion or a transfer.

Examples of Hard Skills

The following are examples of some of the hard skills required for different occupations.

  • Accounting
  • Administrative
  • Analysis
  • Analytics
  • Automotive
  • Banking
  • Bookkeeping
  • Carpentry
  • Computer
  • Construction
  • Data
  • Design
  • Editing
  • Electrical
  • Engineering
  • Financial
  • Hardware
  • Healthcare
  • Information Technology
  • Languages
  • Legal
  • Manufacturing
  • Math
  • Mechanical
  • Medical
  • Nursing
  • Optimization
  • Pharmaceutical
  • Pipefitter
  • Plumbing
  • Project Management
  • Programming
  • Research
  • Reporting
  • Science
  • Software
  • Spreadsheets
  • Teaching
  • Technology
  • Testing
  • Translation
  • Transcription
  • Word Processing
  • Writing

Types of Soft Skills

Conversely, soft skills are attributes and personality traits that affect interpersonal interactions and while different, are also as important as hard skills in the workforce.

These include characteristics such as leadership, empathy, communication, etiquette and more skills that aren’t as quantifiable as hard skills.

The main difference between hard skills and soft skills is that hard skills can usually be taught in a series of concrete steps. From an instructor’s or a boss’s perspective, teaching someone how to code is a better-defined process than teaching them to listen and communicate effectively with a client.

Soft skills can’t be learned by rote, and involve emotional intelligence and empathy, which often makes them more complicated to impart to a student.

The bottom line is that both hard and soft skills are important. Once you have both, you’ll be able to do your job well in the real world, where it’s essential both to know what you’re talking about – and be able to talk about it so that other people can understand.

Hybrid Skills

As the workplace evolves, candidates with hybrid skills are becoming increasingly valuable. Employers seek applicants with a blend of soft and hard skills because they have the flexibility that enables them to add-value to the organization and to keep up with change.

Focus on Your Most Relevant Skills

When job searching, it’s important to include the skills the employer is seeking in your resume and job applications. The skills (both hard and soft) will be listed in the requirements section of job postings, and help wanted ads.

Start by highlighting the skills that are the closest match to the job requirements in your job application materials. But there’s more to match your qualifications to a job than just looking for keywords in the listing. It’s also essential to go beyond the job posting.

Go to the employer’s website, to see if their listing provides additional information that might not have made it a job board or a referral from a friend. Then scan job search sites like Indeed or Monster to see what qualifications other employers require in postings for similar jobs.

Finally, review employment skills by the job or a general lists of skills for job applications, resumes and cover letters.