If you are a working professional, I’d be willing to bet that you want to increase your skill set. Skills will get you hired, help your performance, help you get promoted and overall improve your career.
I’m sure there are things that you are better at and things that you know you can improve.
But what skills should you improve on? What skills do your employers want to see?
Today, we’ll talk about two sets of skills that all professionals need to be proficient in. One without the other does you no good and the two combined are greater than each individually due to their complementary benefits to each other.
Think of this as 1 + 1 equaling 3. These two sets of skills are soft skills and hard skills.
What Are Soft Skills and Hard Skills?
Soft skills and hard skills are two categories of skills often analyzed in the workplace.
We’ll begin with hard skills, since you are probably more familiar with them.
Hard skills are teachable and technical abilities that are acquired through learning and practice. Hard skills are easily measurable because you can either perform the skill or you can’t.
In business, hard skills include:
- Financial modeling
- PowerPoint presentation building
- Building a marketing campaign
- Knowing how to screen candidates for interviews
- Managing funds for an investment firm
These skills can be acquired through:
- Online courses
- On the job experience
Now soft skills are skills that are less familiar to people and are often neglected due to the lack of awareness that they exist. These skills are highly coveted in the workplace.
Soft skills are typically defined by communication, management, interpersonal, and people skills.They are more subjective in nature and harder to measure or quantify.
This subjectivity makes it hard to teach soft skills as they are more related to one’s behavior and personality, which has been molded throughout a lifetime and can be hard to alter.
Examples of soft skills include:
- Time management
- Detail oriented
- Problem solving
- Self confidence
After reading the examples of soft skills, you can begin to see how identifying someone’s proficiency in these skills can vary from one person’s view to another.
With hard skills, you can see if someone can perform the skill or not. It is very black and white. With soft skills, you are basically forming an opinion on someone’s ability to lead, manage their time, work well in teams, etc.
Why Soft Skills and Hard Skills Are Important
Soft skills and hard skills are important to have to get hired by a company, promoted within a company, build your network of contacts for your future, and overall success in life.
Hard skills are important for doing particular things for a specific job. If you are a financial analyst, knowing how to build financial models and value companies is essential to your function. However, these abilities would be useless if you switched jobs and worked as a car salesman.
Soft skills can be applied anywhere, including the workplace and your everyday life. If you have great interpersonal and communication skills, you can take those anywhere and they will be beneficial for you. Working well with others is going to benefit you as a financial analyst or a car salesman.
Employers want both
Both are essential in the workplace and employers look for candidates the exhibit the right balance of both to do the job. They do not want one without the other.
You can be the best financial modeler in the world, but if you lack time management and attention to detail, your work isn’t going to provide much value to the firm.
On the other side of the spectrum, you can have the right attitude, strong work ethic, and self-confidence, but if you don’t have the hard skills required to perform in your position, you won’t provide much value either.
It is essential to have both. The importance of both can vary from one job or career path to another.
For example, if you are a quantitative trader on Wall Street, you probably aren’t interacting with people as much as a marketing manager.
As a trader, hard skills are probably weighed with higher importance than soft skills.
It is important you think about what level of importance both have to the job you want to pursue and what particular hard skills and soft skills an employer is looking for.
How to Know What Hard Skills and Soft Skills You Need
The most straightforward place to find the required hard and soft skills for a position is to read the job posting for a job you want to apply for. Employers will explicitly write what they are looking for as bullets in the job description.
Hard skill example bullets:
- Exceptional financial modeling skills in valuation of companies for M&A
- 3+ years of public accounting
- CFA or MBA preferred
- Experience in building marketing materials for clients and investors
Soft skill example bullets:
- The candidate needs to be highly detail-oriented, self-motivated, and entrepreneurial
- Critical thinking and problem-solving skills are a must
- Requires great customer service skills and the ability to communicate well with others
- Ability to manage time effectively and be adaptable to changes in projects and conditions
With the awareness of what a company is looking for, you can tailor your resume or what you will bring up in an interview to reflect the desired soft skills and hard skills. It isn’t enough to just state that you have a skill in one or the other. You need to demonstrate that skill and back it up with evidence.
On your resume, you can say things like:
- Built financial models for 15 M&A deals that resulted in $50 million in revenue to the company
- Collaborated and communicated daily with a team of 25 to deliver the best service possible to our clients
- Audited 30 financial statements of S&P 500 companies requiring optimal time management skills and attention to detail
While the job posting is the best place to find straightforward answers on skills employers look for, it can only provide so much information. Another great place to look is online. You can search on Google and you can also look on the company’s website.
On the company’s website, you can find the company’s values and mission statement, which can show what type of person they want to have on board in their company.
This method is great for finding the soft skills you should be equipped with.
If you are well-connected and know someone at the company or industry you want to be in, you can reach out to them to ask what skills you should have and highlight to employers.
They will cut through the fluff and tell you exactly what you need to show to an employer.
How to Develop Hard Skills
Hard skills are more easily developed and measurable than soft skills. You can develop the required hard skills for a career through learning, diligent practice, and repetition. Simply find what you need to be skilled in and find places where you can learn those skills.
Here are some ways you can learn and develop hard skills:
- Coursework: Choose classes that will build your knowledge and hard skills.
- Books: Books can be specific and a great for learning.
- Online courses: The online course industry has blown up in recent times and you can find a course on anything nowadays.
- Apprenticeships: These are harder to come by and take more time, but having a mentor to guide you is invaluable in learning a skill.
- On the job: Sometimes you have enough skill to get yourself hired, but still lack the proficiency to perform at the highest level. Learning on the job is normal and often the best way to learn a hard skill because you know exactly what skill you need to perfect.
How to Develop Soft Skills
Soft skills are harder to develop and harder to measure your progression.
Here are 3 important things to do to develop soft skills:
- Have awareness: Being aware of what soft skills are is half the battle on improving them. You cannot improve a skill if you do not know the skill exists and is sought out by a company.
- Implement: Once you are aware of a skill, you need to try to implement that skill as much as possible. For example, if you are focusing on having a positive attitude in the workplace, start being more positive through your actions.
- Reflect and receive feedback: Due to the subjectivity with analyzing soft skills, it is important to take a step back and self-reflect on your implementation of a soft skill. Try to be real in analyzing if you are performing a skill and getting better from it. Also, seek advice and feedback from others. You can ask things like “Hey, how would you say my communication skills have been during the past few weeks?” or “How do you think my leadership skills were on that project?”
You can also read books or take classes in college/online related to management, communication, psychology, and human behavior and organizational skills.
With soft skills, they can be a quick fix, but they take time to master and implement fluidly. If you are normally reserved and monotone, a quick change to being outgoing and communicating well can be difficult or come off as inauthentic.
It is important to know that it is a long-term play and if you have awareness and constantly reflect and tweak, you will see improvements over time.
Soft skills and hard skills are quite different from each other but are both essential to have for a successful career.
It is important to identify the required soft skills and hard skills for the job you want and career path you want to take. Once you know that, you can focus your time and energy on developing those coveted skills.
Some can be learned and implemented quickly, whereas others take time to master.
Understand this, and with patience, diligence, and consistency, you’ll be on your way to becoming proficient in soft skills and hard skills.