Key takeaways

  • Hard skills are the career-specific technical knowledge you gain through job experience or education.
  • Soft skills are the personal and interpersonal qualities that allow you to be more productive and collaborate well with others.
  • Hard and soft skills are necessary for all employees, and performance management software can track your company’s skillsets to build a competent and elite workforce.

Hard skills vs soft skills

As an employer, finding employees with a good balance of hard and soft skills is essential to building a productive and harmonious work environment. There are many ways to hire, identify, and develop employees’ hard and soft skills, like:

Hard and soft skills are two sides of the same coin, and supporting employees’ growth in both can reap benefits in productivity, efficiency, innovation, communication, and collaboration. Below, we’ll explain the difference between hard and soft skills so you can identify and help your employees grow in both.

Hard skillsSoft skills
DefinitionThe technical abilities needed for a job.The personal traits that help perform a job more efficiently or effectively.
BenefitsEasy to quantify, track, and teach.
Demonstrates minimum competency in a role.
Able to build upon for more role specialization. 
Fosters and maintains healthy and productive work relationships.
Increases work efficiency and effectiveness.
Improves adaptability to changing workplace conditions.
Examples→ Healthcare degree or license.
→ Proficiency in a program or an application.
→ Sales and marketing.
→ Decision-making.
→ Flexibility.
→ Integrity.
→ Independence.

What are hard skills?

Hard skills, also known as technical skills, comprise the practical abilities you need to perform the primary duties of your job on a daily basis.

Most often, these skills are industry- or job-specific. For example, healthcare professionals need to complete specific training to demonstrate their skills and knowledge in the field, with certifications, like a nurse’s RN license, as proof of their proficiency.

Some hard skills can also translate across various positions if they are essential to completing the job satisfactorily. For example, mastery of Microsoft Excel or other spreadsheet programs is a vital aspect of finance, accounting, and business administration jobs.

One of the main advantages of hard skills is that they are significantly easier to identify and measure. This is because most come with some record or history proving the employee’s proficiency in that skill, such as:

  • Licenses and certificates.
  • Education degrees.
  • Years of experience in the role.
  • References from peers, managers, mentors, or educators.
  • Completed skills assessments.
  • Background checks or employment reference checks to verify experience.

Even if a potential new hire or current employee does not have the documentation to back up their hard skills, you can easily test skill levels with assessment software. And, if there appear to be knowledge gaps, performance management software, like Zavvy, can produce detailed skills matrices to help upskill employees through a development plan or struggling employees with a performance improvement plan (PIP).

You can uncover meaningful workforce analytics and trends by combining a performance management solution with your learning management system (LMS) or HR software. For instance, a fully integrated system can track the number of hard skills in an organization, compare them against peers in similar positions, and tie this to business success metrics, like human capital return on investment (ROI).

Zavvy displays a skills matrix and heat map based on employees' skills ratings.
Zavvy uses data visualizations, like heatmaps and matrices, to quickly identify employees whose hard skills are not at the same level as their coworkers. Source: Zavvy

What are soft skills?

Soft skills, also known as durable or people skills, are the personality traits, habits, or other characteristics that allow you to be more productive or efficient in your role. They are also essential to fostering positive working relationships among coworkers, leadership, and customers.

Unlike hard skills, soft skills are much trickier to teach because employees develop them through the multitude of interactions, both professionally and personally, that happen in their daily lives.

Nevertheless, soft skills are versatile because you can use them across various roles and industries. In fact, 92% of talent professionals and hiring managers in LinkedIn’s 2019 Global Talent Trends Report say that soft skills matter as much or more than hard skills. So, providing opportunities for employees to develop them should be a critical part of your L&D programs.

  • Teamwork.
  • Adaptability.
  • Time management.
  • Public speaking.
  • Creativity.
  • Problem-solving.
  • Organization.
  • Empathy.
  • Communication.
  • Leadership.
  • Negotiation.
  • Open-mindedness.
  • Detail-oriented.
  • Dependability.
  • Patience.
  • Listening.
  • Multitasking.
  • Resilience.
  • Integrity.

Measuring soft skills is much more complex than hard skills since soft skills are typically qualitative or descriptive. Plus, real-world scenarios are the only way to see these skills in action. However, you can use some of the methods below to verify or track employees’ soft skills development over time:

  • References from past coworkers, mentors, managers, or teachers.
  • Qualitative scores from performance reviews.
  • 360-degree feedback from peers, supervisors, or customers.
  • Scores on skills assessment platforms.

TestGorilla, for example, offers subject matter expert soft skills tests for candidates to take during the pre-employment process. Its time management test, for example, assesses how well candidates prioritize, plan, and execute daily tasks according to different scenarios. Leveraging tests like these can help you determine an employee’s proficiency level before they even set foot in the role.

TestGorilla’s skills tests ask how candidates will react in real-world scenarios, allowing managers to understand their working styles and training needs before starting. Source: TestGorilla

Soft skills vs hard skills FAQs

Below are two hypothetical examples illustrating how hard and soft skills work together to create an effective and productive employee.

Employee name: John Doe (he/him)

Role: Executive administrator at a mid-sized car parts manufacturer.

Essential duties:

  • Developing and managing business reports.
  • Creating and monitoring business budgets.
  • Coordinating employee travel itineraries and overseeing reimbursements.
  • Managing vendor lists and ensuring timely billing and payments.
  • Communicating information between management, employees, partners, and customers.
  • Suggesting or spearheading new workflow policies and processes for greater efficiency.

Hard skills:

  • Five years of experience in business and office administration.
  • Microsoft 365.
  • QuickBooks Online.
  • Salesforce CRM.
  • Conversational Spanish.

Soft skills:

  • Time management.
  • Organization.
  • Negotiation.
  • Presentation.
  • Problem-solving.
  • Communication.

Daily use:

John uses his skills in Microsoft products and QuickBooks to compile business reports for executive review, like office budgets, employee reimbursements, and vendor payments. His skills in Salesforce also help him communicate effectively with customers and vendors by accessing and answering questions about their accounts.

Meanwhile, John’s soft skills in time management allow him to properly schedule, balance, and delegate competing priorities so everything gets done well and on time. His fluency in Spanish also aligns with his problem-solving and communication skills since he can communicate with and assist his company’s large Spanish-speaking workforce.

Employee name: Mary Sue (she/her)

Role: Entry-level software engineer at a mobile game developer.

Essential duties:

  • Debugging code.
  • Coordinating with and responding to requests from development teams and other stakeholders.
  • Developing reports on application functionality.
  • Running application and quality assurance tests.
  • Working with senior-level software engineers on writing new code.
  • Learning and improving codebase knowledge.

Hard skills:

  • Bachelor’s degree in computer science.
  • Basic coding languages (JavaScript and HTML5).
  • Windows and Mac operating systems.

Soft skills:

  • Adaptable.
  • Detail-oriented.
  • Independent.
  • Fast learner.
  • Problem-solving.

Daily use:

Mary’s educational background in computer science and knowledge of JavaScript and HTML5 allow her to write, debug, and maintain the code on lower-level program features with minimal training or oversight from her manager.

With her detail-oriented nature, flexibility, and independence, Mary can quickly pinpoint code errors, learn new coding languages, and remain diligent and self-sufficient in her assigned tasks.

No. Effective employees need both hard and soft skills to succeed in their roles. In fact, according to SHRM and TalentLMS’s 2022 Workplace Learning and Development Trends study, 79% and 76% of organizations are focusing on either hard skills or soft skills training in the next 12 months, respectively.

These percentages showcase that companies value both skillsets in employees. Arguably, even employees lacking the hard skills to do a role can leverage their soft skills to develop the technical capabilities needed to succeed quickly.

There are plenty of ways to find and hire employees with the right skills and track their success, including:

  • Creating clear job descriptions that outline the specific hard and soft skills needed for a role.
  • Using job sites to engage with passive candidates with proven qualifications.
  • Carefully reviewing job applications, résumés, licenses, certifications, years of experience, or degrees for applicable skills.
  • Leveraging AI in your recruitment process to automatically find and invite candidates with particular skills to apply. 
  • Asking skill-based, situational, and behavioral questions during interviews to test their knowledge.
  • Requiring qualified candidates to take pre-employment tests to verify skills.

Did you know?

Another way to find the skillsets you need to support your company’s productivity and innovation is by prioritizing diversity in your recruitment strategy. Learn more about diversity hiring in our articles below:

Although you can teach hard and soft skills, it depends on the employee whether they find a particular skill easier or harder to learn. However, tracking progress toward proficiency or mastery in hard skills is easier because they are quantifiable. As a result, companies frequently argue hard skills are easier to learn.

In contrast, soft skills develop over a series of everyday interactions and habits. So, it is sometimes unclear how long these skills take to build. Plus, their close ties to someone’s personality can make them hard to teach or modify.

However, an L&D program that balances hard and soft skills development can still make employees aware of their weaknesses and provide the tools to address these areas — even if it takes some employees longer to learn than others.

Start developing your employees’ hard and soft skills

Besides recruiting employees with the necessary soft and hard skills to make your business more agile for the future of work, you can also use various software to upskill your existing workforce. Some examples include:

  • LMS software to create, distribute, and track the effectiveness of employee skill training courses.
  • Performance management software to set training goals and monitor progress.
  • Online training platforms, like Coursera or Udemy, for pre-made courses employees can take at their convenience.
  • Virtual reality to practice difficult-to-teach skills in simulated, real-world scenarios.
  • eLearning content, like webinars, podcasts, and eBooks, to foster continuous learning.

You can learn more by visiting our Performance Management and Learning Management System Software Guides for a complete list of platforms to fit your needs.

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