Hard Skills vs. Soft Skills – What’s the difference and is one more important than the other to your career success? In my recent articles – What are Soft Skills and List of 28 Soft Skills, I offered detailed definitions of soft skills. Here I want to highlight three key differences between hard skills and soft skills and how their importance depends highly on the career you are in.
Three Key Differences between Hard Skills vs. Soft Skills
- To be good at hard skills usually takes smarts or IQ (also known as your left brain-the logical center). To be good at soft skills usually takes Emotonal Intelligence or EQ (also known as your right brain- the emotional center). Examples of hard skills include math, physics, accounting, programming, finance, biology, chemistry, statistics, etc… For a list of 28 soft skills, click here.
- Hard skills are skills where the rules stay the same regardless of which company, circumstance or people you work with. In contrast, soft skills are self management skills and people skills where the rules changes depending on the company culture and people you work with. For example, programming is a hard skill. The rules for how you can be good at creating the best code to do a function is the same regardless of where you work. Communication skills are a set of soft skills. The rules for how to be effective at communication changes and depend on your audience or the content you are communicating. You may communicate well to fellow programmers about technical details while struggle significant to communicate clearly to senior manager about your project progress and support needed.
- Hard skills can be learned in school and from books. There are usually designated level of competency and a direct path as to how to excel with each hard skill. For example, accounting is a hard skill. You can take basic accounting and then advanced accounting courses. You can then work to get experience and then take an exam and be certified as a CPA, etc.. In contrast, there is no simple path to learn soft skills. Most soft skills are not taught well in school and have to be learned on the job by trial and error. There are many books and guides on soft skills. I also recently wrote an article on How to Improve Your Soft Skills as a starting point. They help to an extent. Unless you can apply the tips you learn and be adaptable, there aren’t any easy step-by-step instructions on how to master a soft skill.
Hard Skills vs. Soft Skills – Which is more important?
It depends highly on the career you choose. Here is why.
- Careers can be put into 3 kind of categories. It is up to you to figure out which category your career is in.
1) Careers that need hard skills and little soft skills (example: Physicists); This is where you see brilliant people who cannot deal well with people. They can still be very successful in their career – look at Albert Einstein
2) Careers that need both hard and soft skills – many careers are in this category (example: Accountants, Lawyers – they need to know the rules of accounting or law well but they also depend on selling to clients to build a successful career. Dealing well with clients require excellent soft skills like communication skills, relationship skills etc…)
3) Careers that need mostly soft skills and little hard skills (example: sales. A car salesman don’t really need to know that much about cars, just a little more than the consumer. His job is more dependent on his ability to read his customers, communicate his sales pitch, persuasion skills, and skills to close to deal. These are all soft skills)
- Another way to assess how important are soft skills in your career is to ask yourself three questions
1) Does how well I work and communicate with others critical in my performance review and the decision for my promotion?
2) Are people in the same position as me who are well liked in the company seem to be promoted faster?
3) Does my ability to control my temperament at work affect my performance review?
If all three is yes, soft skills are very important to develop if you want to advance in your career
- I would say in general, soft skills are more important in most business careers than hard skills. We all know or have worked for senior people that doesn’t seem that smart (limited hard skills). The fact remains that they are in senior positions because they have exceptional soft skills (e.g., know how to leverage politics to further their careers, leadership skills, management skills, self promotion skills etc…).
Food for thought – most of us have spent at least 16 years in school focused mainly on building our hard skills full time and a little on our soft skills through team projects, sports, and social activities. To succeed in our career, shouldn’t we spend at least another 16 years or more to proactively master the soft skills necessary to advance our careers?
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Your Comments - What are the best ways you are using to improve your soft skills? Do you think senior people in your company have more soft skills or hard skills or both?
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