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Hard Skills vs Soft Skills

career planning
internship
resume
By Shorelight Team
Last updated on December 22, 2021

If you want to apply for an internship while you are studying in the US, it is important to develop both your soft skills and hard skills. Learn which skills employers value most.

Five students gather around a tablet computer at a desk in a classroom.

Job searches are no longer just about your credentials. While employers want you to be qualified for the job, they also expect you to have a combination of hard and soft skills. 

Hard skills are the types of technical knowledge and training you have gained from your education or previous jobs, like expertise in a specific software program. Soft skills are your habits and traits that inform how you operate within the workplace, like the ability to communicate well with different types of colleagues. 

Knowing the difference between hard skills vs. soft skills and why both are important play a key role in finding a job or an internship in the US. In this guide, you will learn about both hard skills vs. soft skills, hard skills for resume inclusion, soft skills for resume inclusion, professional skills examples, and more.

Hard Skills vs. Soft Skills in the Workplace 

Every organization has its own measurement of performance in the workplace, and the easiest way to measure an employee’s performance is through evaluating their hard skills. 

Hard skills are visible and evidence-based, which means management can measure your abilities and knowledge in specific areas and responsibilities (e.g., coding software, creating a sales forecast) to determine if you are a good fit for what the role requires. 

Soft skills are more difficult to measure as they are personal and subjective, but they are equally important in the workplace. Your soft skills influence your professional behavior, including how you cooperate with colleagues and speak with clients or customers. While these may not directly contribute toward your job performance, they do impact what you can bring to the role and your fit with the organizational culture overall.

Many technical skills can be taught, but well-honed soft skills are often rarer, based on your personality, upbringing, and other social factors. Because interpersonal skills are important in a diverse workforce, soft skills are often highly valued among US hiring managers and other executives. Developing these soft skills helps you stand out to employers as a valuable addition to their organization.

According to a 2019 LinkedIn survey, employers said their top five valued soft skills were persuasion, collaboration, adaptability, emotional intelligence, and most importantly, creativity. Creativity was ranked the most in-demand soft skill because it allows people to solve problems in unique ways. Companies want creative employees because they can think of new, better solutions to problems in ways computers are unable to.

What Are Hard Skills? 

Despite the focus on soft skills, hard skills are still very important. From understanding computer technology and data analysis to network security, hard skills show employers your qualifications for the job and the experience you can bring to the company.

According to the same LinkedIn survey, the most valued hard skills examples are video production, scientific computing, sales, affiliate marketing, business analysis, UX design, artificial intelligence, analytical reasoning, cloud computing, and at the top, blockchain.

Having hard skills like blockchain and analytical reasoning show potential employers that you are a qualified job candidate. Because many workplaces have a specific list of abilities that are necessary to perform the job successfully, these job-specific hard skills are a necessary part of your resume.

What Are Soft Skills? 

Soft skills are about behavior, thinking, and personal traits. On a broad level, a list of soft skills examples could include:

  • Adaptability

  • Communication

  • Conflict resolution

  • Dependability

  • Integrity

  • Problem-solving

  • Teamwork

  • Work ethic

Think about Human Resources (HR) employees: They not only need to be trained in HR software and systems, they also need to have good communication and conflict resolution skills. 

Many studies even show the importance of soft skills in long-term job success. According to a recent survey of Fortune 500 CEOs from the Stanford Research Institute International and the Carnegie Mellon Foundation, 75% of long-term job success is believed to depend on people skills, while only 25% depends on technical knowledge (or hard skills). With many companies also now using collaborative work environments, as well as remote work during the COVID-19 pandemic, employers prioritize teamwork and other soft skills rather than hard skills and specific technical knowledge. Ultimately, 94% of occupations require social skills as essential to success.

Now that you know what both hard skills and soft skills are, it is important to understand how you can combine them in the workplace to perform well at your job. 

Blending Hard Skills and Soft Skills 

In many jobs, the hard skills and soft skills you develop complement each other and can improve your overall performance. Having the necessary hard skills to do your job is critical and usually the main requirement for many jobs in the US, but blending soft skills with your hard skills helps you progress toward becoming a professional in your field. 

To blend these skills effectively, you need to consider the responsibilities and tasks involved in your job, or the job you are aiming for as you progress in your career. Your technical skills need to be applied every day on your job, but your soft skills may only need to be applied in certain situations. 

For example, as a graphic designer, you may be required to utilize your hard skills with creative design to create a new poster for a client. As you design the poster, you would need to use your soft skills in communications to collaborate with your client to include the content they want while balancing their requirements with your creative elements. 

Learning to blend your hard skills and soft skills takes time and experience, so it can be challenging if you are just starting out in your career. Your time at university can help you get a head start, as many of your assignments and presentations in class require you to apply both hard and soft skills in your classes. Additionally, you will also learn how to include both hard and soft skills on your resume and cover letter.

How to Include Hard and Soft Skills on a Resume 

When considering hard skills for resume inclusion on a job application, think about the description of the role itself. Many applicants add their skills in a list, with the most-desired skills at or near the top, and provide context on how these skills were developed. 

Listing soft skills for a resume requires you to be a bit creative. One option is to include them in a list similar to your hard skills, but since soft skills can be broad, another technique is to list them as specific details under your experiences. For example, if you have volunteer experience involving leading a team, you could include “experienced in coordinating and managing team efforts” to showcase your leadership soft skill. 

If you are not sure how to write your resume, speak to a Shorelight advisor! Your advisor can give you resume tips, guide you toward career development programs, and help you develop a career action plan

As resumes typically are one-page long, you must choose between hard skills vs. soft skills and include the most relevant skills for the job. If you want to elaborate more on your skills and how they fit a job role, include these details in a cover letter.

How to Include Hard and Soft Skills on a Cover Letter 

Cover letters allow you to go into detail about your skill set and highlight your hard and soft skills, along with professional skills examples and achievements you may not have been able to fit into your resume. As cover letters are tailored to different jobs, you can choose the most appropriate skills that showcase your capabilities as a potential hire. 

Cover letters are particularly helpful for showcasing soft skills, as you are given more room to mention past examples or achievements. You can also write about how your soft skills enabled you to overcome work-related challenges. Combined with mentioning your hard skills, sharing your soft skills in more detail highlights your versatility, making you stand out to employers as a strong candidate.

To get started on writing a great cover letter, have a look at our cover letter tips

If your resume and cover letter have impressed an employer, you will be called in for an interview! This is another opportunity to speak more personally about your soft skills, emphasize your hard skills, and show overall how you would be a good fit for their business.

How to Emphasize Your Hard and Soft Skills in a Job Interview 

During a job interview, the interviewer may ask a variety of different questions about your professional skills, experiences, and knowledge. Questions will usually focus on both your hard skills and soft skills, such as “Do you enjoy team-based environments?” or “What is your best achievement at work?” Your responses give the employer insights about both your skills and personality. 

Remember that the employer already knows your qualifications (after evaluating your resume and cover letter), so they may be more interested in learning about the specific knowledge you gained while working toward your qualification. 

Speaking about your previous experiences and contributions at work is also a great way to emphasize both your hard and soft skills with practical examples. If you do not have any work experience, do not worry! You can also speak about school projects, volunteer experience, or other opportunities where you have taken an active role as your job skills examples.

Keep in mind that certain jobs may have more focus on one set of skills, so when it comes to emphasizing hard skills vs. soft skills, research the role and organization to determine which skills are appropriate to focus on for your interview.

Now that you understand the differences between hard skills vs. soft skills and why both are important for finding a job in the US, you can start building and improving your skills to get a head start.

How Do I Build and Improve My Hard and Soft Skills?

As you start the internship or job application process, sit down and consider the skills you already can offer, and which skills you would like to develop further. Try the following action items:

1. Make a list

List what you are good at, whether it is working with specific types of software or having good communication skills, and what needs to be improved.

2. Take a class

Hard skills are often more teachable than soft skills, but you can strengthen your soft skills, too. If you want to improve your hard skills, check if your university has upcoming workshops or classes involving computing, software, or statistics. If you want to get better with your soft skills, take a class in public speaking, or join a writing workshop or club to practice collaborating with other people.

3. Talk to your counselor

Sometimes it is hard to evaluate your own skills and self-assess areas for improvement. Luckily, counselors are available to help you succeed. They have resources that can help you define your strengths and will have insights to help you learn new hard and soft skills.

With the right hard skills and soft skills in your portfolio, you can apply to a wide range of jobs as you work toward the career of your choice. The experiences, training, and knowledge you can gain in a US workplace will equip you with key industry skills you need to succeed and thrive in your dream job. 

Learn how Shorelight can set you up for career success >