Hard vs Soft Skills
I’ve come to the understanding that the skills you acquire in life are crucial. There are impractical skills —skills that might be interesting but have no solid use in a real-life situation—and there are practical skills that are useful in your everyday life. While the school system, particularly college in this case, teaches us a great deal of material that can be applied to the jobs and careers we take after graduation, it fails to teach us everything practical.
In a recent article, I briefly mentioned the concept of hard and soft skills. Before I dive into exactly what these terms mean and how they can affect/benefit you, I must point out that these concepts aren’t recognized nearly as much as they should be and are extremely powerful and useful to know.
With that being said, let’s get into the difference between hard and soft skills and what specifically makes them so powerful.
What are Hard and Soft Skills?
Typically used in the context of careers, hard and soft skills consist of the categories of skills that one can learn. Hard skills tend to be associated with IQ while Soft skills tend to be associated with one’s EQ (which is highly valuable). Physics, Mathematics, Chemistry, and Programming are but a few examples of hard skills. Meanwhile, Time Management, Communication, Networking, and Stress Management are a few examples of Soft Skills. Now, what exactly differentiates the two?
Well, Hard skills are static, functional skills that are typically taught through processes and can be quantitively measured. Let me explain. When learning algebra, the key is to understand the process whether that be in the form of an order of operations, a specific method, or perhaps a formula.
Once that method or formula is properly conceptualized and understood one would simply need to plug in the numbers accordingly. After you understand the concept and plug in the numbers, there is typically a specific answer or range of answers that can be predicted as the outcome. At its core, this is what makes a skill a Hard Skill.
For a hard skill, it doesn’t matter who does the math. As long as the formula and steps are correctly followed the result will be the same. In contrast, a soft skill isn’t as easily measured. For example, when communicating with someone, what works with your friends may not work the same with a coworker. What works with your coworker may not work well with a casual stranger. What works with a stranger might not work well with your parents. Get the idea?
Soft skills require constant adaptation to your environment and whomever you’re engaging with. It’s a form of developing your social skills to its maximum potential. The rules change based on the situation, the audience, and every individual involved. Meanwhile, Hard Skills remain constant regardless of who is performing the skills or the situation.
One of the challenges of soft skills is that it requires a considerable amount of trial and error to truly master. While one can theoretically read a book about biology and absorb the information while conceptualizing it fully, it would be extremely difficult to read a book about networking (a soft skill) and effectively do it without having been involved in networking situations.
In order to better understand what I mean, check out this video which helps explain the basic differences between hard and soft skills
In my opinion, neither hard nor soft skills are better or worse individually. Rather, it’s the combination and balance of the two that I believe make a human optimal in any situation. Consider a person has amazing technical skills but lacks the social awareness or ability to sell their abilities to potential employers. Chances are, they might not live up to their fullest potential. On the other hand, consider someone who has absolute charisma but has no talent or skills otherwise. It might be difficult for that person to bring value to whatever team he’d like to be a part of.
Hard and Soft Skills within Careers
So now that you understand a little bit more about Hard Skills vs. Soft Skills, let me provide examples of careers that utilize these skills. When selecting a career, I believe that it’s important to have a solid idea of where you lie on the scale of hard and soft skills and choose your career accordingly.
Some careers that emphasize hard skills may involve physicists, chemists, and math-based careers. These careers likely would focus more on high-proficiency of their technical ability but not necessarily an extreme direct communication with others such as clients or customers. Meanwhile, on the opposite end of the spectrum would be a job that involves heavy sales such as a car salesman. A general sales job typically doesn’t require too much product knowledge in order to be effective. A salesman’s job is generally to sell a product by means of persuasion. This is done by reading a potential customer, adapting to them, and effectively communicating to them.
For a humorous reference, check out this scene from The Wolf of Wall Street in which Jordan Belfort sells shares of a lousy stock merely moments after just hearing about it.
Did you see how effective communication can make a difference?
Finally, there are careers that fall somewhere in between. A few careers that require a mix of technical proficiency and soft skills include accountants and lawyers. While these careers do require an exceptional level of skill and schooling there is also a need to address clients’ concerns, potentially negotiate, effectively communicate, and adapt on a daily basis to whatever demand may occur.
As mentioned earlier, schools do a great job of teaching us hard skills but fall a bit short when it comes to teaching us soft skills. My recommendation, if you sense that your soft skills are lacking then take some time to attend public speaking courses and networking events. You could also research youtube videos that can help you learn more about interacting with others. In my opinion, a good place to start would be with Vanessa Van Edwards (who can be seen in the link below).
Vanessa Van Edwards uses behavioral psychology to help develop your interpersonal skills with others. From there, I’d recommend immediately going out and practicing what you’ve learned with strangers. Remember, soft skills need to be practiced immensely. Everyone is different so the theory alone means nothing. It’s all about the consistent practice! Let me know how your journey to harden those soft skills go!