Soft Skills vs. Hard Skills: What’s the Difference, and How Can They Help Your Career?
Let’s talk about soft skills vs. hard skills. Don’t feel like reading? Listen here!
There’s a lot of hype around skills-based hiring in 2023. Employers aren’t just looking for candidates with college degrees and credentials. They’re searching for candidates who already possess strong soft skills and hard skills.
There are two primary reasons employers are trending toward skills-based hiring: to cast a wider, more diverse net through recruiting and hiring efforts and to eliminate costs, time, and energy for training new employees. If employers can hire candidates with strong soft skills and hard skills, they only need to bring candidates up to speed on specifics related to the job role and organization.
Which soft skills and hard skills are employers looking for in 2023? What’s the difference between soft skills vs. hard skills? Why do these skills matter to employers?
Soft Skills vs. Hard Skills
Soft skills are simply interpersonal skills—a combination of talent and ability. Soft skills are partly inherent (talent) and partly learned (ability). We often learn soft skills by observing others demonstrate effective, appropriate ways of relating to others in the workplace and in other areas of life.
If we’re observant, we’ll learn something about soft skills from everyone—either what to do or what not to do to build strong relationships, strengthen communication, and ensure greater harmony. Some top soft skills include communication, collaboration, conflict management, critical thinking, problem-solving, decision-making, agility, and leadership.
Hard skills, on the other hand, are technical skills related to specific job tasks. It’s possible to possess incredibly strong hard skills while lacking soft skills because hard skills can be practiced and demonstrated in total isolation. Practicing soft skills, on the other hand, requires interaction with others.
Hiring candidates with strong hard skills is especially crucial for employers in STEM fields. Some top hard skills are computer software skills, social media management, project management, data analytics, machine learning and artificial intelligence, cloud computing, user experience (UX) design, web development, coding, sales and business development, and research and reporting. The specific hard skills employers seek in candidates depends on the job duties, job role, career field, and industry.
Soft skills and hard skills are both essential to career success and fulfillment. Employers never prefer hiring candidates who possess one or the other; they want to hire people who can perform specific job tasks well while interacting well with others. This requires a combination of strong hard skills and soft skills.
The Short List: Which Skills Matter Most in 2023?
It’s no secret there’s a skills gap in the American workforce for both soft and hard skills. The mass exodus of baby boomers retiring, coinciding with an influx of Gen Z workers who lack strong soft skills, combined with the pandemic forcing all of us to take a break from practicing soft skills with each other face-to-face, has created a skills gap.
American employers are feeling the distance between what they need from employees and what employees are able to give. Because of the skills gap, job seekers and professionals who have strong skills must clearly demonstrate them during the hiring process and on the job.
Candidates who possess strong soft skills and hard skills should highlight them on resumes. They should also discuss them in cover letters, and demonstrate them in the interview process. Showcasing soft skills when interacting with employers can help candidates land jobs and earn promotions.
Candidates can do this by sharing a portfolio or work samples. It’s one thing to claim strong software development skills; it’s quite another to showcase those skills by sharing a link to an app you’ve created. Similarly, anyone can claim to have great communication skills.
But candidates who showcase great writing skills on application materials and have positive, coherent, concise conversations with employers during interviews show employers that they are great communicators.
When it comes to both soft skills and hard skills, show—don’t tell.
The following skills are considered most-wanted by employers for 2023.
Top Soft Skills for 2023
Which soft skills matter most to employers in 2023? Experts may differ in pinpointing which soft skills are most important and in ranking them, but a few rise to the top of every list.
The great thing about investing in building soft skills is the payoff. Professionals in every industry and every career field benefit from building and honing solid soft skills. Not only are employers always seeking to hire skilled candidates. But employers regularly admit to promoting employees who demonstrate strong soft skills, too.
In fact, research by Harvard University, the Carnegie Foundation, and Stanford Research Center concluded that 85% of job success comes from well-developed soft skills and people skills, with only 15% of job success attributed to technical skills and knowledge.
Employers prioritize the following soft skills for career success and promotion in 2023.
Employers have always valued communication skills, but it’s more important for employees to communicate clearly, effectively, and appropriately in 2023. Why?
First, employers are striving to create more harmonious, equitable, and inclusive workplaces. Without strong communication skills, employees have difficulty getting along well with others, demonstrating cultural sensitivity, and preventing conflict.
Secondly, many workplaces are transitioning from traditional to hybrid or remote settings, and some workers are returning to traditional settings after two years of remote work. Fluctuations in workplace environments lead to changes how people communicate, including communication channels, frequency of face-to-face meetings, and other changes.
To ensure productivity, efficacy, efficiency, and harmony in the workplace, employers need to hire and promote skilled communicators.
Critical Thinking, Problem-Solving, and Decision-Making
The changing job market, economy, and workplace in America make it crucial for employees to practice creative problem-solving, decision-making, and critical thinking.
By doing so, employees will not just point out problems to leaders. They will also present potential solutions.
This sort of problem-solving ability will save employers time, money, and effort. And that’s something every employer values.
When workplaces are changing, it’s crucial that employees change, too. Demonstrating flexibility, or agility, helps reduce stress in the workplace. It also keeps processes moving smoothly even when workplace variables change from traditional to hybrid/remote or vice versa. All employers value those who work equally well both from home and in the office, who are strong written and verbal communicators, and who work well both in collaboration and independently.
In a time when remote and hybrid workplaces are on the rise, some may believe collaboration matters less. The opposite is true, though. It’s more important for employees and leaders to work well with others when the dynamics of collaboration shift, new platforms are introduced, and stress increases. The basic keys of strong team collaboration and team-building always help foster a positive, healthy, and productive work environment.
Employers who let employees work remotely must trust them to perform and produce on their own. The best way to reduce risk, as a hiring manager, is to hire candidates who have demonstrated great time management skills already and who can showcase examples of great time management during the interview process.
Employers aren’t just looking to hire people who come to work on time, although punctuality is important. They need to hire people who can set goals, create action plans, and implement changes. Employers need professionals to set boundaries around work and use time as effectively as possible. While these skills have always mattered, employers are deliberately looking for these skills more aggressively in 2023.
Top Hard Skills for 2023
While soft skills are universal in terms of employment and essential to career success and mission fulfillment regardless of industry and career field, hard skills are more uniquely tied to a job role, career field, industry, or workplace setting.
Some hard skills, though, transcend some boundaries of industry, field, and role.
Whether “project management” is a keyword in the job description or not, most employers seek to hire candidates with solid project management skills. Some elements of project management involve managing people, communicating with team members, and liaising between individuals who may disagree over details. These elements require strong soft skills.
However, many components of project management are learnable and are considered hard skills. These include: understanding project management methodologies, the ability to utilize project management software, project planning and scheduling, and risk and cost management techniques.
Employers of all sizes in all industries need employees who can manage tasks and projects independently and successfully.
Social Media & Digital Communications
Social media is ever-changing, and most businesses rely heavily on it for their marketing, advertising, branding, and sales. Even if social media management is not a core job task, employers value candidates who communicate effectively on social media, who understand new platforms, and who know how to make the most of time spent online.
In 2023, employers look to hire candidates who are well-versed in paid digital media, digital marketing, online customer service, basic graphic design skills using platform tools, and strong copywriting skills for writing/editing content.
There are currently fewer qualified candidates in data analytics than there are job openings in this field. Employers expect job roles in data analytics to increase by 23% between 2021 and 2031. For these reasons, employers are scrambling to recruit and retain employees with core data analysis skills.
Some of the specific data analysis skills employers are seeking in 2023 include: SQL, machine learning, probability and statistics, and data management.
Coding & Software Development
Because every industry is integrating technology into the workplace and into business operations, candidates with great coding and software development skills will be sought after and aggressively recruited in 2023. Employers need software developers, and they’re paying to meet the demand, too. Software developers typically earn, on average, about $120,000 annually in the United States.
Key skills for software engineers and developers in 2023 include: cloud computing, containers, Git, VS Code, Linux, SQL, and programming languages.
Key Moves for Career Success
Understanding what employers want is half the battle for job seekers and professionals seeking promotion. The next step for candidates and professionals is to assess current skill levels. After gaining insight into which skills need a boost, candidates can work to build stronger soft skills and hard skills. Be sure to check out Lensa Insights for Job Seekers to get a head start to career success in 2023.