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Hard vs. Soft Skills: How Do They Compare When Hiring a New Employee?

Many companies are facing a transformation as far as how they hire and retain employees. There’s a severe shortage of employees, despite the pervasively high unemployment rate following COVID-19.

Employers have been getting creative in how they find and train employees, and they’re learning in many cases, it’s better to train them in the skills they need rather than expecting employees who already have these skills.

With that in mind, we often hear about hard versus soft skills.

Understanding the distinction between hard and soft skills is important for employers, recruiters, and employees alike.

The following are key things to know when looking at hard and soft skills and how they compare and contrast with one another.

What Are Hard Skills?

Hard skills are usually technical skills that you’ve learned through a combination of your education and your career.

Each job is going to have technical skills specific to that role and the industry.

Often, there are tests in place to make sure that an employee has the complex technical skills they claim to have.

Hard skills are usually teachable abilities. They are relatively easy to quantify.

Specific examples of hard skills include:

  • Knowing a foreign language
  • Coding skills or computing programming
  • Having a degree
  • Having a professional certificate
  • Knowing how to operate a type of machinery
  • Google analytics
  • Writing
  • Search engine optimization

Hard skills tend to be attached to certain technologies or tasks.

What Are Soft Skills?

A soft skill isn’t so measurable and concrete, which is where the term soft comes from. Soft skills aren’t easy to learn in a classroom or to teach. You’re not likely to have gained these formal education skills. Instead, they are either qualities you have inherently or things you have developed over time.

Sometimes, we hear soft skills described as being related to how you approach your work. For example, being a problem-solver is a soft skill.

Interpersonal skills also tend to fall under the larger umbrella of soft skills.

Other soft skills that are especially in demand by employers include:

  • Critical thinking
  • Problem-solving
  • Empathy
  • Leadership
  • Organization
  • Self-confidence
  • Work ethic

How Can These Skills Be Evaluated?

If you’re an employer, you may be wondering how to evaluate both types of skills, although it tends to be easier with hard skills.

There are a few general things to know.

First, no matter what the position is that you’re hiring for, employees need a combination of hard and soft skills to be a valuable, successful employee. They can’t have one and not the other and perform at a peak level.

The hard and soft skills of a job candidate will usually play off one another, and knowing how to hire for both is critical.

To measure hard skills, you can often use quantifiable data.

For example, you might assess candidates or employees with test scores, success in particular projects, or how well they meet deadlines.

The skill either exists, or it doesn’t.

Soft skills take more time and are more nuanced.

If you already have someone on board, you can assess their soft skills through performance reviews and observation.

If you’re still in the hiring phase, how do you assess soft skills?

The following are some tips:

  • Use both physical and social cues. For example, consider how a job candidate interacts not just with you but with other people in the office, such as other candidates or the person at the front desk. You also want to notice body language, such as whether they sit up straight or how they engage with you. You want to see how well someone might fit into your corporate culture by starting to gauge these behaviors early on.
  • If a candidate tells you they have a soft skill, ask them for examples of when they have specifically put these into action.
  • You can also test for soft skills in real-world scenarios. For example, set something up with other people in the office and see how they respond.

You can train an employee on both hard and soft skills, but it’s actually tougher for them to learn soft skills if they don’t already have them. It’s not impossible, but it’s challenging.

This is what a lot of forward-thinking companies are thinking more about the soft skills when they hire, figuring they can catch the employee up on the hard skills later on through training, mentorship, and employee development opportunities.

In a complex labor market, this may be the best route.

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