The overall performance of employees in carrying out their job functions largely depends on the set of certain relevant skills. While hiring new employees, there are two types of skills that employers seek in their job candidates. They first check whether the employee has the skills needed for accomplishing the objectives of the job. These are the hard skills of the employees, i.e. the technical skills required for the job. Companies also look for soft skills in the potential candidates. These are the skills that may not be directly related to a particular job, but to the overall personality of the employees through which they are able to effectively interact with others and perform their duties within the organization.

We will now discuss what hard skills and soft skills actually are and how they are distinct from each other.

Definitions and meanings

Hard skills

These are the basic technical or job-specific skills, i.e. the knowledge, experience and skills required for performing the job correctly and efficiently. Each job in an organization requires a specific set of skills, which are pertinent to the specific position or level within the organization. For example, the knowledge and expertise of an accountant would be different from that of a receptionist, machine operator, programmer or coder etc. In the same way, the hard skills set of a junior level employee would significantly differ from that possessed by a senior level employee. Also, it is highly possible to quantify and measure these skills.

Hard skills are normally mentioned in the job description and are sought by the employers to determine whether a candidate is suitable to correctly perform the job or not. These skills are industry-specific and we refer them the technical knowledge of a specific field. Hence, they form the basis of educational curriculum and job profiling.

Hard skills can be acquired through formal education, manuals, eBooks, training programs initiated by NGOs, government institutions or private commercial entities and prior work experience etc.

Some more examples of hard skills are given below:

  • Data entry and typing skills
  • Bookkeeping knowledge
  • Search engine optimization (SEO) skill
  • Product description and copywrite skills
  • Marketing, advertising, presentation and other promotional know how
  • Foreign language expertise
  • Design skills
  • Operating and maintenance of machines and equipment in a manufacturing facility
  • Micro soft excel and micro soft word skills
  • Management skills
  • video editing skills
  • Cooking skills

Soft skills

Apart from the technical knowledge required for a specific job, employers also look for soft skills in their employees. These skills are not specific to any job, but are the general characteristics or personality traits that employers wish to see in their employees. We can say that the over all professional behavior of an employee is the result of his or her soft skills.

Soft skills are highly related to an individual’s personality but they can also be learned through the community environment and life experiences. Because of their intangible nature, hard skills are generally not quantifiable. These skills are often transferrable over jobs and industries.

Soft skills are basically the interpersonal skills that depict the way an individual interacts with other people in a particular business environment. It includes those traits within an individual that allow them to collaborate and communicate with others, exhibit time management, work ethics, leadership skills and empathy. Soft skills are important to develop a positive work setting where all individuals work together to achieve the overall organizational objectives. Employers look for soft skills in their prospective job candidates as they help them in determining whether they would be able to adjust to their organizational culture.

You might think that soft skills are less important for employees which is not true. In fact, the employers know that they can inculcate hard skills in their employees through teaching and training activities, but soft skills, on the other hand, come with the passage of time and are usually hard to develop. Hence, they prefer employees having sufficient soft skills along with the basic hard skills needed to do the job.

Difference between hard skills and soft skills

The key points of difference between hard skills and soft skills are listed below:

1. Meaning

Hard skills are the technical skills specific to each job that should be possessed by an individual for carrying out that job. On the contrary, soft skills are the personality characteristics and qualities of a person that are sought by the employers so that a positive work environment is developed. These skills are not specific to any job or position.

2. Acquired through

Hard skills can be learned through education, training or actual practice in previous jobs. However, soft skills are acquired through an individual’s personal life and continuous work experiences.

3. Representative of

Hard skills represent the basic skills required for a job; they form the basis of job descriptions. On the other hand, soft skills represent the universally accepted job skills that can be applied to different jobs.

4. Demonstrate

Hard skills demonstrate the suitability of an individual for a certain job, while soft skills demonstrate whether an individual would be able to adjust to the culture of the organization.

5. Measurable

Hard skills are quantifiable and measurable; they can be determined through yes/no criteria or through other numerical approaches. However, it is not possible to quantify or measure soft skills in numerical or quantitative terms. These skills are usually described in qualitative terms.

6. Evaluated through

Hard skills can be assessed through a person’s CV or resume, job portfolio, assignments related to the job and interviews. However, to evaluate a person’s soft skills, the employer should ask behavioral or situational questions during the interview and consider the overall personality attributes of the candidate.

Hard skills vs soft skills – tabular comparison

A tabular comparison of hard skills vs soft skills is presented below:

Hard skills vs Soft skills
Technical knowledge essentially needed to carry out the job Interpersonal skills that an individual should possess so as to develop a positive work culture in organizations
Acquired through
Education, training or previous experience Life experiences
Representative of
The basic skills needed to perform a certain job The universal skills that are applicable to all jobs
Whether an individual is suited to a specific job Whether an individual would be able to adapt to the work culture
In quantitative terms In qualitative terms
Evaluated through
Resumes, portfolios, job-related assignments and interviews Behavioral and situational interview questions

Conclusion – hard skills vs soft skills

Employers give importance to both hard and soft skills when looking for the right candidate for their job openings. While hard skills are essential for carrying out the basic job responsibilities, soft skills are also important as they ensure that the employee gets along with his colleagues, owners, business partners and other stakeholders in the organization. Employers wish to develop a positive work environment where their employees collaborate and communicate with each other. Hence, they look for interpersonal skills in their employees. The fact remains that hard skills on their own can get the employee to do the job; however, soft skills on their own are not adequate for landing the job as without the technical knowledge, a person would not be able to successfully accomplish the job tasks.