Career experts often talk about soft skills. The phrase has entered the lexicon of common buzzwords, nestled among terms like “results-driven” or “outside-the-box thinker.” And like those expressions, the idea of soft skills gets mentioned so frequently in casual advice that it loses much of its meaning. The concept rarely gets the nuanced examination it deserves.
It’s a shame too. The amount of lip service given to soft skills makes the concept feel like hype. However, they do form an important part of any career road map.
Because all skills (hard or soft) take time and effort to develop, figuring out which ones to concentrate on becomes key to maximizing your potential. With that in mind, here are some concepts to consider as you decide which soft and hard skills to cultivate:
Defining Hard and Soft
Hard skills involve specific abilities meant to achieve a discernable task. You have aptitude for a particular software program. You are a certified financial planner. You know a foreign language.
These skills can be tested and often require degrees and certifications. They also tend to be highly particular.
Soft skills include things like communication, leadership, organization, work ethic and teamwork.
They don’t tend to have specific certification (you won’t ever say at an interview, “I received my B.A. in Leadership from UCLA”). Also, they often apply universally … you can use them in any profession and in almost every professional circumstance.
Ceiling vs. Floor
Hard skills often set the floor for a position. You are either qualified to do the day-to-day job or you’re not. If the position requires expert welding skills or proficiency in Python, you can’t really fake it. Either you can demonstrate the proper qualifications or you can’t.
Soft skills, meanwhile, often set the ceiling for how far you can advance.
You might get hired at a firm as a chemical engineer (which presumably requires the appropriate hard-skill chemical engineering degree), but if you want to be CEO someday, you better combine that basic talent with additional soft skills – communication, leadership, organization, etc. Otherwise, 40 years from now, you might retire as an entry-level chemical engineer.
Pros and Cons of Hard Skills
Hard skills have a high market value, as long as you stick to positions that use them. As noted before, you can’t even get in the door for many jobs without the appropriate hard skills.
However, there are downsides that prevent people from acquiring more than a handful of hard skills. They can be exacting. Plus, they often require constant refreshing. You need to keep up with industry trends and technological evolution.
Pros and Cons of Soft Skills
Soft skills have more general applications. Get good at public speaking, for instance, and you can apply it to any job. Unlike hard skills, which often have a minimum competency level to be worthwhile, any amount of communication skill (or leadership skill, or teamwork skill) is better than none.
On the downside, soft skills tend to be hard to prove. There are no objective standards of competence.
As such, everyone claims they have pretty much every soft skill. No one will admit in an interview, “actually, I’m really bad at organization and communication.” The fact that everyone appropriates these watchwords makes recruiters and HR executives skeptical.
You probably won’t be able to use these soft skills to get hired, unless you have concrete, provable examples in your past. You’ll just have to show off the skills once you get in the door.
Finding the perfect position for your mix of abilities is key to long-term career development. High-level staffing firms, like Qualified Staffing, can put you in the right spots to show off your unique blend of both hard and soft skills.
Contact Qualified Staffing today to find out more.