Career Development: Hard Skills and Soft Skills

Preference for hard skills versus soft skills is a key career development consideration.  Hard skills, where there is definite knowledge and expertise, is preferable to many people.  Soft skills, which includes such things as communications and ‘people skills’, may be your preference.  Ideally, anyone will have some combination of both – but there is an inherent preference and a tendency to rely on one more than the other.  In terms of career the best combination for you?

This is the second of a series of four articles on the subject of career development, where we explore key influencers to inform better decisions about developing your skills and capabilities in your career.  This article, Part 2 in the series, looks at Hard Skills and Soft Skills in terms of preferences and tendencies, acknowledging that you need both to succeed. Part 1 looks at the question of a Highly or Loosely Structured Approach as a preference of work style or type of work environment.  Part 3 considers Aptitude and Personality Testing as inputs for making career choices, and as influencers on career development decisions. Finally, Part 4, Stage of Career, dives into the specific career development challenges unique to early, mid, or late career stages.  

Hard skills:

  1. Technical – These are the ultimate hard skills.  For many jobs, whether management or not, it is impossible to be effective without them.  These include engineering, programming, and various other technical areas.
  2. Domain expertise – It is debatable, but I’m going to consider domain expertise – such as industry, local awareness, or product knowledge – to be a hard skill because it is knowledge based.
  3. Grounding in process – Understanding ‘how’ to do something, however complex, is a hard skill.  It is a differentiator from those who don’t possess the master of the process.
  4. Skill area – Some skills, such as sales, may not have a technical basis, but taken as a whole they demonstrate a hard skill.  It actually may be a combination of hard and soft skills that, when taken as a package, constitute a hard skill.

Soft skills:

  1. Communication – This is the ultimate core skills embedded in the specific soft skills below.  It includes listening, speaking, and writing – anything that shares thoughts, feelings, and information between or among people.
  2. Team building – This is the specific skill set involved with selecting, organizing, forming, and managing a team to achieve results.
  3. Managing meetings – This specific skill set can include leading, facilitating, or organizing meetings.  The most important thing in my opinion in this is to ensure there is a purpose, and that the purpose is achieved within a reasonable period of time by the minimum number of people required.
  4. Planning – This skill entails looking ahead and imagining the outcome desired, and all that needs to take place to realize that outcome.  Planning is an essential skill for project managers, program managers, and executives at all levels.

You clearly need both hard and soft skills.  The question is, what skills are necessary at this time for you to develop as part of your career development plan?  Which hard skills and soft skills will help you to do better in your current job and will prepare you for the next level?

Do you have a plan for building the hard and soft skills that you need to achieve your career development plan?

This Post is Part of the Series: Career Development

Here is a series of four articles that focus on the subject of career development.

Career Development: Highly or Loosely Structured Approach
Career Development: Hard Skills and Soft Skills
Career Development: Aptitude and Personality Testing
Career Development: Stage of Career