Hard Skills vs. Soft Skills: What to Look for in Job Candidates

When you interview a candidate for a job, which skills are you looking for? And how do you assess hard skills vs. soft skills? That might depend a lot on the position you need to fill. Perhaps you need an employee with a Master’s Degree in your field. Maybe you’re looking for someone who can […]

hard skills vs. soft skills

When you interview a candidate for a job, which skills are you looking for? And how do you assess hard skills vs. soft skills? That might depend a lot on the position you need to fill. Perhaps you need an employee with a Master’s Degree in your field. Maybe you’re looking for someone who can type 50 words per minute, or speak a foreign language.

Traditionally, employers look for these so-called “hard skills” on resumes and assess them during interviews. In the past, this approach made sense. After all, hard skills are necessary to perform most jobs. A person can’t be a computer programmer if they aren’t proficient in a programming language. He can’t be a court reporter if he can’t type well.

However, with technology rapidly evolving and automation nipping at the heels of various positions, it might be beneficial for companies to start prioritizing “soft skills.” But what are soft skills, and how can employers assess them?  Here’s the breakdown to hard skills vs. soft skills.

What are hard skills vs. soft skills?

The easiest way to understand the difference between hard skills vs. soft skills is to think about measurability. Hard skills are easy to quantify. They are abilities or competencies that people usually learn in a classroom or from a book. Job candidates can demonstrate hard skills with a certificate, degree, or test.

Here are some examples of hard skills:

  • A degree or certificate
  • Typing speed
  • Computer programming language
  • Math skills
  • Language proficiency
  • Machine operation

Most job candidates list these hard skills on their resumes or cover letters, and it’s easy for an interviewer to recognize them.

Soft skills–sometimes referred to as “interpersonal skills”–aren’t quite as measurable. One’s proficiency in, say, leadership, is difficult to quantify. That’s because soft skills are demonstrated by the way a person interacts with other people.

Here are some examples of soft skills:

  • Communication
  • Leadership
  • Patience
  • Persuasiveness
  • Time management
  • Work ethic
  • Flexibility

Which soft skills are most important to look for?

Obviously, you want your employees to possess the hard skills that are necessary to perform their jobs. But most employers should look for candidates with certain soft skills, and perhaps prioritize them over hard skills. After all, you can train someone to type faster or use a certain computer program. But you can’t teach patience, leadership, and other soft skills.

But which soft skills, specifically, should you look for? Well, that will depend somewhat on the job you are looking to fill. But we can give you an idea of the most desirable soft skills, according to employers.

Analytical skills are important for many jobs, especially management positions. These include processing information, problem-solving, and decision-making abilities. If a candidate has good analytical skills, they will be able to think critically about issues affecting your organization, research potential solutions, and come to a decision about a path forward.

Almost any employee in any job needs communication skills as well. You want your employees to be able to communicate with your customers, their coworkers, and managers. Ideally, job candidates will have the ability to listen, read body language, and use that information to understand what other people want and need. And they should be able to clearly express their own thoughts, both orally and in writing.

It is also important for employees to be open to new ideas, and able to receive criticism without becoming defensive. They should also have the confidence to express their own ideas with authority, and the ability to deliver criticism to others with tact.

Finally, employers should look for candidates who have strong interpersonal skills. These include the ability to lead and motivate others, the responsibility and initiative to complete projects without prodding, and the ability to work with others as a team.

How do I measure the soft skills of job candidates?

Unfortunately, soft skills are the most difficult to assess. By their nature, you can’t find “hard” evidence of them on a resume. Simply asking a candidate if they have a particular soft skill will almost certainly elicit a “yes” answer–whether that answer is true or not. And references are likewise likely to answer “yes.” So how can employers determine a potential hire’s soft skills? Here are a few ideas.

Give candidates a problem to solve.

Some interviewers ask people to tell them about a time that they used a soft skill. The problem with this approach is that any situation in which your candidate used that skill in the past might not be relevant to your organization.

Instead, give the interviewee a real situation that you have encountered in your business. Ask him or her to describe how to solve the problem. Then ask them to identify which soft skills they would need in the situation.

Ask the candidate to fix a current process.

Offer your job candidates a written test in which you describe a flawed process in your industry, or a problematic project proposal. Then ask them to identify soft skill errors and recommend ways to fix them.

Give them a temporary project, or hire them on a probationary basis.

This is the most accurate way to assess soft skills, but it’s also the most expensive and time consuming. If you have the time and the budget to do it, we recommend hiring your top candidates temporarily. Ask them to complete a project with your team, and assess their use of soft skills on that project.

Continue to assess new employees

Hopefully, if you follow these tips, you’ll only hire candidates with great soft skills. But it’s also important to continue to assess your employees on the job. Do they demonstrate the leadership, communication, and interpersonal skills that you need in your organization? If not, you’ll have to decide whether to offer additional training or terminate the employee.

So– hard skills vs. soft skills? It’s not a competition. Hard skills will never go completely out of style. People still need degrees and certifications to be successful in many jobs. But employers increasingly recognize that soft skills are just as important. We hope these soft skill assessment tips help you to choose the perfect candidate for your next open position.

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