Hard Skills

What Are Hard Skills?

Hard skills are learned abilities acquired and enhanced through practice, repetition, and education. Hard skills are essential because they increase employee productivity and efficiency and subsequently improve employee satisfaction.

Hard skills are important for your resume, as employers look for them when reviewing your application. However, hard skills alone don't translate into business success as employees also need to employ other skills, such as soft skills, that contribute to customer satisfaction.

Key Takeaways

  • People acquire hard skills through education, practice, and repetition.
  • Hard skills can refer to proficiency in any complex task.
  • Soft skills versus hard skills are difficult to teach and are behavioral and related to personality.
  • Unlike soft skills, people can prove their hard skill competencies by producing a certificate, degree, apprenticeship, or work experience.
  • You can list hard skills on a professional resume.

Understanding Hard Skills

In business, hard skills most often refer to the basics of accounting and financial modeling. In a broad sense, hard skills may refer to proficiency in any complex task. Fluency in a second language, knowledge of Photoshop or PowerPoint, or expertise in carpentry are all hard skills that can be learned and improved upon with practice.

Employers and recruiters most often look for these hard skills in professional resumes. Any hard skill that a person cites is best backed up with a certificate, degree, or other qualification that shows a level of achievement. Experience in the subject, such as years of working with QuickBooks, are also seen as qualifications that validate expertise in hard skills.

Hard and Soft Skills Characteristics

Hard skills focus on practical abilities and skills, whereas soft skills focus on behaviors and personalities, such as social and communication skills. Soft skills are less tangible and harder to teach. Getting along with others, listening well, and engaging in small talk are soft skills.

A person's soft skills are more intrinsic to personality and more difficult to judge quickly, but they may be as important on the job over time. They might include an ability to work on a team, flexibility, patience, and time management ability.

Hard skills are easier to teach than soft skills, given a certain aptitude and enthusiasm. That's why employers often look for job applicants with soft skills rather than hard skills.

Soft skills like being a natural team builder or strong communication skills are sought after by hiring managers.

Hard Skills vs. Soft Skills

Scientists once believed that hard skills required using the left brain, or logic center, while soft skills were associated with the right brain, also referred to as the emotional center. Recent studies by neuroscientists indicate that mental processes can't be categorized that neatly.

It can be said that hard skills generally have rules that remain the same regardless of the business, industry, or even culture in which they are practiced. The rules of soft skills can change depending on company culture and the expectations of colleagues. For example, the rules for how a programmer creates code are the same regardless of where the programmer works. However, a programmer may communicate effectively to other programmers about technical details but struggle when communicating with senior managers about a project's progress or support needs.

Hard skills may be learned in schools, from books, or through apprenticeships. The levels of competency can be defined, and there is a direct path for achieving them. For example, a person may take basic and advanced accounting courses, gain work experience, and pass the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) exam.

Soft skills are not often found in the curriculum of a school or college. However, they are taught in programs that help people develop communication skills, teamwork, or people management skills.

Ask your employer if they offer or pay for any leadership training or team-building programs for their employees. If your employer wants you to improve one of your soft or hard skills, ask HR if they will consider paying for your training classes, many companies will cover hard and soft skill programs for their employees.

Example of Hard Skills

Accounting is a profession that requires a relatively rigid set of hard skills, particularly in this era. Proficiency in the Microsoft Office suite, especially Excel, is a given. Familiarity with industry-specific software, such as Great Plains, QuickBooks, Peachtree, SAP Software, and tax preparation software, is also required.

Accountants need to know how to prepare and interpret financial statements and other accounting reports, develop efficient financial reporting mechanisms, and plan and implement accounting controls.

Some of the other skills accountants need might be categorized as soft skills. They must be prepared to communicate effectively with regulators, deal with external auditors, and stay updated on current issues and changes in industry regulations.

The Bottom Line

Every job from firefighting to being a marketing executive calls for a specific skill set often made up of a combination of hard and soft skills. Whether you are considering a new job or applying for your first job, knowing what hard skills are needed for the job, and obtaining those skills, means you will have a better chance of being hired or promoted in your field of choice.

Some hard skills like being proficient in using a computer, analyzing data, or understanding at least the basics of using social media are hard skills that will often be useful in many different jobs and careers. Many trades call for particular hard skills for employment in construction, architecture, plumbing and electric, and engineering.

Soft and hard skills are critical for success at almost any job, and having both sets on your resume is essential when job hunting.

What Are Hard Skills to Include on a Resume?

If you are listing hard skills on a resume, include any technical skills you have acquired and any foreign languages. Depending on the job, you will need to list hard skills relevant to the position you are applying for.

What Hard Skills Do Employers Want?

Many jobs call for hard skills in computer technology, such as being proficient in Microsoft Office Suite, using social media such as Twitter and Facebook, and be able to use data analysis tools such as Google Analytics, Accounts should be up-to-date in the newest accounting software, for example. Or if you want to work in marketing or communications, knowing how to navigate content management systems and understand other hard systems, such as SEO and design and basic coding, is essential.

How Can I Acquire Hard Skills

You can acquire hard skills by taking online or in-person classes at a university or other training program, practicing these skills before applying them to a job, and gaining experience by using the hard skills in the workplace.

Is Critical Thinking a Hard Skill?

No. Critical thinking is an important soft skill. You can study and practice critical thinking, but it cannot be "learned" in the same way you can teach yourself to computer code or use accounting software.

Article Sources
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  1. Monster. "Soft Skills to Help Your Career Hit the Big Time." Accessed Sept. 25, 2021

  2. Quanta magazine. "The Brain Doesn't Think the Way You Think It Does." Accessed Sept. 25, 2021.

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