Throughout your career, you will be judged on your hard skills. But you will advance faster and further based on your soft skills. Having technical skills that qualify you to do the work will only take you so far. Soft skills bolster your career by allowing you to effectively interact with others in your work setting.
In this article, you will understand more about what hard skills and soft skills are, and how to equip yourself with these skills to advance your career.
Hard Skills vs Soft Skills: What Are They?
First, let’s start with some definitions.
Hard skills are the technical skills and knowledge that you need to do a particular job. Depending on your field, these hard skills will vary quite a bit.
If, on the other hand, you are a hedge fund manager, the hard skills you’ll need to master will include having a deep knowledge of hedge funds and superb analytical skills, among others.
Soft skills, by contrast, are the skills it’s useful to have in any job. Since most jobs involve interactions with people, skills such as patience, listening ability, and enthusiasm will get you far. Other soft skills, such as dedication, organization, and having a good work ethic will make your hard skills shine brighter.
Your hard skills define your level of expertise; your soft skills define your personal character and often, promotability.
How to Improve Your Hard Skills
All skills — be they hard or soft — improve with practice. You may well have to take classes to master the technical skills you need to succeed in today’s rapidly changing economy, and because the technical requirements of many jobs keep changing, you may have to continuously learn new skills.
If you’re rusty, the good news is that hard skills are teachable.
Brush up on your hard skills by taking refresher courses. Continuous learning is already built into some professions. In some states, real estate brokers need to complete 22 to 90 hours of coursework every two years to be eligible for renewal. Lawyers who move from one part of the country to another may have to sit for a bar exam in every new state.
How to Improve Your Soft Skills
Unlike hard skills, where you can always show your grade in a class, it’s sometimes hard to prove that you possess a particular soft skill. After all, saying that you’re a team player or super organized does not always sound believable. However, if you can get someone else to say that you are — a former boss or colleague, for example — that makes a more credible case.
According to LinkedIn, the five soft skills most sought after by employers today are:
Creativity, persuasion, collaboration, adaptability, and time management.
Think you can’t learn creativity? Think again. There are numerous online classes that show you how to stretch your creative muscle. You’ll earn a badge, which attests that you’re creative.
The trick, of course, is taking what you learn online and remembering to apply it to the real-life situations you find at the office.
Soft Skill Improvement — without Taking Any Classes
And what if you need a break from continuous learning? Is there a way to build your soft skills without taking another class?
Improving Creativity Skills
Actually, yes when it comes to boosting your creativity. And it’s easy and fun. Try taking your cues from other industries. Learn which ones are dominating and why. Is there any way to transfer what worked in a different industry to the one you’re in?
Let’s say you are in publishing. You might look at the fashion industry for inspiration. See what colours are hot for the year. Maybe it will inspire a book jacket or even an idea for a book. Let’s say you are running a chain of restaurants. You might look at the travel industry to see what destinations are popular this year. Maybe it will give you an idea for a new special to put on the menu. These days curiosity equals creativity. Start learning about other business as well as your own and your creativity will soar.
Another creativity enhancer: walking. According to a study conducted at Stanford, creative thinking sharpens while a person is walking. You don’t have to walk outdoors to be creative either. Walking indoors is just as impactful. The next time someone at your company suggests a brainstorming session, why not ask if you can all walk while you toss out ideas instead of just sitting stationary.
Enhancing Persuasion Skills
Developing your art of persuasion can also happen outside a classroom. Keep in mind that persuasion doesn’t just fall under a prosecutor’s or salesperson’s purview. Working on your own power of persuasion starts with becoming more aware of your colleague’s preference or viewpoint — and addressing his particular concerns. Listen hard to understand his perspective, and then try to find common ground upon which you both can agree.
Start by observing coworkers who excel at persuasion. They often begin by building rapport, and then adapting their pitches to address the individual or team’s needs. Some will be moved by numbers and data. Other colleagues may prefer a more emotional approach. Your task is to persuade hearts and minds, so you may want to prepare in advance to make both types of arguments. In either case, make every effort to show your authentic passion for what you’re pitching.
Honing Collaborative Skills
To hone your collaborative skills, take note of the personalities on your team. Think of the team in terms of a wolf pack. Only one alpha is allowed to preside. The beta types will follow and the omegas will do their own thing regardless of the group’s decision. If your team needs an alpha, be prepared to step up. This means understanding how to build alliances and trust, and to communicate so that others know precisely where they fit in any plan to move forward.
Some self-awareness on your part regarding whether you prefer to give direction, take direction, or go off on your own direction will give you a sense of your collaborative style. Asking family members or close friends if they perceive you as a leader or follower can provide insight. Tread carefully if you set out to unseat an alpha. Understanding that a cohesive pack is the basis of collaboration will work in your favor.
Adaptability as a soft skill has become a more desirable trait than ever as companies face disruption and must continually remake themselves with new technology, new products, and new services.
Hard skills alone won’t help you to navigate industry shifts. Adaptability comes from staying future-focused. You know change is coming soon; therefore you are prepared to embrace it.
Improving Time Management Skills
Finally, when you can show your manager that you have excellent time management abilities, you automatically become a person he or she will look to. This means that you’re able to prioritize your tasks, know when to delegate, and always meet (or surpass) your deadlines.
Start each day by putting together a list of all that needs to be done. Then, separate the priority tasks from those that can wait. Look for any work that you can delegate to an assistant. Then, put the tasks queue aside while you dive in and give the priority assignment your full attention. For complex, long-term projects, try to make incremental progress each week so that the giant project doesn’t loom over you.
If you tend to lose track of time, consider assigning a timeframe for addressing each item on your list, and cross off each item once it’s accomplished. This gives you a sense of forward progress. Give yourself a mini-celebration of a coffee break, a walk around the block, or a quick chat with a coworker before tackling the next item. This will clear your head and reset your focus.
Another key to time management: limit the number of phone calls, meetings, texts, and interruptions. There is some evidence to show that few workers can multi-task effectively. It’s best to complete a task before you check your texts and emails.
Strive for a Hard Skills-Soft Skills Balance
It’s necessary for those with technical jobs to adopt some soft skills and those with soft-skill jobs to adopt more hard skills. Both hard skills and soft skills are important to employers.
So, work to cultivate each set of skills. Strive to excel in any course work related to your essential hard skills to ensure technical expertise.
To improve your soft skills, intentionally put yourself in team-related projects or in leadership roles that provide opportunities for personal development. (If you can’t seem to do that at the office, consider joining a volunteer organization. Volunteering is a proven way to burnish your soft skills.)
As there’s really no metric for knowing precisely how adept you are at soft skills, ask for feedback. It will help you see how others perceive you — an important diagnostic for your own improvement. And remember, the more you practice, the better you will become.
In sum: Master your hard skills because they are the foundation of your career. And then resolve to treat bosses, coworkers, and underlings with civility. Listen well, and regularly deliver more than is expected. By doing so, you’ll stand out to your superiors and your career will soar.