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Soft Skills vs. Hard Skills – What Takes Precedence?

By Bonnie Johnson,


What skills have the greatest impact on career achievement? Will your technical knowledge, computer and analytical skills ensure your success? Or will your ability to communicate, lead and organize be more impactful?


There are two types of skills required for success – hard and soft skills. Hard skills, such as a certification or diploma, are technical skills that are teachable and easily measured. Soft skills, like teamwork and empathy, are people skills applicable to many different situations.


It’s routinely declared that hard skills may get you an interview, but you’ll need soft skills to get and keep a job. Employers and educators have been increasingly paying more attention to student skill development and the difference between soft and hard skills.


What do employers want? surveyed employers to assess the importance they place on skills and how these attributes impact the hiring decision. The results emphasize the importance employers place on soft skills in the hiring process. For both interns and new graduate hires, the top skills were teamwork, verbal communication, and decision making/problem solving. Meanwhile, hard skills, such as technical knowledge, were toward the bottom of the rankings. [i]


NACE (National Association of Colleges and Employers) asked a similar question in their 2017 Internship Survey of NACE employer members. Their survey found that information processing was the most highly regarded skill, followed by teamwork. Interestingly, technical knowledge was ranked low in both the NACE and surveys. This supports the theory that hard skills can be taught even on the job, but soft skills are key from the beginning. also asked employers to rate attributes in terms of how influential each was in their consideration of applicants to their positions. Leadership experience was by far the most influential attribute a candidate may possess according to employers. Leadership skills were the most important attribute for both internships and new graduate candidates, even more influential than GPA.


What does this mean for you?


Some may mistakenly believe that in this digital age, people skills aren’t very important. However, often the opposite is true. We need hard skills; however, our industry also needs people who are skilled at interacting with others and can handle difficult situations with tact.


Employers frequently say they hire for attitude rather than hard skills. This is because many technical, product and company-specific hard skills can be taught on-the-job.


Your soft skills, people skills, interpersonal skills, how you relate to others at work, in the classroom, at home, everywhere, has a profound impact on your career development and progression.


One of the biggest pluses about soft skills is they’re transferable. No matter what job, organization, or industry you are in, soft skills are widely applicable and beneficial.


The best news yet is that soft skills can be learned and developed. Get out of your comfort zone, get involved and practice! Find out more about employability skills in our Career Guide article.
 U.S. Intern and New Grad Hiring & Compensation Report: 2018 Data Release