Hard Skills vs. Soft Skills: What’s the Difference?

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Knowing the difference between hard and soft skills can help you navigate your career. You’ll want to be able to demonstrate you have both to land your dream job.

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To succeed in your career, you’ll want to have both hard and soft skills. But to recognize which skills you have, it helps to understand the distinctions between hard skills and soft skills. 

Hard skills are the things you know how to do, while soft skills are the characteristics of your approach. It can help to think about hard skills as your technical skills and soft skills as your workplace or human skills.

In this article, we'll further compare hard and soft skills and discuss how to leverage both to further your career.

Hard skills vs. soft skills

Traditionally, hard skills or technical skills have been defined as teachable and quantifiable. Those described as workplace or soft skills were thought to be innate and learned from experience. However, there’s growing support for the idea that both technical and workplace skills can be learned on the job, in the classroom, and in daily life. 

Technical skills Workplace skills
  • Computer programming languages (Python, Ruby, etc.) and coding
  • Proficiency in a foreign language
  • Database management
  • Data analytics
  • SEO/SEM marketing
  • Sales or business analysis
  • Financial management
  • UX design
  • Medical proficiency
  • Bookkeeping
  • Plumbing
  • Writing and editing
  • Reporting
  • Teaching
  • Cooking and baking
  • Engineering
  • Creativity
  • Empathy
  • Teamwork
  • Problem-solving
  • Critical thinking
  • Adaptability and flexibility
  • Organization
  • Integrity
  • Effective communication
  • Reliability and dependability
  • Open-mindedness
  • Punctuality
  • Time management
  • Attention to detail
  • Strategic thinking
  • Conflict resolution
  • Work ethic

Both hard and soft skills are important to employers. They indicate that you are proficient in practical aspects of the job and can also contribute to a positive and productive work environment. In fact, Canada’s Skills for Success model focuses on nine key skills, which are both technical and workplace skills [1]. These skills are considered necessary for you to thrive at work, in learning, and throughout life:

  • Adaptability

  • Collaboration

  • Communication

  • Creativity and innovation

  • Digital

  • Numeracy

  • Problem-solving

  • Reading 

  • Writing

Workplace skills are in demand

An estimated 87 per cent of employers struggled to fill positions due to a lack of workplace skills in 2021, according to Monster. Regardless of technical expertise, the top in-demand skills in the Monster survey were dependability, teamwork/collaboration, problem-solving, and flexibility. Some jobs even now require personality tests and other ways to evaluate workplace skills [2].


What are hard skills?

Hard skills are the practical know-how needed to complete a specific task. For example, a nurse learns how to administer a vaccine, or a waiter takes customer orders according to a restaurant’s particular method. Technical skills can range from learning a foreign language to using forecasting analysis to predict the stock market. 

Hard skills examples

Technical skills describe what you know how to do. They will vary depending on the type of job you have or are seeking. Consider these 10 hard skills employers in Canada are looking for, according to employment site Randstad [3]: 

  • Customer service

  • Scheduling

  • Sales

  • Cleaning

  • Repair

  • Budgeting

  • Project management

  • Quality control

  • Administrative support

  • Accounting

What are soft skills?

Workplace skills relate to how you work and tend to be described qualitatively. Regardless of your job title, these attributes make you a good employee, colleague, and overall human. For this reason, they are often good transferable skills. 

Soft skills examples

Workplace skills describe your approach to or attributes of your work. Some examples of workplace skills are:

  • Adaptability

  • Collaboration

  • Critical thinking

  • Empathy

  • Organization

  • Problem-solving

  • Strategic thinking

  • Teamwork

How to leverage your skills for career success

Both technical and workplace skills are necessary for career success, and one of the best places to develop skills—hard and soft alike—is on the job.

Approach each role as a potential learning experience. You might ask yourself, how can this data analysis be done faster or more accurately? You might also design an innovative system for collecting marketing stories within the company. These are ways that you can build your problem-solving and critical-thinking skills alongside your technical skills.

As a colleague, you may improve your teamwork and organizational skills by working with cross-functional teams. You can organize an outing or team-building activity to foster a positive spirit. As a manager or leader, you can enhance your workplace skills by getting to know your team members. This might include active listening and providing mentorship or support to create a culture of belonging.

Then, be sure to highlight your complete skill set on your resume, on a job application, and during an interview.

Highlighting skills on your resume

Tailoring your resume to each job you apply for is considered good practice. When describing your previous responsibilities, match specific technical and workplace skills from the job description to those from your list.

Here’s an example, with technical skills in italics and workplace skills underlined (note, you wouldn’t actually do this on your resume. We’re doing it to make it easier for you to see the hard skills vs. soft skills):

Waiter at Elephant & Castle, Toronto, ON / October 2019-Present

  • Completed comprehensive training for proper food handling, including equipment cleaning, proper freezer temperatures and placement, and executing employee handwashing rules

  • Developed a new reward system for employees, resulting in improved attendance and increased employee satisfaction

  • Assisted in training five new waiters, demonstrating strong attention to detail, leadership, and conflict-resolution techniques

Most employers are looking for people who are proficient in both types of skills. Showcasing technical and workplace skills side by side in your resume could make you more appealing to recruiters and hiring managers.

Demonstrating your skills in a job application

Some job applications require a cover letter, which is a great place to highlight your technical and workplace skills. For instance, if you are applying for a marketing manager position, you might describe a project in which you curated a team of Instagram and TikTok influencers to launch a new product that resulted in five times the projected sales in the first week. This example shows you can be innovative and you are proficient in using platforms to measure data.

For creative jobs, you may be asked to supply a portfolio, case study, or writing samples. These are opportunities to demonstrate your technical skills in graphic design, user research, or writing and your workplace skills in creativity and time management.

Showing your skills in a job interview

While you'll likely discuss your technical skills during an interview, you can also use this meeting as an opportunity to demonstrate some workplace skills, like good communication and attention to detail. Polite etiquette makes a good first impression, such as accepting a calendar invite and sending thank-you emails. The same goes for being on time, whether in an in-person or Zoom interview.

You may find the STAR method helpful for providing thorough responses during the interview. STAR stands for situation, task, action, and result.

Here’s an example of an answer that uses the STAR method, with technical skills in italics and workplace skills underlined:

  • Situation: At my former job as a sales associate, a coworker resigned just before a big deadline for their project.

  • Task: I was asked to take over the project and complete weeks of work in just a few days. 

  • Action: I asked my manager to dial back my responsibilities for the week and delegated the work to other sales team members. Then, I spent two days learning about the project and brushing up on Excel. My intern and I devised a strategy to finish the assignment within five days.

  • Result: By dedicating time to the special project, I finished on time and accurately. My manager appreciated my dedication, and I was trusted with more projects after that.

Get started with Coursera.

There are many ways to build your technical and workplace skills throughout your career. Learn at your own pace as you enhance your workplace skills with a course like:

Professional Certificates also help you build job-ready technical skills in various subjects.

Article sources


Government of Canada. “Skills for Success, https://www.canada.ca/en/services/jobs/training/initiatives/skills-success.html/.” Accessed April 22, 2024.

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