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 identify opportunities for development and present yourself more positively to potential employers.

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You might have heard that you need hard and soft skills to succeed in your career. Chances are, you already have some of both.

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.

This article will describe hard and soft skills and discuss leveraging both to further your career.

Hard skills vs. soft skills

Traditionally, technical skills have been defined as teachable and quantifiable. Workplace skills, meanwhile, were seen as innate and learned from experience. However, this is becoming less true. Technical and workplace skills can be learned on the job, in the classroom, and daily life.  They are now seen as complementary skill sets.

Both are important to employers because they indicate that you are proficient in the practical aspects and can contribute to a positive and productive work environment. However, the recent influence of the pandemic and subsequent hybrid and remote working conditions have employers calling for looking for team members who have strong workplace skills, such as a growth mindset, creativity, and critical thinking.

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 [1].


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 special method. Technical skills can range from learning a foreign language to forecasting analysis to predict the stock market. 

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 human. For this reason, they are often good transferable skills. 

Examples of hard skills vs. soft skills

Hard or technical skills describe what you know how to do, whereas soft skills or workplace skills describe your approach to or attributes of your work. Here are some examples of each:

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
  • Organisation
  • Integrity
  • Effective communication
  • Reliability and dependability
  • Open-mindedness
  • Punctuality
  • Time management
  • Attention to detail
  • Strategic thinking
  • Conflict resolution
  • Work ethic

How to leverage your skills for career success

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

You can 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 you can build your problem-solving and critical-thinking skills alongside your technical skills.

As a colleague, you may improve your teamwork and organisational skills by working with cross-functional teams. You can organise 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, 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:

Waiter at The Bombay Canteen, Mumbai / 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. Showcasing technical and workplace skills side by side on 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 proficient in using platforms to measure data.

You may be asked to supply a portfolio, case study, or writing samples for creative jobs. 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 talk about your technical skills during an interview, you can also use them to demonstrate some workplace skills, like good communication and attention to detail. Polite etiquette makes an excellent first impression, such as accepting a calendar invite and sending thank-you emails. The same applies to being on time, whether in an in-person or Zoom interview, which helps you show you have time management skills.

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: I finished on time and accurately by dedicating time to the project. 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 build job-ready technical skills in a wide variety of subjects.

Article sources

  1. Monster. “The Future of Work 2021: Global Hiring Outlook, https://hiring.monster.com/resources/blog/future-of-work-2021-summary/” Accessed March 25, 2024.

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