Hard Skills vs. Soft Skills

Employers talk a lot about "hard skills" and "soft skills" when they're looking for candidates or developing their talent pool. Hard skills are easy to measure. They make sense. Can you calculate XYZ in Excel? Can you write an engaging 500-word blog post? 

Soft skills, though—soft skills are much harder to measure, but end up the more important of the two when it comes to your career.

Your company is staffed with people who can’t possibly be rated on a linear scale, because you’re not baseball players. You are managers and inventors and leaders and promise-makers and supporters and bureaucrats and detail-oriented factotums.

And yet…

And yet we persist in hiring and training as if we’re a baseball team, as if easily defined skills are all that matter.
— Seth Godin

The way our education system works is broken. Growing up, we learn times tables, historical facts, the scientific method. All important building blocks for being an intelligent, educated person. Somewhere along the way, though, as we specialize in a particular field, we start to lose the best parts of elementary education in favor of facts, facts, facts, facts.

One of the greatest gifts of a liberal arts education is learning how to think. But that way of thinking doesn't always translate in the workplace, just as learning how to do specific tasks or techniques can become quickly outdated.

More importantly, we don't talk about how to share, or how to work together, or how to have a hard conversation at work in college classes. We don't talk about respecting others or how to listen. We don't talk about how to be confident without being cocky (because "fake it 'till you make it" can completely backfire on millennials). We don't talk about empathy. It's just assumed that you know it, and know how to do it, when more often than not, nobody does.

Instead, we learn how to get ahead and how to please our professors. We learn how to get A's no matter what—which means, we learn how to work hard, but not necessarily how to work hard and be a good person at the same time. 

Soft Skills Start With Giving

Traditional success involves focus on the individual—the hard work, the talent, the passion they possess—when in reality, success depends on how you can interact with others. In Give and Take, Adam Grant argues that there are three types of people at work, those who are givers, matchers, and takers. 

Being a giver is not good for a 100-yard dash, but it’s valuable in a marathon.
— Adam Grant, Give and Take

Most work cultures invite a zero-sum attitude about being at work. You may think to yourself, "I'm not here to make friends, I'm here to get stuff done," but that's only partly true. To be successful, you have to establish relationships—and yes, be a giver.

Soft Skills > Hard Skills, Every Time

In this data driven world, because we can't measure it, it's not valued. But to truly be successful, mastering these soft skills are much more important. It's easy to learn how to optimize your content or implement a coding hack. It's harder to learn how to be a better person.

Ready to give it a try? Read how self-improvement can become a feedback loop, and why the hardest part is to take the first step.