What are Soft Skills?

Hard Skills are necessary to get a job, but Soft Skills are required to have a successful career.

Hard skills are your minimum requirements to be qualified for your job: 

  • Bread makers have hard skills related to baking bread.
  • Cobblers have hard skills related to repairing shoes.
  • Software developers have hard skills related to writing software.

If you are an employee, each of your Hard Skills benefits your employer in direct and obvious ways:

  • Your employer gets to sell the bread you bake.
  • Your employer gets to charge customers for shoes that your repair.
  • Your employer gets to make money from the software you write.

Soft Skills are the collection of skills that enable your employer to leverage your Hard Skills:

  • If you have poor attention to detail, the quality of the bread you bake will be inconsistent.
  • If you are bad at dealing with customers, they may take their shoes elsewhere for repair.
  • If you are bad at working in teams, you won’t be able to work within a group of software developers.

While Hard Skills enable you to tackle increasingly difficult tasks, Soft Skills will allow you to take on more responsibility:

  • As you demonstrate your consistency in baking bread, eventually, you are asked to train others.
  • As you demonstrate your capability in dealing with customers, that can become your full-time job as other cobblers handler shoe repair.
  • As you demonstrate your ability to be a good teammate, eventually you may get put in charge of that team.

Taking on more responsibility is the foundation of career growth. Even if you are the most skilled Baker, Cobbler, or Software Developer, if no one wants to give you more responsibility, your career will stagnate

Knowing the necessary Hard Skills needed for your job is as simple as reading the requirements on a job description:

  • Baker Needed: Must be able to bake French Baguette, Sourdough Loaf, and Artisan Ciabatta Loaf.
  • Cobbler Needed: Must be able to repair men’s dress shoes, women’s high-heels, and leather boots.
  • Software Developer Needed: Must be able to code in Java, JavaScript, and SQL.

Soft Skills, however, are much harder to articulate in a list. When they are listed, it is as high-level concepts that are often far too broad to learn:

  • Communication – Beyond being fluent in a language, what constitutes excellent communication?
  • Teamwork – Beyond interacting with your coworkers, how do you learn how to be better at it?
  • Leadership – Beyond being placed in a managerial role, what activities make you a leader?
  • Initiative – Beyond performing your job requirements, how else can you find other work you are supposed to do?
  • Attention to Detail – Beyond making sure work gets done by a deadline, how can you self-assess if it was good enough?

This ambiguity has had two effects:

  • Companies know they cannot reasonably demand soft skills as a job requirement, so they rely on subjective managerial reviews.
  • Employees do not know how which soft skills their employers want, so they wait for a performance review to learn what soft skills they lack.

As a lack of soft skills leads to an employer not being able to leverage their employee’s hard skills, as well as stagnates the employee’s career growth, learning soft skills becomes a priority both for the employer and employee. Though this need is evident, both employees and employers tend to be at a loss as to how soft skills can be taught or learned. 

Unlike hard skills that tend to have every type of educational program imaginable, there are almost no training programs that focus on learning soft skills applicable to a specific job. Employees who want to improve their soft skills must learn on their own and hope that they will align with their employer’s requirements. 

Unfortunately, most employees choose not to go through the effort of learning soft skills on their own as they have no guarantee that the soft skills they focus on are the ones their employer value the most. Employees instead wait for criticism from their manager for not having soft skills they were never told they should have

If employers and employees can solve the problem of how to teach and learn job-specific soft skills, everyone involved benefits:

  • Employers gain full access to the full potential of their employee’s hard skills, as well as increase the likelihood that their employees can take on more responsibility in the future.
  • Employees can avoid awkward and unfair conversations with their managers regarding their missing soft skills while increasing the likelihood that they will have more earning potential either in their current or on future jobs. 

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