What are 'Hard Skills'

Hard skills are specific, teachable abilities that can be defined and measured, such as typing, writing, math, reading and the ability to use software programs. By contrast, soft skills are less tangible and harder to quantify, such as etiquette, getting along with others, listening and engaging in small talk. In business, hard skills most often refer to accounting and financial modeling.


Hard and soft skill sets are highly valued in the workforce for performing at top levels.

Characteristics of Hard Skills

Hard skills are quantifiable, such as proficiency in a foreign language, earning a degree or certificate, operating a machine, or programming a computer. Hard skills are often listed on a job applicant's cover letter and resume so employers know the applicant's qualifications for an open position.

Characteristics of Soft Skills

Soft skills are more personality-oriented interpersonal skills, such as teamwork, flexibility, patience, persuasion and time management. Because employers have an easier time teaching new hires hard skills, employers often look for job applicants with specific soft skills instead.

Differences Between Hard and Soft Skills

Possessing strong hard skills typically requires the left brain, or logic center. In contrast, strong soft skills are typically formed in the right brain, or emotional center.

Hard skills involve rules remaining the same regardless of what business or circumstances a person is in at any given time. Conversely, soft skills involve rules that change, depending on company culture and colleagues' expectations. For example, the rules for how a programmer can create the best code are the same regardless of where the programmer works. However, a programmer may communicate effectively to other programmers about technical details but struggle when communicating with senior managers about a project's success and necessary support.

Hard skills may be learned in school and from books. There are typically designated levels of competency and a direct path for excelling. For example, a person may take basic and advanced accounting courses, gain work experience and study for and take the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) exam. In contrast, learning most soft skills is not taught well in schools and does not have a set path, and soft skill are learned by trial and error. For example, a person learns patience by effectively communicating with others and quietly waiting his turn for an activity.

Hard Skills in Accounting

Hard skills in accounting include proficiency in the Microsoft Office suite, especially Excel, and familiarity with industry-specific software such as Great Plains, QuickBooks, Peachtree, SAP and tax preparation software. Accountants should know how to prepare and interpret financial statements and other accounting reports, develop efficient financial reporting mechanisms, and plan and implement accounting controls. Accountants need to collaborate with regulators and external auditors, stay updated with current issues and changes in industry regulations, and ensure strict adherence to regulations, procedures and practices.

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