Hard Skills: Definition, Examples, and Comparison to Soft Skills

What Are Hard Skills?

Hard skills are technical skills required for a job. They are learned abilities acquired and enhanced through education and experience. Hard skills are important for your resume, as employers look for them when hiring.

Hard skills alone don't translate into success as employees also need other skills, such as soft skills. Unlike soft skills, hard skills can be quantified. For example, a hard skill might be proficiency in a second language, while a soft skill could be the ability to work well on a team.

Key Takeaways

  • Hard skills are technical skills required for a job.
  • Hard skills are acquired through education and experience.
  • Soft skills are behavioral, such as being a team player.
  • Unlike soft skills, hard skills can be easily quantified.
  • Employers typically look for a combination of hard and soft skills.

Understanding Hard Skills

Hard skills are technical skills needed to perform a job or land a new one. They are typically industry specific. For example, a financial analyst would need a different set of hard skills than a carpenter. But hard skills can also be valuable across industries. Fluency in a second language could potentially benefit both the analyst and carpenter.

Employers and recruiters look for hard skills listed in your resume and during the interview process. It's best to back up your hard skills with a certificate, degree, or other qualification that shows a level of achievement. Experience is also seen as a qualification that validates expertise in hard skills. Some prospective employers test the hard skills of job candidates. Someone interviewing for an editing job, for example, might have to take an editing test.

Hard skills focus on practical abilities and skills, whereas soft skills focus on behaviors and personalities, such as social and communication skills. Soft skills are less tangible and harder to teach.

Employers typically look for a hybrid of hard and soft skills. Soft skills are more intrinsic to personality and more difficult to judge quickly, but they may be as important on the job over time.

Hard and soft skills are critical for success at almost any job, and having both on your resume is essential when job hunting.

Types of Hard Skills

The types of hard skills needed to be qualified and successful in a job depend on the industry. Employers typically list hard skills required in job descriptions. Common hard skills include:

Common Hard Skills

  • Computer software knowledge
  • Graphic design
  • Data analysis
  • Project management
  • Marketing
  • Copywriting
  • Computer programming
  • Foreign languages
  • Search engine optimization (SEO)

 According to data published by LinkedIn in September 2022, the top trending hard skills are:

Top Hard Skills in 2022

  • Customer service
  • Sales
  • Accounting
  • Business development
  • Marketing
  • Digital marketing
  • Sales management
  • Finance
  • Social media
  • Sales and marketing
  • Financial analysis
  • Engineering
  • Social media marketing
  • Structured query language (SQL)

Hard Skills vs. Soft Skills

Hard skills generally have rules that remain the same regardless of the business, industry, or even culture in which they are practiced. The rules of soft skills can change depending on company culture and the expectations of colleagues. For example, the rules for how a programmer creates 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 progress or support needs.

Hard skills can be learned via education, training or apprenticeships, and on the job. The levels of competency can be defined, and there is a direct path for achieving them. For example, in the field of accounting, you can take basic and advanced accounting courses, earn a degree, gain work experience, and pass the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) exam.

Soft skills are not often found in the curriculum of a school or college. But they are taught in programs that help people develop communication skills, teamwork, or people-management skills. Some common soft skills include:

  • Communication
  • Teamwork
  • Adaptability
  • Problem solving
  • Conflict resolution

Ask your employer if they offer or pay for any leadership training or team-building programs for employees. If your employer wants you to improve one of your hard or soft skills, many companies will cover hard and soft skill programs for their employees.

Example of Hard Skills

Accounting is a profession that requires a relatively rigid set of hard skills. Proficiency in the Microsoft Office suite, especially Excel, is a given. Familiarity with industry-specific software, such as Intuit's QuickBooks, and tax preparation software, is also required.

Accountants need to know how to prepare and interpret financial statements and other accounting reports, develop efficient financial reporting mechanisms, and plan and implement accounting controls.

Some of the other skills accountants need might be categorized as soft skills. They must be able to communicate effectively with clients and be diplomatic when dealing with external auditors.

What Are Hard Skills to Include on a Resume?

If you are listing hard skills on a resume, include any technical skills you have acquired and any foreign languages. List hard skills relevant to the position for which you are applying. These are typically spelled out in job postings.

How Can I Acquire Hard Skills?

You can acquire hard skills by taking online or in-person classes at a university or other training program, practicing these skills before applying them to a job, and gaining experience by using the hard skills in the workplace.

Is Critical Thinking a Hard Skill?

No. Critical thinking is an important soft skill. You can study and practice critical thinking, but it cannot be "learned" in the same way you can teach yourself to use accounting software.

The Bottom Line

Every job from firefighting to being a marketing executive calls for a specific skill set often made up of a combination of hard and soft skills. Whether you are considering a new job or applying for your first job, knowing which hard skills are needed, and obtaining those skills, means you will have a better chance of being hired or promoted in your field of choice.

Some hard skills—such as being proficient in using a computer, analyzing data, or understanding at least the basics of using social media—will often be useful in many different jobs and careers. Many trades call for particular hard skills that are required for employment in construction, architecture, plumbing and electric, and engineering.

To get hired and be successful in the workplace you'll need a combination of hard and soft skills, both of which you can be continually build on and develop.

Article Sources
Investopedia requires writers to use primary sources to support their work. These include white papers, government data, original reporting, and interviews with industry experts. We also reference original research from other reputable publishers where appropriate. You can learn more about the standards we follow in producing accurate, unbiased content in our editorial policy.
  1. Indeed. “52 Hard Skills To List on a Resume and Why They're Important.”

  2. Monster. "Soft Skills to Help Your Career Hit the Big Time."

  3. Glassdoor. “Top Hard Skills Employers Look For.”

  4. LinkedIn “Learn Top Skills to Help You Future-Proof Your Career.”

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