What Are Hard Skills?

Hard skills are learned abilities acquired and enhanced through practice, repetition, and education. Hard skills are important because they increase employee productivity and efficiency and subsequently improve employee satisfaction. However, hard skills alone don't translate into business success as employees also need to employ other skills, such as soft skills, that contribute to customer satisfaction.

Key Takeaways

  • People acquire hard skills through education, practice, and repetition.
  • Hard skills can refer to proficiency in any complex task.
  • Soft skills are difficult to teach and are behavioral and related to personality.
  • Unlike soft skills, people can prove their hard skill competencies by producing a certificate, degree, apprenticeship, or work experience.

Understanding Hard Skills

In business, hard skills most often refer to the basics of accounting and financial modeling. In a broad sense, hard skills may refer to proficiency in any complex task. Fluency in a second language, knowledge of Photoshop or PowerPoint, or expertise in carpentry are all hard skills that can be learned and improved upon with practice.

Employers and recruiters most often look for these hard skills in professional resumes. Any hard skill that a person cites is best backed up with a certificate, degree, or other qualification that shows a level of achievement.

Hard and Soft Skills Characteristics

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. Getting along with others, listening well, and engaging in small talk are soft skills.

A person's soft skills are more intrinsic to personality and more difficult to judge quickly, but they may be as important on the job over time. They might include an ability to work on a team, flexibility, patience, and time management ability.

Hard skills are easier to teach than soft skills, given a certain aptitude and enthusiasm. That's why employers often look for job applicants with soft skills rather than hard skills.

Hard Skills vs. Soft Skills

Scientists once believed that hard skills required the use of the left brain, or logic center, while soft skills were associated with the right brain, also referred to as the emotional center. Recent studies by neuroscientists indicate that mental processes can't be categorized that neatly.

It can be said that 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 may be learned in schools, from books, or through apprenticeships. The levels of competency can be defined and there is a direct path for achieving them. For example, a person may take basic and advanced accounting courses, 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. They are taught, however, in programs that help people develop communication skills, teamwork, or people management skills. These are most often offered through employer programs.

Example of Hard Skills

Accounting is a profession that requires a fairly rigid set of hard skills, particularly in this era. Proficiency in the Microsoft Office suite, especially Excel, is a given. Familiarity with industry-specific software, such as Great Plains, QuickBooks, Peachtree, SAP Software, and tax preparation software, are 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 prepared to communicate effectively with regulators, to deal with external auditors, and to stay updated on current issues and changes in industry regulations.