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Hard Skills vs Soft Skills for College Students–Why Both Are Important

career planning
internship

If you want an internship while you are studying in the US, it is important to develop both your soft skills and hard skills. Learn which skills employers value most.

Five students gather around a tablet computer at a desk in a classroom.

Job searches are not just about your credentials. Even though employers want you to be qualified for the job, they also expect you to have a combination of hard and soft skills. 

Hard skills are the types of technical knowledge and training you have gained from your education or previous jobs, like technical expertise in a specific software program. Soft skills are your habits and traits that inform how you operate within the workplace, like the ability to communicate well with different types of colleagues. 

Both hard skills and soft skills are very important, not only in how you approach your career, but also in how you function every day. Having both types of skills will give you an advantage during your job search, especially as a college student. 

How can hard skills and soft skills impact your career? Let us take a closer look. 

What are soft skills?

Soft skills are about behavior, thinking, and personal traits. On a broad level, a soft skills list could include:

  • Adaptability

  • Communication

  • Conflict resolution

  • Dependability

  • Integrity

  • Problem-solving

  • Teamwork

  • Work ethic

Think about Human Resources (HR) employees: they not only need to be trained in HR software and systems. They also need to have good communication and conflict resolution skills. 

According to a 2019 LinkedIn survey, employers said their top five valued soft skills were persuasion, collaboration, adaptability, emotional intelligence, and most importantly, creativity. Creativity was ranked the most in-demand soft skill because it allows people to solve problems in unique ways. Companies want creative employees because they can think of new, better solutions to problems in ways computers are unable to.

Many studies even show the importance of soft skills in long-term job success. According to a recent survey of Fortune 500 CEOs from the Stanford Research Institute International and the Carnegie Mellon Foundation, 75% of long-term job success is believed to depend on people skills, while only 25% depends on technical knowledge (or hard skills). With many companies also now using collaborative work environments, employers prioritize teamwork and other soft skills rather than hard skills and specific technical knowledge. Ultimately, 94% of occupations rate social skills as essential to success.

What are hard skills?

Despite the focus on soft skills, hard skills are still very important. From computer technology and data analysis to network security, hard skills show employers your qualifications for the job and the experience you can bring to the company.

According to the same LinkedIn survey, the most valued hard skills are video production, scientific computing, sales, affiliate marketing, business analysis, UX design, artificial intelligence, analytical reasoning, cloud computing, and at the top, blockchain. Having hard skills like blockchain and analytical reasoning show potential employers that you are a qualified job candidate. Because many workplaces have a specific list of abilities that are necessary to perform the job successfully, these job-specific hard skills are a necessary part of your resume.

Hard skills vs. soft skills

Both hard skills and soft skills are important for different reasons. As we mentioned, hard skills are based on your experience, specialized knowledge, and training. They can include skills like using software (e.g., Microsoft Office), speaking multiple languages, or understanding user experience (UX) design. Hard skills give you the advantage of qualifications and experience in the job search. 

Your soft skills, however, are specific to your personality. They demonstrate how you do specific tasks. Common soft skills include communication, dependability, and effective teamwork. These skills go beyond your technical qualifications and affect not only your workplace habits, but also how you operate on a day-to-day basis. 

Even though hard skills are important, soft skills are now highly valued. A 2019 Cengage survey found that the most in-demand talents were soft skills, with 74% of employers indicating they prioritized listening skills, communication, and attention to detail.

How do I build and improve my hard and soft skills?

As you start the internship or job application process, sit down and consider the skills you already can offer, and which skills you would like to develop further. Try the following action items:

  1. Make a list. List what you are good at, whether it is working with specific types of software or having good communication skills, and what needs to be improved.

  2. Take a class. Hard skills are often more teachable than soft skills, but you can strengthen your soft skills, too. If you want to improve your hard skills, check if your university has upcoming workshops or classes involving computing, software, or statistics. If you want to get better with your soft skills, take a class in public speaking, or join a writing workshop or club to practice collaborating with other people.

  3. Talk to your counselor. Sometimes it is hard to evaluate your own skills and self-assess areas for improvement. Luckily, counselors are available to help you succeed. They have resources that can help you define your strengths and will have insights to help you learn new hard and soft skills.

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