Hard Skills vs. Soft Skills: Which are More Important in 2021?
by Haley Lyles
The events of 2020 have undoubtedly changed how we work, and in many cases, where we work. From the rise in remote work to the ever-increasing reliance on technology, the impacts of COVID-19 have also reshaped what employers look for in employees — and the hard skills vs. soft skills that'll land you the gig.
Many working professionals no longer find themselves constrained by the physical restrictions of commuting to offices in certain cities. Now, the hunt for jobs can occur across the nation — or even the world — opening up a web of new opportunities for employers and employees alike.
But with this rise in far-flung workforces has also come a change in what employers look for. Gone are the days where a good employee was a "cog in the machine" — now, employers are valuing culture fit and soft skills like adaptability, autonomy and problem-solving when looking to grow their workforce.
So in a world where the most successful job candidate can effectively showcase hard skills vs. soft skills, which is more important? With COVID-19 reshaping the way we work, keep reading to learn what skills to focus on to stay ahead of the curve in 2021.
Hard skills are quantifiable abilities that can be acquired through education, practice or training. These skills are often job-specific and can be explicitly listed in your resume or cover letter to match a certain job posting.
Hard skills are also often industry-specific. For example, a data analyst might want to list hard skills like statistical modeling or Python. In contrast, a teacher would probably want to highlight skills like educational technology proficiency and teaching certifications.
Most in-demand hard skills:
- Cloud computing
- Analytical reasoning
- Artificial intelligence
- UX design
- Business analysis
- Affiliate marketing
- Scientific computing
- Video production
While hard skills can get you past an applicant tracking system (ATS) and get your resume looked at, soft skills are what help you land the job. Your soft skills can also be thought of as "people skills" — all the things you're good at that might not necessarily be job-specific.
One struggle that many people face when determining their soft skills is that they are much more difficult to quantify. How can you show employers that you're a skilled communicator, leader or problem solver when there's no set certification or course to prove your proficiency?
For you to make an impression on your interviewer, your soft skills are something that should be shown, not told. You can simply list soft skills on your resume, but it's far more effective to integrate these soft skills into examples on your resume or during an interview.
Most in-demand soft skills:
- Emotional Intelligence
What Skills Are Employers Looking For in 2021?
There's no denying that the pandemic has had a lasting impact on the future of the workforce. The trend of working from home has led to even greater dependence on technology to get work done. But how has this shift in professional culture affected what employers look for in potential employees?
According to the World Economic Forum 2020 Future of Jobs Report, the top 10 overall skills for workers by 2025 will be:
- Analytical thinking
- Active learning
- Critical thinking
- Creativity and initiative
- Technology use
- Technology design
- Stress tolerance and flexibility
- Reasoning and ideation
It's clear from these trending skills that employers shift towards a focus on autonomy and problem-solving as they build up a remote workforce due to COVID-19. Employers are seeing a need for employees they can trust to solve problems independently and hold themselves accountable for their actions.
The Future of Jobs Report also highlighted the top 10 specialized skills of the future:
- Product marketing
- Digital marketing
- Software development life cycle
- Business management
- Human-computer interaction
- Development tools
- Data Storage technology
- Computer networking
- Web development
While some of these skills can feel unattainable if you don't have experience in the field, there are free online certifications you can get in up-and-coming areas like IT, marketing and programming to help you stay competitive as you shift to a new industry.
It may come as a surprise to you that 67% of HR managers said they'd hire a candidate with strong soft skills even if technical skills were lacking, while only 9% would hire someone with strong technical skills but weak soft skills. Additionally, 94% of managers expect employees to pick up new skills on the job, up from 65% in 2018 — meaning that employers are now more willing to focus on company culture fit, even if it may require more on-the-job training.
The Future of Jobs report also says that 50% of all employees will need reskilling by 2025 as technology adaptation and advancement increases. It seems the pandemic may have fast-tracked this reskilling shift, with a 400% increase in the number of people looking for online learning opportunities and a 500% increase in employers using online learning for reskilling or training workers.
Additionally, data has shown that employed individuals have shown an 88% increase in demand for personal development courses, with self-improvement skills like mindfulness and gratitude being some of the top focus areas. On the contrary, unemployed individuals have favored digital skills like computer science, data analysis and information technology.
So what skills should you be trying to hone to remain a competitive applicant in 2021? Keep reading to learn how to highlight soft and hard skills during your application process to stand out to potential employers.
Highlighting Hard Skills vs. Soft Skills on Your Resume
Your resume is a key way to highlight both your soft and hard skills during a job application. Seeing as up to 75% of large companies are using an ATS, it's clear that tailoring your resume with the right keywords is crucial to get your resume in the hands of a hiring manager.
Here's how you can effectively highlight soft and hard skills on your resume.
- Tailor your applications: Incorporate important keywords from the job description into your resume with a skills section.
- Use proficiency levels: Consider adding proficiency levels to your skills section to highlight your top abilities.
- Show, don't tell: Integrate your soft skills into your work history if you want it to carry weight with your potential employer.
- Highlight transferable skills: Highlighting transferable skills is particularly useful when trying to switch industries or pivot your skillset to a new career.
Instead of picking keywords and putting them in a half-baked skills list, take your soft skills and implement them into your work history. Below is an example of how you can strategically incorporate keywords from a job description.
Example job description:
- Engage and collaborate with designers and content writers to execute marketing initiatives.
- Analyze audience and performance data by conducting surveys and interviews to track monetization.
From this example job description, you can pull keywords to highlight your soft skills by saying that you "Collaborated with other departments to develop cross-functional relationships and communicated with a marketing team of X direct reports, resulting in an X% increase in team satisfaction and efficiency between Q3 and Q4 2020."
In this example, you demonstrate specific soft skills like collaboration, communication and time management — and highlight metrics to back it up. But sometimes, you don't have the luxury of time to write and rewrite what you want to say before the fact.
In job interviews, highlighting your skills is more of an in-the-moment type of situation — keep reading to learn how you can effectively learn to practice what you preach by demonstrating skills in your job interview.
During Your Interview
While no two job interviews are the same, there are some tried-and-true ways you can highlight soft and hard skills in your answers. However, there are some skills where you have to work a little harder to "show, not tell" — especially if you've swapped in-person meetings for virtual interviews, where non-verbal cues like body language may be more challenging for employers to pick up.
Take emotional intelligence, for example. You can't exactly say in an interview that you "showed emotional intelligence by doing X," and cues like engaged body language and active listening may not be easily communicated over a video call. Instead, you'll have to dig a bit deeper to describe specific instances where you demonstrated emotional intelligence.
If you're asked a common interview question like "Tell me about a time you faced a moral dilemma at work," there are a few ways you can methodically tackle the answer to demonstrate emotional intelligence and provide metrics for achievement.
A popular way to handle interview questions like this is by using the STAR method, which helps you structure your answers by providing a situation, task, action and result.
With the STAR method, you can start by thinking of a particular instance where you demonstrated emotional intelligence. For example, maybe you received a request from your boss that you felt wasn't the right path to take. Here's how you could explain it while demonstrating emotional intelligence with the STAR method.
- Situation: "I received X feedback from my boss that I felt was incorrect, and I faced the dilemma of whether to share my disagreement and risk an awkward encounter or go along with something that I didn't feel was right."
- Task: "My job responsibility was to carry out X task, but as an employee, I felt like the correct path was to do Y."
- Action: "I communicated with my boss about why I felt like X was the wrong path to take, and instead suggested Y as an alternative."
- Result: "As a result, my boss and I built a more transparent relationship where I felt comfortable giving upward feedback, and they trusted me as I had shown the willingness to push for what was right, instead of what was easy."
With the shift to remote work over the past year, the skills that employers look for are shifting too. Employers are now searching for employees with a mix of soft and hard skills — and the best applicants know how to analyze a job description to determine the types of skills employers want.
Whether you're looking for a job with more remote flexibility or you're a budding college graduate, being able to decode a job description and tailor your skills to the application is what will set you apart from the rest.
Ready to level up your job applications and find your perfect job? Check out our resume builder to get started today.