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The inadequacy of hard skills

To do your work, you typically need hard skills. For example, Dentists need to know how to fill cavities, Computer Programmers need to be able to write functional codes, and Accountants need to be certified.

However, beyond the hard skills, which dentist do you go to? The one who is pleasant and takes time to answer your questions; or the one who treats you like a number in a long line of numbered mouths?

Which programmer do you retain when the economy is down? The one whose attitude is positive and upbeat, and who is always willing to help; or the one who is inflexible and has a hard time admitting mistakes?

Likewise, think about accountants. The one who has a great work ethic, listens actively, and encourages his colleagues is the one who will, most likely, excel in his position and organization.

In these situations, and all the others like them, it’s the soft skills that matter. Soft skills are personal attributes that enable you to interact effectively and harmoniously with other people. Examples include your communication skills, attitude, business etiquette, work ethic,   emotional intelligence, ability to handle crises, and even the way you carry yourself.

On the other hand, hard skills are the technical expertise and skill sets you need to complete your tasks at work. In other words, they are your knowledge and occupational skills. Examples of hard skills include an accountancy certification (like ACCA), knowledge of a particular software, typing, writing, or experience in a particular industry sector.

Since hard skills are specific knowledge and abilities typically backed up with certificates and certifications, people tend to focus more on them. But the reality is that hard skills are inadequate for optimal career advancement. While your hard skills may get your foot in the door, your soft skills are what open most of the doors to come.

If you’re a hard worker who has watched a string of other seemingly less-qualified individuals being promoted ahead of you, what you may not know is that it could be your soft skills—or lack thereof—that could be holding you back from achieving the next level in your professional life.

Soft skills are that important. When they are lacking, the outcome is evident.

For instance, managers with poor people skills can create an unfriendly work environment, which will typically lead to unhappy workers, low productivity, and costly employee turnover.

Similarly, an employee who lacks time management skills can cause unnecessary delays in projects. In many cases, this could cost an organization valuable time or make unhappy customers to leave.

Also an employee who is not assertive can make needless concessions to demanding customers at the expense of the organization.

Outcomes like these highlight the inadequacy of hard skills and make soft skills the determinant factor during reorganization and downsizing.

Ironically, many organizations do not train their employees on soft skills as much as they do on hard skills. The reason is that your organization expects you to know how to behave on the job, like being on time, taking initiative, being friendly, and producing high quality work – typical soft skills.

And truly, you need to have a reasonable level of soft skills to complement your occupational skills. Gone are the days when professionals could hope to achieve sustainable career progress without first cultivating necessary soft skills.

Unfortunately, too many people in professional positions won’t concern themselves with developing their soft skills. For instance, some who have bad interpersonal skills dismiss criticisms of their interaction styles by saying it’s just their personality and they can’t change.

Others feel their on-the-job training has been enough to get them to their current positions and they don’t need soft skills development to advance their career.

However, smart individuals know that hard skills are not sufficient so they continue to develop their soft skills to avoid prematurely reaching a plateau in their career.

To advance in your career, it’s important to start to develop your soft skills now and practise using them at work on a regular basis.

Soft skills revolve around personal relationships, character, and attitude. You can nurture these skills by developing your communication skills, strengthening your interpersonal relationships, and demonstrating enthusiasm and ingenuity in any role you find yourself.

By doing so, you can increase your work performance, build stronger relationships, and ultimately move your career to the next level.


“There’s not one specific thing or skill people have to have to work for us. But I can tell you why we fire people: soft skills. We hire for hard skills. We fire for soft skills. The ability to interact and communicate with others or behave ethically and take responsibility for things tends to be where people tend to break down.”

— Rick Stephens, Senior Vice President of HR, The Boeing Corporation

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