Hard skills vs soft skills: definitions and differences

Hard skills vs soft skills: definitions and differences
Jobstreet content teamupdated on 09 April, 2024

Job descriptions in Malaysia list certain skills the employer expects from an ideal employee. These usually fall into two categories: hard skills and soft skills. The right abilities can help you outshine others competing for the same position. Read on to understand the differences between hard and soft skills. Then you can see why gaining hard and soft skills is important for growing personally and professionally.

Here's what we'll explore:

What are soft skills?

Soft skills are interpersonal abilities that help you work well with other colleagues. Many relate to how you interact with others, manage your time, and react to various situations.

Soft skills are usually part of your innate personality traits and social skills. But you can develop them through training and practice. Examples of soft skills include teamwork, leadership, and adaptability.

You need soft skills to succeed in the workplace. For example, having a strong ability to communicate can help you convey your ideas effectively to your team. Leadership abilities let you manage your team well and improve productivity.

Soft skills are vital for building healthy relationships with colleagues, employers, and clients. It makes you a good employee, regardless of your position or experience.

Examples of soft skills valued in the workforce

Employers generally value soft skills; 93% of those state that soft skills are essential or very important factors when deciding who to hire.

Some examples of valuable soft skills are:

  • creativity
  • empathy
  • teamwork
  • problem-solving
  • critical thinking
  • adaptability and flexibility
  • organisation
  • integrity
  • effective communication
  • reliability and dependability
  • open-mindedness
  • punctuality
  • time management
  • attention to detail
  • strategic thinking
  • conflict resolution
  • work ethic

What are hard skills?

Hard or technical skills are specific knowledge and abilities you need to perform certain tasks. Some examples of hard skills include video editing, coding, carpentry, and teaching.

If you work in an advertising agency, you will need graphic design skills so you would use software to create social media posts. Or if you're a nurse, you must know how to draw blood. Having the right hard skills helps you perform your duties well.

You usually learn hard skills through education, professional development, and hands-on experience. For example, you may gain programming skills by completing an online boot camp.

You could learn hard skills, such as carpentry, welding, and plumbing, through apprenticeship programmes. Hard skills are easier to quantify and measure than soft skills. Employers will gauge your abilities through skill assessments, certifications, and your portfolio.

Examples of hard skills valued in the workforce

Some hard-skills examples that employers often seek include:

  • data analytics
  • data mining
  • statistical analysis
  • network security
  • knowledge of Adobe software suite
  • user interface design
  • mobile development
  • programming languages, such as Java, Python, Perl, and Ruby
  • SEO or SEM marketing
  • marketing campaign management
  • translation

Which are more important in the workforce: Hard skills or soft skills?

Both hard skills and soft skills are important, and employers look for a mix of them in employees. Hard skills let you complete specific tasks. Soft skills will help you strengthen and apply your hard skills effectively.

Employees with soft skills also contribute to a positive and productive work environment. According to interview responses from Malaysian employers, there's a preference to hire workers with strong soft skills vs hard skills.

Companies may emphasise having hard skills for roles that involve working with equipment, machinery, and software. Some highly technical roles include cloud architects, machine learning engineers, and SEO specialists.

These jobs require specific skill sets and knowledge. So employers may narrow down their list to those who demonstrate highly specialised skills.

Some roles mainly involve working with others; sales, human resources, and coaching are examples. These may place a greater emphasis on soft skills.

Such abilities help you build and strengthen relationships, collaborate with others, and successfully handle interpersonal conflicts.

How to highlight hard skills and soft skills in your resume

Man typing on a laptop in the morning sunrise.

First, identify your top skills and create a list of them. Next, thoroughly review the job description and note the keywords in it.

For example, the job description may say that an ideal employee should know certain programming languages or be able to work in a fast-paced environment. Research the company by visiting its website to understand the characteristics it values in employees.

You could also read reviews of previous or existing employees and any media reports to help you understand the company better.

Last, incorporate the relevant keywords in your resume. You should place them in various sections, such as experience, education, and skills. For example, a job description could state that applicants should know how to use certain accounting software.

You could mention you used it in a university-level project or your previous role. Create two lists under the skills section – one for hard or technical skills and another for soft skills. List your hard skills under each one according to the role's requirements.

Here's a sample resume template showing how to display your hard and soft skills:

[Full name]


[Contact number], [Email address]

[Social media handles]

Professional Summary

[Write two or three sentences summarising your years of professional experience, key accomplishments, top skills, and career goals.]


Hard skills: [Skill] | [Skill] | [Skill] | [Skill] | [Skill]

Soft skills: [Skill] | [Skill] | [Skill] | [Skill] | [Skill]

Work experience

[Job title]

[Company name], [Employment period]

  • [Brief description of your responsibilities or achievements]
  • [Brief description of your responsibilities or achievements]
  • [Brief description of your responsibilities or achievements]

[Job title]

[Company name], [Employment period]

  • [Brief description of your responsibilities or achievements]
  • [Brief description of your responsibilities or achievements]
  • [Brief description of your responsibilities or achievements]

[Job title]

[Company name], [Employment period]

  • [Brief description of your responsibilities or achievements]
  • [Brief description of your responsibilities or achievements]
  • [Brief description of your responsibilities or achievements]



[Name of educational institution], [Year of graduation]

  • [Honours or other academic achievements]
  • [Relevant coursework]
  • [Extracurricular activities or organisations]



[Name of certifying organisation], [Year earned]

How to highlight hard skills and soft skills during an interview

When you get an invitation for an interview, you'll have a chance to showcase your soft skills. You should also explain your hard skills in depth.

Here's how to do this:

  • Provide a more in-depth explanation of your education, training, and experience: Share how you've learned specific hard skills during your courses or projects at a public university, polytechnic, or vocational school. You could use the STAR technique to explain how you've learnt and applied relevant hard skills at internships and past jobs.
  • Show your portfolio: Portfolios are especially important for creative roles, such as model, photographer, writer, graphic designer, artist, and videographer. You could prepare a physical or digital portfolio to show on a portable device.
  • Answer technical questions: For roles such as cybersecurity specialist or mathematician that require specialised knowledge, the employer may test your ability to use certain software or ask you to solve problems. To excel in this segment, spend time preparing for skills tests by reviewing sample questions online.
  • Ask follow-up or clarifying questions: Demonstrate your hard skills by asking specific questions about the role, such as the content management system the team is using. This will highlight your knowledge and show that your hard skills are current.
  • Understand the company's current situation: You could ask about its latest projects or long-term goals. Share how you will contribute with your hard skills or how you plan to build skills through further education, like getting a master's or a certificate from a government-sponsored program like (Malaysian Skills Certification)SKM and training.

Here are some ways to prove your soft skills during the interview:

  • Arrive early to the interview: This is an excellent way to show you're punctual and dependable. This would help the employer to feel confident that you'll be a reliable employee.
  • Show enthusiasm: Employers want to hire someone excited about working for the company and are passionate about their work. Your responses and body language show your excitement and enthusiasm about the position.
  • Don't interrupt the interviewer: Allowing the interviewer to finish talking highlights your active listening skills. It also shows that you're respectful towards others.
  • Give real-life examples of collaborative work with former colleagues: When sharing your experiences, include examples of how you worked as part of a team or resolved conflicts. This will show your collaboration and interpersonal skills.

How to develop soft skills at work

Business group in conversation

Start strengthening your soft skills by following these tips:

  • Communicate often: Communicate through different means, such as face-to-face conversations, emails, and presentations. Think about your tone of voice, body language, and message. Look at how others communicate and adapt your communication style to each work relationship.
  • Get out of your comfort zone: Challenge yourself to learn new soft skills or strengthen your existing ones. For example, if you tend to be indecisive or afraid of conflicts, take a leadership position to develop leadership skills and improve your decision-making and ability to settle disagreements.
  • Be more observant of those around you: Think about what you like and don't like about how others communicate, respond to conflict, and handle their duties. For example, you may like how your manager gives you constructive feedback before pointing out your mistakes. Or you may dislike that a colleague asks intrusive, personal questions.
  • Be proactive in working with others: Approach your colleagues for help when you face challenges at work. Contribute actively during team meetings. These can help you develop your teamwork skills.

Soft skills may be harder to measure and quantify than hard skills. This is because there are no concrete benchmarks or universal evaluation standards.

Still, you can track your progress by asking your manager and colleagues for regular feedback. This can help you gauge how you've improved in your teamwork and interpersonal skills and identify areas for further growth.

Soft skills can be challenging to develop because it requires time and risk-taking. Some soft skills may also be hard to acquire due to your personality. For example, if you're naturally shy, it may take a lot of effort and time before you become a successful public speaker.

How to develop hard skills at work

Here are some tips to acquire new hard skills:

  • Get feedback and constructive criticism: Ask your superior how you can improve your work. For example, if you're a writer, your employers may mention that you need to vary your word choice and be more concise.
  • Enrol in a course: Sign up for in-person or online courses to keep up to date with your technical skills. For example, you may take a course to learn about the latest video editing techniques.
  • Get a certification or pursue higher education: Find out what hard skills you need to advance in your career. For example, you may pursue a Master of Nursing Science to acquire advanced nursing skills.
  • Practise regularly: Practising your hard skills can help you increase your speed and proficiency. If you're a carpenter, you can learn to make more advanced joints and become more precise in your measurements with continued practice.

Strengthen your existing hard skills by practising and applying feedback. Take advantage of online learning platforms to acquire and improve your hard skills. You can also subscribe to digital magazines like My.IT Magazine and podcasts to stay current.

Applying hard skills and soft skills in the workplace

As you strengthen your hard and soft skills, apply them in professional settings. For example, learn the latest SEO techniques through an online course, then devise strategies to increase traffic to your company's website.

Use your recently acquired leadership skills to mentor new employees. Display your skills in resumes and job interviews, and back them up with accomplishments.

By demonstrating your ability to handle stressful situations, manage conflicts successfully, and perform highly specialised tasks, you can advance to higher positions.

Wrapping up

Even though there are significant differences between hard skills vs soft skills, you need both to achieve personal and professional success.

A hard skill helps you perform specific tasks, whereas a soft skill helps you work effectively with your employers and colleagues. Displaying both on your resume and demonstrating them during your job interview can help you secure your ideal position.

Assess your skill set and identify which hard and soft skills you need to develop.


Here are answers to frequently asked questions about hard skills vs soft skills:

  1. Why are soft and hard skills important?
    ⁠You need both soft and hard skills to communicate and collaborate with your colleagues effectively and perform your job responsibilities. Having a mix of both helps you be productive and contribute positively to the work environment.
  2. How can I balance the development of soft skills and hard skills in my career?
    ⁠Make a list of hard skills vs soft skills you want to develop. Come up with strategies to improve each of them. This may remind you to actively work on both types of skills.
  3. What role do soft skills play in leadership and management positions?
    ⁠Soft skills are vital in leadership and management positions. For example, you need interpersonal skills to deal with a team member who has a poor work ethic. You require strong communication skills to brief the team on a project and assign responsibilities.
  4. Are soft skills or hard skills more important?
    ⁠Both hard and soft skills are important to employers. But for some roles, you may need to have hard skills to perform the job. For example, you'd need proficiency in data analysis software to be a data analyst. Employers may prioritise soft skills more in roles that mainly involve working with others, such as an account manager.
  5. How can I effectively communicate my soft skills on my resume and during interviews?
    ⁠Emphasise how you worked in a team on projects, and highlight any awards you received from the company. You can also point out your negotiation and persuasion skills by sharing how you secured contracts with clients.

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