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Hard, soft, and transferable skills - do you know the difference?

Posted on 17/06/2020 by Tracey George MIRP

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This is somewhat going ‘back to basics’ but when we haven’t done that in a while, it can be quite enlightening, noticing detail about our employment history and skills that we have developed along the way. 

Let’s talk about skills; hard skills, soft skills and transferable skills.

It is important to know the difference.

Hard skills – these are broadly life skills that have been gained through work (paid and unpaid) or education.  They are learned skills gained through experience, or by undertaking training and qualifications.  Hard skills are measurable and are often displayed through technical knowledge and commonly linked to particular jobs or professions. Examples – Accounting qualification, data management, German speaking, copywriting.

Soft skills – in contrast to hard skills, soft skills are personality traits and habits that are more innate and unique to us as individuals.  Soft skills are less measurable than hard skills and often relate to how we interact with other people, commonly referred to as ‘people-skills’.  Examples – empathy, teamwork, adaptability, confidence.

Transferable skills – these are more general skills that are often applicable to a variety of jobs and not unique to a specific job or vocation.  These skills are more inter-changeable and flexible, in that you can demonstrate how such skills can be relevant for multiple roles or within different job functional departments.  Examples – negotiations skills, general numeracy skills, problem-solving skills, listening skills, leadership skills and resilience.

Some Top Tips

  • When you write your CV, consider all three skills, many job-seekers typically default to listing only hard skills
  • Particular jobs might require more of one than the other or a balanced blend of all three – do speak with your recruiter, or the hiring manager (if possible) who should be able to talk this through with you if the blend of skills is not clear from the job description
  • Consider each previous role and ensure you have showcased the skills relevant to that job
  • Back up your skills with good examples that are specific and within the context of your duties and responsibilities – it’s easier to think of examples of hard skills, but for soft skills, use the STAR technique to think through your most relevant examples
  • Avoid simply listing generic hard, soft and transferable skills that lack demonstrating the variety of working environments and departments you have gained your experience in
  • If skills are measurable, ensure you elaborate on outcomes and tangible achievements
  • Soft skills are more commonly transferable but hard skills can be too
  • Never underestimate the power of transferable skills, if you think about these skills in the context of the role you are applying for, you might be surprised at just how relevant your previous experience actually is
  • Always consider skills gained from unpaid, voluntary roles
  • One final tip is to ask friends, family and trusted colleagues to tell you what they think your skills are; you will be pleasantly surprised and you might just uncover or realise some skills you didn’t even know you had!

For more advice on CVs, interviews and other career and employability related topics, please visit our website.

Contact us if you would like to talk about your skills and experience and get advice on how you can best showcase this on your CV.