10 Minutes of reading
Hard skills: definition and examples
When we talk about skills, the main distinction that people make tends to be between hard skills and soft skills. The difference between the two seems fairly straightforward: hard skills are the technical skills required to perform a role, whereas soft skills are the people skills required to perform a role. However, it’s not always quite so clear cut. Take project management, for example. Does this rely on hard skills or soft skills? As we’ll see, this isn’t the only instance where hard and soft skills overlap.
Nonetheless, employers still like to use these two distinct skills categories when searching for new recruits, and both categories can prove useful. Soft skills, in particular, have risen in popularity since the onset of the pandemic, given that they are easily transferable.
In this context, are hard skills always essential when it comes to starting a job or changing career path? Have hard skills become obsolete, or are they more important than ever? Rise Up has the answers.
What are hard skills?
Hard skills: definition
Hard skills refer to the technical skills required to perform a given role. In other words, they refer to the aptitudes and abilities specific to one profession or another. For example, a web developer needs to know how to do computer programming; without this ability, they wouldn’t be able to perform their role to the required standard.
Hard skills are acquired through formal study as well as through professional experience. Defined as measurable, quantifiable and verifiable, these technical skills refer to the specific abilities that enable someone to perform a role or task. In this sense, they are context-specific and activity-bound. However, there’s a bit more to it than that.
Another dimension that we often associate with hard skills and professional skills is durability. Essentially, once you know how to use a piece of software or operate a machine, you can’t lose that ability. Having said that, while you’ll theoretically possess that skill for the rest of your career, you may not always use it forever. For example, what is a popular programming language today might not be so popular in, say, five years time. In this sense, hard skills can become outdated and often need refreshing.
What are the different categories of hard skills?
Hard skills can be divided into two main categories: transferable skills and job-specific skills.
Transferable skills are skills that can be easily applied to different jobs and sectors. They include skills that can be transferred between jobs within the same sector (e.g., coding skills can be applied to various professions in the IT sector). Either way, the idea is that these skills can be taken from one area and applied to another.
A good example of a transferable hard skill is being able to speak a foreign language. This skill is essential for anyone working as a language teacher, tourist guide or translator. A perfect command of grammar and strong writing skills are just some of the sub-skills that make up this transferable hard skill.
These refer to hard skills that are specific to a certain profession. There are plenty of examples of these. In order to pilot a plane, airline pilots need to achieve the standard accreditation, known as Flight Crew Licencing (FCL). Moreover, a key hard skill for a warehouse worker would be the ability to operate a forklift truck at a logistics centre. Surgeons, meanwhile, need to be able to put their knowledge of medical procedures into practice.
Examples of hard skills by sector
Hard skills in the IT sector
These range from being able to use office automation, being proficient in one or several programming languages, designing websites, and using desktop publishing or photo editing software, among others.
Hard skills in digital marketing
Here are the key technical skills required in digital marketing:
- digital marketing strategy development;
- social media management;
- digital editing;
- proficiency in specific tools, such as to implement online advertising campaigns or analyse website traffic;
Hard skills in the engineering sector
The role of an engineer is based on two core skills: the ability to draw on specialised scientific and technical resources, and a knowledge of a broad scope of basic science.
Hard sales skills
Mastering sales techniques, being able to use a CRM (Customer Relationship Management) tool and knowing how to engage in effective social selling (selling via social media) are all essential hard skills in sales.
Hard skills vs soft skills
So, what is the difference between hard and soft skills? Whereas hard skills refer to technical know-how, soft skills refer to interpersonal and behavioural skills. Working well in a team, having strong analytical abilities, being a good communicator, and demonstrating adaptability, creativity and sociability are just some of the soft skills sought after by employers.
When we employ these examples, the hard skills / soft skills distinction seems an obvious one. However, it’s worth noting that these two distinct skill sets do in fact overlap. Certain soft skills can be learned through academic study and measured against an industry standard. Negotiation and project management, for instance, fall under this category. Moreover, like hard skills, soft skills can be durable; someone who is a good communicator won’t lose that ability over time. Lastly, soft skills can also be transferable: critical thinking or time management are just a couple of soft skills that can prove useful across a number of different sectors.
So, should candidates and employees prioritise hard skills or soft skills? Rather than choosing one or the other, the most valuable candidates and employees combine the two. This mix of hard and soft skills is what really makes them stand out on the job market as well as within organisations. In fact, soft skills can help to reinforce hard skills, improve employee performance and facilitate professional mobility.
How important are hard skills to the recruitment process?
The significance of hard skills for recruiters
Recruiters have been keeping a close eye on soft skills for several years now. In fact, the post-Covid era we find ourselves in – marked by greater job mobility and a widespread desire to change career path – is leading employers to afford soft skills greater importance.
At the same time, hard skills are becoming less valuable in the eyes of recruiters, given that they can become outdated quite quickly. From automation and digitalisation to evolutions in the fields of data and artificial intelligence, the world of work is changing, which means that certain jobs are disappearing while others are only just being created. The consequence of this is that certain hard skills are becoming obsolete and have a shelf life of just a few years or shorter.
In this context, can we talk about the planned obsolescence of hard skills? Some would say yes, without a shadow of a doubt. In the IT sector in particular, technologies tend to evolve rapidly, meaning that the skills required five years ago are no longer relevant now.
However, this doesn’t mean that hard skills are useless or disregarded completely by recruiters. Quite the opposite, in fact! As the pace of technological change accelerates, many skills are becoming rare and extremely niche. As we’ve seen with the post-pandemic job market boom, this has led to there being a shortage of candidates in certain sectors. Talented employees with highly specialised hard skills, such as in cloud computing or cyber security, are particularly sought-after by recruiters.
What are the most in-demand hard skills?
The most sought-after hard skills are actually very diverse. There are both transferable hard skills as well as job-specific hard skills. Here are the most sought-after ones:
- various IT skills, including a command of programming languages and a grounding in cloud technology, along with an ability to analyse and segment data, develop artificial intelligence, and understand and apply UX methodologies, to mention but a few;
- editing skills: an excellent command of English and an ability to communicate clearly and effectively;
- sales skills, in particular a good command of sales techniques and an ability to undertake insightful business analytics using tools such as a CRM;
- technical and engineering design;
- automation tools;
- project management;
- proficiency in one or several foreign languages.
How can candidates showcase their hard skills?
If you’re a candidate looking for a job, it’s important to clearly present your hard skills on your CV. Recruiters will go over these with a fine-tooth comb to check that your skills as an applicant align with the technical requirements of the role.
The best strategy is to pepper your CV with hard skills to ensure that the employer is made fully aware of them. It’s also useful to mention the key hard skills you possess in your tagline. You can then list them later on in a dedicated section, such as “professional skills”, alongside your core soft skills, which should complement the hard skills you’ve listed. Describing your professional experience will also allow you to showcase the hard skills you’ve developed.
Lastly, if you can speak a foreign language (or several), it’s a good idea to include this in a separate section and indicate your level of proficiency; you might want to refer to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CECRL), which ranges from A1 for beginners up to C2 for native-level speakers.
How can employers address hard skills gaps?
To support companies and training organisations, Rise Up has developed a proven and effective training solution. Rise Up Content offers a wide range of off-the-shelf training aimed at improving hard skills.
With Rise Up Content, employees can enrol on engaging and flexible training modules via their organisation’s LMS platform. The training content covers a broad range of hard skills to help respond to each employee’s training needs and overcome each organisation’s respective challenges.
The training available includes modules on:
- office automation and digital tools: Excel, Microsoft 365, Facebook, etc.;
- foreign languages, such as French and Spanish;
- law: GDPR;
- safety and security: occupational health and safety, information security;
- sales skills: strategic marketing, cold calling, social media marketing, etc.;
Hard skills: key takeaways
Regardless of the type of company or sector of activity, hard skills remain essential and will continue to remain essential for prospective and existing employees. The most valued employees and candidates will be the ones who possess key soft skills that strategically complement their hard skills.