Understanding Hard, Soft and Transferable Skills

What skills do you have?  Do you know how to present them during an interview or on your resume?  Do you know what employers are looking for?

Here's the scoop. Employers are looking for 2 types of skills.

  1. Work content or HARD skills that are unique to the occupation, i.e., a Carpenter has specific skills that are very different from an Accountant. Carpenters measure, cut, build. Accountants calculate, audit, analyze.  You get the idea right?
  2. Self-management or SOFT skills are in greater demand than job seekers believe, i.e., teamwork, communication, attitude, reliability. Every employer wants employees to have these skills, and they make hiring decisions based on you having them!  If you ignore them, you will not get hired.

Portable or TRANSFERABLE skills are those HARD and SOFT skills that relate to many occupations, i.e., proficiency with MS Office Suite applications, or the ability to manage time using Outlook, etc.  Some skills are more transferable than others so you need to determine how your skills relate to each new job opportunity.  The challenge is to calculate the degree in which your HARD and SOFT skills transfer.

Task:  Compare your customized resume with the job announcement and see how they match up...do your HARD and SOFT skills transfer?  How many of them relate to the requirements listed in the job announcement?  20% 50%  100%?  The higher the percentage of matching transferable skills, the higher the likelihood of you getting called for an interview!

Senior Moment:  For many 50+ workers, it's not your age that hinders your job search, it's you lacking current skills (which are often computer related) that keeps you from being a top contender for an open position.  This makes it crucial that you research what skills are needed and where you can obtain the training prior to entering the job market.

Here's a must-read article about "soft skills" by Lynda Reeves, Counselor at our North City Campus.


Say what? Let’s start by defining some terms. According to Wikipedia, soft skills refer to the “cluster of personality traits, social graces, and facility with language, personal habits, friendliness, and optimism that mark people to varying degrees.” Simply put, soft skills can be “likeability” or “how well you fit in” factors. Some folks call them “people skills” and others simply think it’s all about attitude. And, whether you like it or not, soft skills are probably going to make or break you in your next job. So then, what are hard skills? These can be the self-taught or acquired, technical skills learned in school, on-the-job, or elsewhere that produce immediate, measurable results. In the first week of the Web Server Maintenance & Security Certificate (WSMS) Program, students learned to integrate new computers into an existing network. That’s a hard skill. It was learned and mastered, and it can be slapped on a resume to “wow” potential employers.

What are Soft Skills? Exactly what are soft skills? Here’s a partial list taken from “The Top 60 Soft Skills at Work” offered by Challa Ram Phan, a certified trainer, facilitator, and career management consultant:

Accountability   Courtesy   Honesty   Reliability   Flexibility   Collaboration   Eye contact   Cooperation   Adaptability

Following instructions   Self-direction   Attitude   Dependability   Personal energry   Integrity   Work ethic   Punctuality   Wanting to do the job

In the Informational Technology field, perhaps these should top the list:

  • Personal chemistry
  • Commitment to life-long learning
  • Relating to co-workers in a close environment
  • Being friendly with fellow employees, supervisors, and customers

Might Some of Your “Soft Skills” Need Softening? The answer is probably yes. Obtaining and/or strengthening soft skills takes on a completely different approach than learning hard skills. Reading books, newspaper articles/ trade journals, and attending conferences/networking mixers will definitely point you in the right direction. Another great place to get started is by mastering material in workshops offered by the Metro and/or South Metro Career Centers such as:

  • Interviewing
  • Salary negotiations
  • Workplace accountability
  • Employee performance reviews
  • Informational interviewing
  • Research strategies

For the super-achievers, joining a local Toastmasters group could be the ticket. Not only will you be guaranteed to strengthen your public speaking skills by leaps and bounds, you’ll also get an instant “networking” group of ~20 new contacts. If joining a Toastmaster’s Club is not up your alley, perusing their website (www.toastmasters.org) may pack just the punch you need. Here you’ll find success stories such as the man who turned his hobby and love for wine into a successful teaching job; tips for public speaking; biggest public speaking mistakes; how visual aids & PowerPoint presentations can best be utilized; what to do when things go wrong; and how to aptly apply humor. For just about all of us, these are definitely learned, not innate skills. According to Jim Clemmer, leadership consultant and author, “Learning the nuances of public speaking is one of the best ways to improve your soft skills. The ability to verbalize, persuade, and influence are tightly interwoven in the work of influencing or relating to others.”

Practice Makes Perfect As with anything in life, a little bit of practice may go a long way. Here are some quick and easy ways to massage and/or keep your soft skills soft: 1. Greet co-workers and/or fellow classmates & instructor by name each day. 2. Show up on time. Return promptly from break. 3. Try to understand and embrace the differences in people most unlike you. Most folks enjoy sharing their cultural background. Ask if they might share. 4. Make someone smile today. 5. Learn the names of everyone in your class. 6. Do something different at your break. Hang out with someone you don’t know. 7. Strike up a conversation with a stranger. 8. Attend a variety of soft-skills strengthening workshops like the ones listed above. 9. Introduce yourself to someone from another class on campus. 10. Join a User’s Group. Good luck in softening up those soft skills. By staying in class, you’ll definitely harden up your hard ones!

by Lynda Reeves