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What hard and soft skills are the most versatile in the workforce?

Hard and Soft Skills

If you’re headed back into the job market after a break or considering changing careers entirely, you may be wondering which of your talents are most valuable in the workforce. Having the right kinds of versatile skills can make it much easier to get hired for the role you’ve been dreaming about.

Keep reading to find out the most transferable skills across industries and how school can prepare you to succeed in the workforce.

What are hard and soft skills?

Every job requires a different blend of expertise. You’ve probably heard of “hard and soft skills” before, but do you know what they actually refer to? Let’s take a closer look at each.

What are hard skills?

Hard skills, sometimes called technical skills, tend to be abilities that can be quantified and demonstrated. These are teachable skills that are typically straightforward to evaluate. You may have picked up these abilities through life experience, tutorials, on-the-job training or in the classroom.

What are soft skills? 

Soft skills are a combination of personal characteristics, traits and habits. They are sometimes harder to assess, but they are no less important than their counterpart. One study even suggests that 57 percent of employers value soft skills more than hard skills. These interpersonal and social abilities are essential for working in teams and getting along well with others. Hard skills that are most versatile in the workplace

Top hard skills employers look for in candidates

Hard skills are an important part of what you bring to the table as an employee. Depending on the work environment and role, your job may require mastery of many technical competencies or just a few. Several hard skills are broadly applicable to jobs across many fields. Let’s discuss a handful of the most important.

1. Being bilingual/multilingual

Bilingualism, or knowing how to read, speak and write in two or more languages, is an incredibly versatile talent in today’s job market. Beyond a position like an interpreter or translator, bilingual and multilingual professionals are needed in plenty of roles across many sectors. The most notable include:

  • Healthcare
  • Customer service
  • Information technology
  • Social work
  • Education

According to a 2017 New American Economy report, employer demand for bilingual workers in the United States more than doubled in the five years prior. This trend is expected to continue to rise, especially for those fluent in Spanish, Mandarin Chinese, Arabic and Vietnamese.

2. Computer skills

Computer skills are some of the most versatile and widely transferable talents you could have. Companies of all kinds, from the smallest startups to the largest enterprises, depend on computer technology to conduct business and solve problems. Whether you’re an accountant, sales manager, engineer or social worker, you’ll probably use some or all of the following skills in your everyday job:

  • Microsoft Office Suite
  • Google Drive
  • Email
  • Database management
  • Fast typing speed/WPM

If you’re looking to set yourself apart with some more advanced capabilities, the following skills are widely sought-after:

  • Troubleshooting problems with hardware and software
  • Installing, maintaining, inspecting and fixing equipment
  • Designing and updating websites
  • Digital graphics
  • Programming languages
    • Java/JavaScript
    • C++
    • Python
    • SQL/MySQL
    • C#

In today’s workplace, computer literacy is useful in nearly every job and industry you can imagine. These competencies are classic examples of technical skills because they are typically mastered via practice and can easily be demonstrated and quantified.

3. Project and event management

Being good at managing complex projects and planning events is another highly valued skill in today’s interconnected workplace. This could include:

  • Working with suppliers, vendors, sub-contractors and other team members
  • Budgeting and forecasting work
  • Managing many moving parts, hitting deadlines and sticking to a schedule
  • Assessing risks and developing mitigation plans

Experience in these areas can be applied to several types of roles, whether you’re executing projects yourself, managing a team or overseeing a process.

Soft skills that are most versatile in the workplace

Soft skills are generally considered to be applicable to any workplace. This is because interpersonal skills are useful in scenarios where person-to-person or group social interactions occur. We already know that “soft” is somewhat of a misnomer, as it implies these skills are somehow less important, which is completely untrue.

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One study conducted by Wonderlic found that 93 percent of hiring leaders said soft skills are an “essential” or “very important” element when making hiring decisions. What’s more, many employers reported that soft skills are more important than technical skills. One reason is because they are much harder to teach.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the soft skills employers find most desirable.

1. Emotional intelligence

Emotional intelligence (EI) is a person’s ability to identify, understand and manage their own emotions and those of the people around them. People with well-developed or high EI skills will find it easier to get along with people in all areas of their life, including the workplace.

Emotional intelligence is especially critical for helping professionals who deliver direct care to their customers, clients, patients or students. This includes:

  • Nurses, nurse practitioners, doctors and administrative staff
  • Educators
  • Retail and sales associates
  • Therapists, counselors, psychologists and psychiatrists

An emotionally intelligent employee consistently demonstrates most or all of the following competencies in their everyday interactions with others:

  • Receiving and giving constructive feedback
  • Voicing concerns or problems with the goal of improving, not blaming
  • Supporting an environment where people can express themselvesRepairing and resolving issues and conflicts in a timely manner

Many people struggle to collaborate in group projects, share how they feel or express how the actions of others have affected them. On a high-performing team, these kinds of communication gaps can quickly snowball into an issue that negatively impacts the entire company.

2. Leadership

The concept of leadership is broad enough to not fit entirely within the “soft skills” category. Yet it can’t be denied that many aspects of being a great leader are interpersonal in nature. Whether you’re the CFO of a huge international company or the manager of a small team, you’ll probably have to juggle administrative, people management and relationship-building responsibilities simultaneously.

Examples of skills for leaders include:

  • Motivating others around a shared vision and mission
  • Delegating tasks and managing the overall progress of a project or team
  • Training and mentoring new team members and/or colleagues
  • Resolving conflicts between coworkers and/or customers

Resilient leadership is more important than ever these days, as companies of all kinds are under pressure to adapt to increasingly volatile conditions. It goes without saying that leaders with a proven track record of success are in high-demand across all industries.

3. Communication

Americans are more connected than ever, thanks to the prominence of the internet, social media and mobile devices. But that doesn’t mean we’re all great communicators. In fact, it’s very common for people to overestimate their own abilities to communicate information effectively.  

In a professional workplace, being a great communicator takes much more than listening quietly and speaking your turn. Knowing when it is best to pick up the phone or arrange a meeting instead of firing off an email is a skill that takes time and sensitivity to develop. Effective communication, whether in person or electronically, requires mastering many overlapping skills, including:

  • Providing and accepting constructive criticism
  • Active listening — trying to understand rather than waiting for your own turn to speak
  • Verbal communication — speaking clearly and succinctly
  • Writing skills

How do you acquire new hard and soft skills?

There are many different ways you can develop new hard and soft skills. Keep in mind that some things can be learned quickly, while others may take weeks, months or even years to become truly proficient.

Here are a few ways to grow your repertoire of versatile skills:

1. College courses (on campus or online)

Going back to school to earn an associate, bachelor’s or post-graduate degree is a great avenue for honing your skills. Whether you choose to attend in-person or online, the right program could be key to changing your life and leveling up your career.

Hesitant about joining a distance learning program? Check out “Is online school hard? Answers to distance learning FAQs” for more info.

Not sure what to look for in a school? Read “The adult learner’s guide to choosing a college” to learn more about your options.

2. Certificate programs

Certificate programs are a great way to pursue continuing education. They can typically be achieved in weeks or months, depending on the type and level of the certification. Before you sign up for a program, however, make sure to do a little research and ensure it is offered by a reputable organization or institution.

3. Learning on the job

One great way to master new skills is to incorporate them into your job. There are many ways to go about this, including making a list of skills you’re interested in learning or challenges you want to take on. Perhaps it’s learning a new computer program or managing a project from start to finish. Then, take the list to your supervisor or someone you look up to at your workplace. They can help you find opportunities for professional development.

4. Teaching yourself

While there are some skills (i.e., social-emotional competencies) that can’t be wholly perfected alone, that still leaves thousands of things you can learn by yourself. As long as you have access to the internet or a library, the sky’s the limit on what you can read, watch, listen to and consume in your quest for knowledge.

The goal is progress, not perfection

It’s clear there are many ways to learn new skills of all kinds. Whether you’re a tech whiz or naturally adept at working with people, there’s always room to improve your hard and soft skills to become the well-balanced professional employers are looking for.

Think of yourself as a constant work in progress, striving to become better at things that are important to you. That kind of attitude will get you far in the workplace and in life. Learn more about ways you can grow in your career in our article “Career development goals: 5 ways to drive your professional life forward.”

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