Soft vs hard skills: How to evaluate and weigh each

March 22, 2022 Updated: September 28, 2023 5 min read

Effective recruitment involves more than just identifying candidates with the necessary technical skills—it also requires discovering each candidate’s personality and work ethos to ensure cultural fit. And it’s the latter that can present a significant challenge in recruiting.

While hard skills—often tied to education, training, and past work experience—are easier to identify, soft skills are far less concrete. Linked to an individual’s characteristics and personality traits, soft skills are highly subjective and tricky to pin down.

But both skills are vitally important—and it’s the right blend of hard and soft skills that separates good candidates from great ones.

So how can hiring teams effectively—and objectively—identify and evaluate both hard and soft skills of candidates? In this post, we’ll take a closer look at just that.

What are soft skills?

Soft skills are also sometimes called people skills or interpersonal skills. They’re also quite subjective, which makes these kinds of skills harder to quantify for employers because they’re more to do with each candidate’s individual personality traits than any definable skill sets.  

These character traits—when all pulled together—shape how each candidate works, both on their own and within a team. While some soft skills, like time management, can be learned or refined, others—like empathy—are more innate.   

Common examples of soft skills

While soft skills encompass a huge range of emotional, behavioral, and social skills, some common soft skill competencies relevant to the workplace include:

  • Flexibility
  • Time management abilities
  • Adaptability
  • Effective communication skills
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Problem solving
  • Collaboration
  • Creativity
  • Leadership skills
  • Strong work ethic

What are hard skills?

Hard skills are teachable abilities—making them easier to quantify than soft skills. They’re also sometimes called technical skills. Candidates typically learn these job-specific skills through training and education, meaning you should be able to identify plenty of examples of hard skills when reviewing a candidate’s resume. 

In addition to being linked to formal education, hard skills can also be gained through professional development activities such as industry-recognized qualifications, on the job training, technical training, work experience, online courses, and more.

Common examples of hard skills

The types of hard skills that recruiters look for in new hires will vary depending on the position and the specific knowledge required to succeed in that position, but may include things like:

  • Programming 
  • Foreign language skills
  • Accounting skills
  • Technical knowledge 
  • Search Engine Optimization (SEO) marketing 
  • Data analytics
  • DEIB training  

Which type of skill is most important to a recruiter?

When looking to hire top talent, most recruiters will be looking for candidates who demonstrate a mix of both soft and hard skills. For each role, there will be specific skills within each of these categories that are more important than others. 

It can be argued that soft skills are overall more important to a recruiter—and that’s because they’re harder to teach and sometimes impossible to quantify. How do you assess a candidate’s level of patience, or their ability to genuinely empathize with other team members? These are tricky things to pinpoint objectively. As a result, discovering the differences between the soft skills of each applicant can be quite a challenge. A recent LinkedIn report found that while 80 percent of talent professionals recognize the importance of soft skills, 57 percent still struggle to accurately assess these traits.  

When it comes to hard skills, new employees can often be trained. If they don’t know how to use a specific computer program your company relies on? No problem. Schedule some training sessions and they’ll probably soon become proficient. But soft skills are a lot more difficult to learn. 

That’s one of the reasons—while recruiters will be looking for a hybrid blend of skills—that soft skills often take the upper hand. Soft skills are also essential to job success. In fact, one study concluded that a staggering 85 percent of job success comes from having well-developed soft skills, while the remaining 15 percent comes from hard skills.

Evaluating a candidate’s hard and soft skills

A critical part of a recruiter’s role is evaluating and assessing each candidate’s hard and soft skills throughout the hiring process. Doing so makes it easier to identify which candidates have the right blend of technical skills and interpersonal skills that will help them flourish and succeed at your company.  

Important hard skills are easier to identify during the first selection rounds, especially if the hiring manager has crafted a job description that lists the types of skills required for the role. Job applicants who meet the requirements will usually make it to the next selection round.    

The interview process is a better time to drill down deeper into a candidate’s soft skills. Using an interview scorecard can be an excellent tool when assessing each candidate. Not only do these scorecards make it easier for the hiring team to collect the relevant information, but they also mean each candidate’s skills can be compared using an objective system. This is far better than relying on a gut feeling. Using a standardized and inclusive interview process also means it’s less likely that unconscious bias will influence the decisions of a hiring team.  

Finding the right balance in candidates

Recruiters shouldn’t have to choose between hard skills or soft skills. After all, the best candidates possess both. The key is finding the right balance of these skills to suit the specific job and workplace requirements.  

In years past, many recruiters tended to focus on hard skills. If a candidate had all the right qualifications for the job then they were hired. It didn’t matter if they lacked empathy for their colleagues, or didn’t have enough patience to allow others to finish their sentences. Thankfully—those days are gone.

Today, the balance has tipped and the importance of soft skills is given the priority it deserves. Many hiring teams will now focus on the soft skills of each candidate first. That means it’s vital that recruiting teams have an objective method of quantifying these skills which are traditionally hard to define on paper.  

Luckily, interview intelligence platforms like Clovers offer an equitable way for recruiters to evaluate candidates’ skills. In addition to offering a set of standardized questions, these AI-powered platforms offer the ability to view a recording and transcript of each candidate’s answers, helping ensure everyone is evaluated fairly and consistently. Implementing a system like this can help interviewers ask insightful questions to uncover each candidate’s unique blend of hard and soft skills. And once that system of objective assessment is in place, it’s far easier to make an informed decision on which candidate will be the best fit for your company.   

Discover a better way to assess candidates’ skills

Schedule a demo to learn how Clovers’ AI-powered video interviewing technology can help you objectively assess the soft skills of your candidates and hire the right-fit talent for every role, every time. 

Jackie White headshot

Jackie brings over a decade of HR technology experience to Clovers. She’s passionate about helping companies build talented and diverse (dream) teams and delivering an incredible hiring experience to everyone involved.

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