Digital Expert, Founder and Head of Business Development at Atom online university.
Looking through materials on the topic of hard and soft skills, most often you stumble upon articles about their comparison or opposition. Usually, there is much less information on their simultaneous development, — although developed soft skills only increase the level of professional competencies.
How do you cultivate hard and soft skills at the same time and achieve career success? Sergey Khorunzhiy, a digital marketing expert, founder, and director of business development at the online Ukrainian university Atom, shares his thoughts in this article.
A recent Harvard University study showed that the highest increase in employment and wages have been in positions requiring advanced communication and analytical skills from employees. We live in a digital economy era that makes us find equally good solutions for their duties and effectively communicate with different people. And in a constantly changing environment, the ability to be flexible becomes super valuable. This is where the balance between soft and hard skills lies.
Professional competencies are divided into soft (flexible) skills and hard (stable) skills. It all starts with personal skills that help to cope with life and work. This is not something you can effortlessly gain after training. Soft skills are formed in childhood and developed in a personality throughout life. They are useful in all fields. At the very least, everyone needs to find a common language with colleagues, regardless of their specialty — and this is one of the manifestations of soft skills.
Hard skills are required knowledge for performing specific tasks in a particular position. For instance, one of the main hard skills for a designer is the ability to work with graphic editors, and for a software developer - the ability to code. All fields need the knowledge of a basic theory, essential at the beginning of a career and in the future. Just as a doctor will not be able to treat a patient without knowledge of anatomy and physiology, a marketer will not make a business recognizable on the Internet without understanding the specifics of the product, needs of the target audience, and ability to set up promotion through Facebook / Instagram advertising accounts.
The level of hard skills can be checked using a test assignment or by a portfolio review. A diploma of higher or secondary specialized education, or certificate of completion of training, also emphasizes the availability of knowledge and skills necessary for work. Soft skills are usually not documented.
How, for example, can you check the self-organization, time management, and managerial abilities of an employee? Only by immersing the person into a working atmosphere. Over time, alone or in a team, he will show his soft skills.
Soft skills were first talked about in the United States in the 1960s. Back then, the local armed forces noticed that the success of different groups of soldiers more often depends on the control method of their commander, and only then on the dexterity of using military equipment. Subsequently, the American army allocated separate budgets for the study and development of soft skills. Everything that is not related to working with technology was attributed to these skills. In business and management, the term came to prominence only in the late 90s.
In the 21st century, countless more managers became interested in soft skills. There was a growing need, not only for experienced professionals but also for employees with developed empathy, rhetorical skills, and the ability to get along with the team.
IT and the digital industry are developing rapidly. Today, you may be well-versed in one technology, and in a month you may need to know a new one. The knowledge gained at university is quickly becoming obsolete. That is how the concept of life-long learning burst into the world. The employee who can master complex material in a short time and effectively use knowledge in practice will be in demand. Dozens of top companies are ready to compete for an employee who feels organic in new, unusual conditions, and at the same time, can find non-standard solutions to problems. After all, such a person will bring any project to a new level.
Together with researchers from the Carnegie Endowment, scientists from Harvard and Stanford Universities found out that soft skills are 85% of success in the profession while hard skills account for 15%. Experts advise universities to include soft skills development programs in their curricula.
Most modern universities, especially state ones, do not teach us how to study but only provide theory in certain disciplines. These are hard skills that might be useful in the future only with some degree of probability since we do not often work in our major. Therefore, it is imperative to find and maintain soft skills that are valuable in any profession.
In 2020, LinkedIn experts ranked the key-professional and personal skills that recruiters often look for in candidates. These abilities are possessed by social media users hired to the highest positions through LinkedIn. Blockchain is the leader in paying attention to hard skills. Other significant technical skills include a deep understanding of cloud computing, UX design, and working with artificial intelligence.
In sales and marketing, the demand is high for specialists with experience in business analysis, targeting, and video production. Soft skills include creativity, persuasion, teamwork, and adaptation to new working conditions.
High emotional intelligence (understanding other people's emotions and experiences) is also appreciated by many employers. The ideal candidate is the one who combines all of the listed qualities.
There are several ways to develop hard and soft skills . The first is to find a mentor in the chosen direction. Communication with an experienced pro who is ready to share life hacks is much better than endlessly studying textbooks and watching videos about motivation and career growth. It will be much more productive to simultaneously develop all the skills necessary for work, relying on the feedback of a specialist.
The second method is to find an educational program that combines the development of hard and soft skills. This is what happens today in digital professions. In this field, that result which is visible in the first weeks of training is more important than ever. There is a new approach to building a curriculum; theory, practice, and motivation - with such a foundation, a graduate will become a highly qualified specialist in demand in the market. As a result, the learning outcome is measured by decent earnings.
The education process should be organized in a way that the student understands the need for certain material and can immediately apply the knowledge in practice. When it is formed according to the ladder of growth principle, each subsequent lesson will be useful. The student will not get bored or quit studying. And, the more that game elements, serial methods, and open storylines are connected to the classes, the easier the material is assimilated. With regular interactive learning, it becomes more interesting. That is the way to develop hard and soft skills effectively.
Let's take an educational program in targeting as an example
From the soft skills side, we learn the methodology - we highlight the priority topics and the expected result at the end of the module. We set ourselves immediate and final goals.
As for the hard skills, we learn the basics of traffic, marketing, and marketing tools to attract buyers for different businesses. From the first lessons, students already have a basic checklist of terms and can start promoting brands on the Internet. Understanding the structure of the sales funnel, customer touchpoints, and customer journey management are also hard skills. This knowledge is necessary to track advertising sources and build an effective promotion strategy. Students then create their product line of five key-products: lead magnet, starter, core product, profit maximizer, and maximum product. At this stage, the soft skills are the ability to hear and understand the needs of the audience, the ability to negotiate with the customer, and to convince him of the justified cost of the provided services.
Experts from the McKinsey Global Institute predict that in ten years the greatest attention will be given to the technical knowledge of job seekers. But to thrive in Industry 4.0, professionals will also need stronger soft skills.
Competent employers today value employees for their ability to easily cooperate with partners and work well in a team. Even amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and the massive shift to teleworking in a global sense, this approach has not changed.
On the contrary, in the virtual world, all these skills are even more significant at all management levels. Some teams had to re-learn how to connect online. Some have completely rebuilt their company's business model and hired new employees. In the coming years, the need for professionals who can work effectively online will grow.
Today, adaptability has come to the fore. Together with a solid technical background, the ability to adapt to changes has become even more essential. Regardless of age, curiosity, and a sincere desire to learn is crucial, not only in a narrow professional environment but also in life.
A well-rounded person is an interesting interlocutor. He perfectly understands himself and others knows how to empathize, and is always open to something new.
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