Hard skills qualify you for a job early in your career. Soft skills dictate how high you’ll move up the ladder. In mid-career you need a balance of both. Why the differences?
HARD SKILLS: When in the early part of your career you’ll need a set of hard skills that are translatable into results for which organizations are looking. Unless you can contribute to the hands-on “doing” part of the business, you’ll be disadvantaged. Hard skills are also progressive over time: You’ll need more complex and a higher order of expanding skills. Learn to master your craft first. Without hard skill experiences, your future is dependent upon someone else’s knowledge and know-how (you won’t know if a task is being done correctly).
However, hard skills will only get you so far. Soft skills will get you the rest of the way
SOFT SKILLS: These are the skills that you’ll need as you interact with others. The interaction and communications can be with customers, bosses, subordinates, peers, work groups, shareholders or anyone else that you need to associate, connect, cooperate or negotiate. The soft skills are needed to effectively supervise and then manage people in a cooperative effort. Soft skills may be harder to master because unlike hard skills, there may be no one to give you instructions or provide you with objective feedback on your soft skills.
Senior managers have all learned soft skills at a high level, and they know the questions to ask around hard skills because they’ve already mastered many of the hard skills beforehand.
MID-CAREER: A BALANCE: Once you’ve mastered the hard skills in your function you start interfacing with others to achieve a higher-level result. The greater the dependence you have from others, the greater the need for effective soft skills. The manager of a department or the vice-president of a function can never achieve the results expected by operating as a sole contributor. Collective results are only possible through the combined efforts of others. It’s the soft skills of the manager that will get high performance, not the individual manager’s hard skills.
So what are the steps to accelerate career direction?
- Get as much education and experience in the mastery of a functional field
- Achieve the highest level as an individual contributor, along with as much awards, degrees and certifications as possible
- Receive as much training and development in the knowledge and skills within the art of supervision and the management of people
- Get an advanced degree if possible (MBA) or certification in a broad based application, like PMP (Project Management Professional) Lean Certification (a Black Belt or process management), Forensic Accounting, Logistics, SalesForce, etc…
- Practice your soft skills in all of your personal and professional life. These skills are usable in most all situations.
Hard skills are easier to obtain, but soft skills will move your career to your ultimate goal.
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