Career advancement: The inadequacy of hard skills

hard skillsTo get and keep a job, you typically need hard skills. For example, Dentists need to know how to fill cavities, Computer Programmers need to be able to write functional codes, and Accountants need to be certified.

However, beyond the hard skills, which dentist do you go to? The one who is pleasant and takes time to answer your questions; or the one who treats you like a number in a long line of numbered mouths?

Which programmer do you retain when the economy is down? The one whose attitude is positive and upbeat, and who is always willing to help; or the one who is inflexible and has a hard time admitting mistakes?

Likewise, think about accountants. The one who has a great work ethic, listens actively, and encourages his colleagues is the one who will, most likely, excel in his position and organization.

In these situations, and all the others like them, it’s the soft skills that matter. Soft skills are personal attributes that enable you to interact effectively and harmoniously with other people. Also known as people skills, examples include your communication skills, attitude, business etiquette, work ethic, ability to handle crises, and even the way you carry yourself.

Hard skills are the technical expertise and skill sets you need to complete your tasks at work. In other words, they are your knowledge and occupational skills. Examples of hard skills include an accountancy certification (like ACCA), typing, writing, knowledge of a particular software, or experience in a particular industry sector.

Since hard skills are specific knowledge and abilities typically backed up with certificates and certifications, people tend to focus more on them for career advancement. Even organizations provide more training for hard skills than they do for soft skills.

But you should not misconstrue your organizations’ apparent emphasis on hard skills. The reality is that hard skills are inadequate for optimal career advancement .

The reason your organization seem to train more on hard skills is because they expect people to know how to behave on the job, like being on time, taking initiative, being friendly, and producing high quality work – typical soft skills.

Thus hard skills are necessary but not sufficient skills for career advancement. While your hard skills may get your foot in the door, your soft skills are what open most of the doors to come. Hence, even though, the importance of soft skills is often undervalued, they are critical for career advancement and eventually makes the difference.

If you’re a hard worker who has watched a string of other seemingly less-qualified individuals being promoted ahead of you, what you may not know is that it could be your soft skills—or lack thereof—that could be holding you back from achieving the next level in your professional life.

Gone are the days when professionals could hope to move into management roles without first cultivating people or self-management skills. For one thing, a manager with poor soft skills who lacks the ability to handle his subordinates with tact could leave a company open to lawsuits.

An employee with poor soft skills is also a financial liability for a number of reasons. A manager who lacks time management skills can cause unnecessary delays in projects. In many cases, this could cost an organization valuable time or cause unhappy customers leave.

Managers with poor soft skills can also create an unfriendly work environment, which will typically lead to unhappy workers and costly employee turnover.

Unfortunately, too many people in professional positions won’t concern themselves with getting more training, especially in areas that involve soft skills. For instance, some who have bad people skills dismiss criticism of their interaction styles by saying it’s just their personality and they can’t change.

Others feel their on-the-job training has been enough to get them to their current positions and they don’t need soft skills training to advance their careers.

However, smart individuals know that they can benefit greatly from continued training in the area of soft skills to complement their technical prowess. They know that reaching a plateau in their career can be frustrating and demoralizing. Hence they prevent it by proactively developing their soft skills.

If you wish to advance in your career, it’s crucial to start to develop soft skills now and practice using them at work on a regular basis. Your superiors will take note of your efforts, which will ultimately mean your name is at the top of the list when it comes time for promotion.

One way you can learn to improve or develop your soft skills while working is to take self-paced online courses in areas that involve soft skills, or perhaps even go back to school on a part-time basis for a degree in business management. In either case, you will be provided with valuable and effective tools for dealing with others and for self-management, which could help prepare you for ultimately moving to the next level in your career.

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