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Hard skills or soft skills: which take precedence during recruitment?

Recruiters appear to be paying more and more attention to soft skills. But do hard skills now play the supporting role? Read on for a brief breakdown of these two types of professional skills and their respective importance in the recruitment process.



Hard skills and soft skills: what are they?


Professional skills include knowledge, know-how, interpersonal skills and physical abilities. To classify them, we generally use two main categories: hard skills and soft skills.


→Hard skills: technical and job-specific


Hard skills are also known as “technical skills”. They include operational know-how and capabilities generally associated with a particular profession or line of business.


Related: Occupation, job, position: what’s the difference?



Soft skills: personal and interpersonal qualities


Soft skills refer to “non-technical” skills, mainly interpersonal and personal qualities. They primarily cover the worker’s attributes, such as independence and adaptability, and social skills, such as negotiation and networking.


Soft skills are cross-functional by nature: they are not exercised solely in a particular profession.


Related: What’s a skill?



Recruitment: what kind of skills do recruiters look for?


In practice, recruiters look at both hard and soft skills during recruitment. But depending on the stage of the hiring process, the relative importance of each varies.


→ Hard skills: still a decisive factor in the selection of applicants


More tangible and therefore easier to determine, hard skills are traditionally used to define the scope of a job and to structure the workforce within organizations. So it’s mostly this type of skill that we find in job descriptions and job offers.


Recruiters are generally very attentive to applicants’ technical skills in the early stages of the recruitment process. It’s based on these skills – particularly as revealed by the degrees and work experience listed on their CVs – that they are shortlisted for interviews.


However, though the CV remains a key tool in the first stages of recruitment, the rapid evolution of technical skills linked to economic change and technological progress generate a new need for skills that are more difficult to identify on paper: soft skills.


Good to know:

Today, nearly 90% of job offers mention soft skills (on average four per ad).


Related: How to diagnose a skill gap in a company? (Part 1)



Soft skills: a major factor of differentiation


Soft skills are now recognized as key skills that enable us to cope with changes in the professional world. They have become major factors of differentiation for people’s employability and careers. Indeed, personal and interpersonal skills tell recruiters which candidate will best meet expectations within an organization – and find fulfillment there.


However, soft skills are broader and more intangible and therefore more difficult to identify during the recruitment process. They can be deduced from the study of candidates’ CVs, but it is generally during interviews that the recruiter can truly take the measure of them.


Indeed, interviews enable recruiters to test candidates’ soft skills by:


  • checking that their attitude is in line with their self-presentation
  • digging into their work experience to better understand them
  • observing their state of mind and their ability to react.



In short, hard skills are essential for shortlisting applicants. But other qualifications being equal, it is generally the soft skills that make a candidate stand out and that play the decisive part in the recruiter’s final choice.


Related : Skills-based hiring: a solution to talent shortages?



→ Good to know

According to the Boostrs survey on “The importance of soft skills in the job market”, eight soft skills are now considered essential for any job:


  • oral communication
  • written communication
  • time management
  • decision making
  • teamwork
  • adaptability
  • analytical skills
  • independence


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Illustration credits: https://www.istockphoto.com/fr/portfolio/z_wei