Advice to graduating students: Balancing Hard and Soft Skills.
Posted on August 9th, 2021

By Dr. Gamini Padmaperuma, PhD

Background

Graduating from a university or any higher educational institution marks a very important milestone in one’s life. It is a very significant event not only for the graduate but also for the family members and well-wishers who supported the student during the studies, morally, financially and otherwise. Studying for a degree is an endeavor involving heavy investment of time and money, great sacrifices and many opportunities gained and lost.

With such a great investment of time and money, and sacrifices, one is expected to be successful in the years after graduation by getting a rewarding employment, providing mental satisfaction and happiness to him and to all those who supported him. 

What sort of advice can the seniors with life time experiences provide to graduating students so that they could derive appropriate rewards for their years long strenuous efforts? We often hear, and some of us have actually experienced that how the non-availability of timely advice has hindered progress of many graduates.

Based on experiences of those who have gone through this process (through the mill) during their careers, many advices can be generated. It is difficult to address all the areas that a graduating student should pay attention to in preparation for the next phase of their career, employment, in a short article such as this. However, this article intends to cover a few important aspects relating to the skills that a graduate should possess and sharpen to lead a successful professional career.

Required Skills

It is recognized that for a graduate to secure a job and keep it, certain skills need to be acquired and maintained. These skills are known as Hard Skills and Soft Skills. It is also established that a good balance of the two types of skills is a prerequisite for a successful career. The actual balance between the two types of skills necessary to be successful could depend on the type of business you are in, the level of the corporate ladder you are placed at, etc. What are the hard skills and soft skills?

Hard Skills

These are the core skills that graduates primarily gain through their education and training at their academic institutions. These skills would vary from profession to profession or business to business. They can include skills such as engineering design, accounting strategies, computer programming, clinical diagnosis, criminal investigation, legal analysis, etc. These are the skills required to carry out the core business of an organization and to get the job done. Hard skills are teachable and measurable. In practice however, it is proven that the hard skills alone are not sufficient to run a business successfully or a graduate to be professionally successful. A set of soft skills is also needed.

Soft Skills

Soft Skills are also known as People Skills or Interpersonal Skills. They are not easily teachable as compared to hard skills. Soft skills are similar to emotions or insights that allow people to ‘read’ others. Most of the soft skills are learned through practice and experience. They are much harder to be measured and evaluated. What are the types of soft skills that graduates need to acquire and maintain?

Following is a list of some common soft skills that most of the young graduates need to acquire and practise:

  • Communication Skills
  • Flexibility
  • Dependability
  • Teamwork
  • Work Ethics
  • Positivity
  • Time Management
  • Problem Solving
  • Critical Thinking
  • Conflict Resolution
  • Project Planning

There are many more soft skills. The above is a representative list of soft skills that are more relevant to day-to-day work. It is important for the fresh graduates to be aware of the importance of these skills and learn them and practise. The graduates will start realizing that their services are better valued by peers and seniors as they begin to complement their hard skills with more and more soft skills. The important point is that most of these skills which one learns and sharpens during their employment can be transferred to any future jobs. The recruiters usually look for and value the transferable skills that a prospective employee could bring into a new job, from their prior experience.

Transferrable Skills

Transferable skills can be from both hard skills and soft skills. For example, a transferable hard skill could be a mastery of a particular software or a coding language that can be used in other business settings. However, soft skills are more easily transferable due to their generic nature and universal applicability. Some of the most common soft skills that are transferable, include: Leadership, Communication Skills, Teamwork, Time Management, Problem Solving, etc.

Balancing of Hard Skills and Soft Skills

While appreciating the importance of both hard skills and soft skills, graduates need to strike a balance between the two types. Further, they need to be aware that what weightage the recruiters or managers assign to these two types of skills. The preference may be skewed towards hard skills at the beginning of one’s career and may gradually shift to soft skills as one moves higher in the corporate ladder. Various surveys conducted in the USA and elsewhere indicate that recruiters tend to give equal or more weightage to soft skills than to hard skills. Graduates need to be aware of this and give necessary priority to acquiring and maintaining soft skills in addition to the hard skills they learned during their higher studies. It is generally believed that hard skills help you get a job and soft skills help you to keep it.

Skills Gap

Due to rapid technological changes taking place around us and also due somewhat outdated curricula followed by some academic institutions, there exists a Skills Gap. The Skills Gap is the divide between the skills employers expect employees to have and the skills employees and job seekers actually possess.

Advice to graduating students

Graduating students need to be aware of the importance of hard skills and soft skills needed to be successful in getting a job and maintaining it. Due prominence and emphasis to the skills possessed need to be given in their resumes when applying for jobs and attending job interviews. Both hard skills and soft skills need to be developed, kept up-to-date and sharpened all the time. The balance between the two types needs to be maintained depending on the job environment. Also, it is important to keep an eye on the Skills Gap and try to bridge this gap by one’s own additional efforts. The following quote puts the situation in context:

 There’s not one specific thing or skill people have to have to work for us. But I can tell you why we fire people: soft skills. We hire for hard skills. We fire for soft skills. …”

 Rick Stephens, Senior Vice President of HR, The Boeing Corporation

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