Misconceptions about Soft Vs. Hard Skills
Clearing up the fog
How are you? I hope you’re doing great.
Yesterday I attended a working group that was tasked in growing the tech talent in Miami. Two co-founders from a local non-profit organization that is active in the space presented their programs. They talked about their programming classes, hackathons, and accomplishments placing students in software engineering roles at big tech companies.
At the Q&A session, one guy asked, “having hard skills is great but do you also train students on soft skills?”
A whole discussion then broke out about the importance of soft skills which made me think about what does the term really mean, especially for us visual storytellers at this day and age?
Soft vs. hard skills?
Indeed, the career site, defines the difference more around technical vs. creativity and interpersonal communication.
‘Hard’ is more about the What and ‘soft’ is more about the how you come up with your what and communicate it to others.
No question, having soft skills are equally important as hard skills.
In fact, almost half of all LinkedIn premium jobs listed, mention the importance of communication skills.
61% of professionals confirm this assessment and 89% of recruiters admit that when a hire doesn’t go through it’s typically because the candidate lacked soft skills.
Right off the bat, you can see there is a hidden value-diminishing statement baked into the term ‘soft’. You instinctively think that ‘hard’ is much better.
When you think about your creative process, coming up with ideas for stories, how you communicate them to your audience and individually to prospects - you can easily see a string of important superpowers you possess.
These skills are by no means ‘soft’.
That’s why I found suggestions for better names like Emotional Intelligence or Power Skills that make justice with their importance.
Because when you use labels that work to empower vs. weaken, you make people seek for them, provide training early on, and produce talent that enters the job market much better equipped.
I wrote a story about the simple act of casting my students in roles that carry importance, like “startup cofounders.” It made wonders in how they perceived themselves and the high caliber work that they then produced.
All it takes is a fresh naming strategy.
True, it all depends on the ‘ruler’ you’re using to measure benefits of soft vs. hard skills.
From a salary level perspective, McKinsey reports that jobs requiring hard skills pay over 2X of jobs requiring soft skills. And indeed, a quick search on LinkedIn job board can reaffirm this fact.
Also, hard skills in fields like medicine or rocket science take many years of training.
But here is the rub, to get these highly lucrative jobs you would need those soft skills to effectively tell your story and wow your hiring manager.
Then to last on the job, you would need those essential superpowers of teamwork, emotional empathy, conflict management and leadership - to thrive.
If you’re a tech geek and just came up with a great idea for let’s say an AI startup (so many these days), you’d need to find a co-founder you can actually get along with, build an agile development team that believes in your vision and package it all in a compelling pitch story to wow investors.
These are all so called “soft skills.” However, without these skills you’d be left only with your demo code in your basement...
Even more so these days, when the new workplace requires employees to navigate between hybrid and completely remote working conditions. Entire team collaborations are based on your skills to virtually communicate with your teammates as if you were sharing the same space.
What’s more such Power Skills are highly transferable across careers and sectors. They serve as the “glue” that helps you socialize your value with others over time.
Such skills also come handy when you exercise your storytelling and social listening skills when pitching clients and networking.
For networking, I’ve recently described ways to storytell a response to the inevitable question:
Common world building tactic that sounds great but is not
Companies often use these catch phrases to attract candidates:
“We’re a family.”
“Welcome to the [company name] family.”
“We’re a family that breathes and lives the mission of the company.”
It’s a classic reframing strategy to cast colleagues as brothers and sisters.
This simple tactic is designed to create a positive, motivating and morale-boosting culture, which is in essence the ideal settings for breeding those precious interpersonal skills.
However this tactic of using “family culture” as a warm and fuzzy anchor to foster a sense of belonging and loyalty, Harvard Business Review finds as toxic, as it works against the expectations of top-level performance and productivity.
The towering question
Over all this discussion, of course, is looming the emergence of AI.
OpenAI is burning a mind blowing $700,000 a day to sustain their expensive servers so ChatGPT, our “modern day oracle”, can simultaneously converse with millions of instant solution seekers.
Will AI blur even further the boundaries between soft vs. hard skills by passing the heavy lifting code-writing to AI?
Will next gen so-called hard skills programming jobs transform into people who simply like to describe things, let’s call them Code Prompt Engineers - opening the flood gates to anyone?
Or will the barrier to entry for hard skills jobs be higher?
Far into the future, the rosier predictions from OpenAI’s CEO Sam Altman:
“…combining artificial intelligence, robotics, and cost-free energy could essentially enable machines to do all the work and provide a "basic income" to adults across society.” (Barron’s)
Until next time, let’s give it up for our “Power Skills”; without them, we could have not come up with story ideas from our lived experiences, team up to produce them and effectively communicate them to other people.
Not to mention having the humility to admit our failures and sing the praise of our collaborators.
Founder & CEO | Visual Storytelling Institute
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