Education Career Services

April 29, 2009

Job Search Success, Part One: The Hard Sell

Filed under: Career Development — EducationCS @ 9:54 pm

brickA job search requires a candidate to convey a lot of information to potential employers within a structured process. This two-part series will help you organize your presentation for maximum effectiveness. We’ll open with a hard sell followed by a soft finish.

First, Some Definitions…

Hard skills are technical skills and procedures in the broadest sense. Whether you can use Microsoft Office Suite, solve differential equations, play Mozart on the violin, market a new product, read a heart monitor, or design a structurally sound bridge …you get the idea. Hard skills are specific and can be taught with relative ease.

To take a simple example, if you don’t know how to operate a cash register, I can show you. Similarly, if you can’t sew, solve a quadratic equation, or fly a plane, you can ask someone or take a class. It might take some time, but you’ll get it…and once you do, you’ll have another hard skill to add to your list.

In fact, much of your time in school has been spent developing hard skills-whether hair styling techniques or legal arguments. Hard skills comprise the content about which you have become knowledgeable.

Soft skills, on the other hand, are characteristics and behaviors that contribute to your success. Many of these could be termed “people skills,” such as being a good listener, a hard worker, a collaborative team member, or a motivational leader.

Soft skills are just as important in the total picture of a job candidate (who wants to work with a poor listener, lazy worker, belligerent team member, or a pompous leader?). Yet soft skills can be difficult to put your finger on.

Consider what makes your favorite teacher so great. Sure, he or she knows the material (a hard skill), but so do plenty of less effective instructors. There’s something else going on. Maybe it’s his enthusiasm, the clarity of his explanations, or the degree of patience he shows in helping a struggling student. These personal traits are vital, but they are difficult to teach-and just as hard to quantify.

Clear the Hard Skills Hurdle
If you don’t have the hard skills required for a job-for example, the advanced mathematics background of an engineer or an accountant’s knowledge of the tax code-no amount of personality, leadership, creativity, and drive will make you effective.

Therefore, on your résumé and in your cover letter, you must first demonstrate that you possess the necessary hard skills.

In some cases you will list them; e.g., if you are a graphic designer, you might list Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, and other programs you know how to use.

In other cases, the skills will be communicated by your education or experience. Possessing your Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) certificate from an accredited institution conveys that you can apply certain healthcare techniques, including taking a pulse, administering a shot, and reading a heart monitor. Having been an interior decorator for five years implies a similar knowledge of home design.

Hard skills are, in general, easier for employers to gauge and will be the elements by which candidates are screened out. So make sure your professional documents (résumé, cover letter, etc.) clearly and compellingly demonstrate your relevant hard skills or you won’t get in the door!

Now you know…give them the “hard” sell first. Tomorrow, we’ll discuss when and how to cover all those soft skills that make you who you are!

Amy Lorenzo
Senior Writer
Career Services International –
Education Career Services –

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