6 February 2024

Hard Skills vs Soft Skills: Why You Should Know the Difference

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You’ve probably heard about soft and hard skills, or seen job descriptions mention them.

The work world thrives on these skills, and apprenticeships are no different. When you apply for roles, you’ll need to demonstrate how you’ve used these skills in your apprenticeship CV and apprenticeship cover letter.

Read on to find out what these skills are exactly and how they differ from each other.

What are the differences between soft skills and hard skills?

The main difference is soft skills are all about you as a person and hard skills are job/industry-focused.

Also known as transferable skills, these are tools you develop in everyday situations. Whether you’ve had work experience before or spent an eternity in school and college – chances are you’ve been developing your soft skills without realising it.Hard skills, which are sometimes referred to as technical skills, are trade-specific. They aren’t as transferable as soft skills (unless you’re moving between jobs in the same industry), but every job will require the hard skills they’re looking for.
For example, doing a group presentation (or five) shows you’ve used collaboration and communication skills. Employers love these.For example, a marketing firm might want a candidate with search engine optimisation (SEO) skills or someone with in-depth Adobe Photoshop knowledge – these are technical skills specific to the role.

Do employers look for soft or hard skills?

Unless you’re deep in your apprenticeship journey or somehow mastered industrial machinery in year 9, it’s unlikely that you’ll have all the hard skills.

Realistically, employers know that you won’t have it all before you start your apprenticeship, that’s why the majority look for what soft skills you have. They’ll teach you the rest, that’s the whole point.

Soft skills are important to employers because they show off who you are as a person. Being able to solve problems, be motivated and have good time-keeping skills will work wonders.

Employers want people who they are confident will get the job done.

What are the soft skills for apprenticeships?

So now you know what they are, what are the soft skills that employers are looking for in apprentices? The answer is all of them.

Soft skills can be used across all industries, all walks of life and all situations. They are super valuable and really easy to work on. Here’s a list of some of the relevant soft skills employers are looking for…

  • Adaptable
  • Analytical
  • Attention to detail
  • Communication
  • Decision making
  • Empathy
  • Idea generation
  • Multitasking and prioritisation
  • Positive thinking
  • Problem-solving
  • Self-motivation
  • Teamwork
  • Timekeeping.

How to show off soft skills in your application

The great thing about your CV is that it’s your first opportunity to give a potential employer an overview of all the fantastic things you’ve been doing at school and college.

The best way to show off your skills is to use the work experience sections to outline your tasks and the skills you’ve learned and developed during that time. 

If you don’t have work experience yet, think about times you’ve had to use skills such as leadership in school projects or even in extracurricular activities such as sports clubs or theatre groups.

You know what skills you have, but how do you show them off on your CV and cover letter? Read 5 Simple Ways to Show off Your Skills in an Application.

What are the hard skills for apprenticeships?

As hard skills are dependent on the industry, we’ve added these by industry. Some of these skills you can 100% work on developing now, otherwise you’ll pick up during your apprenticeship.

– Accounts payable
– Language knowledge
– Project management
Software knowledge (for example, Alteryx, Tableau, Hyperion, Oracle, Excel and Quickbooks)
– Standards of accounting.
– Bloomberg Terminal
– Book building
– Equity value
Knowledge of financial and market trends
– Power BI.
– Computer-aided design software (CAD)
– Material procurement
– Permits
– Process simulation and modelling (Aspen Plus/MATLAB)
– Regulatory and safety compliance.
– Advertising
– Budget planning
– Content Management Systems (CSMs)
– Social media.
– Google Analytics and Google Search Console
– Javascript
– Machine learning
– UX Design.
– Client Services
– Commercial awareness (which you’ll learn more about in just a second)
– Knowledge of legal procedure
– Legal research
– Negotiation.

How to show off hard skills in your application

When putting together your CV, make sure to include any work experience you have as this is the perfect place to talk about all those lovely hard skills you’ve gained.

For example, perhaps you did some administrative tasks and used a particular software or you’ve been learning coding in your IT lessons. These are the types of examples employers are looking for.

HOT TIP: Numbers are a great way of showing how much of an impact your skills have had on your day-to-day tasks. For example, “I used WordPress to upload 30 blogs during my two weeks as a work experience content writer at Croydon Council. I was responsible for sourcing arranging layouts and making sure SEO standards were met in each blog I published.”

Want to know more about the industries you can work in? We have not one, not two, but 16 fully comprehensive industry guides. Seriously, they’re really detailed and really good.

What is commercial awareness?

Commercial awareness is really the doll of all skills and having it will really set you apart from other candidates.

Whatever industry you decide to work in, it’s super important to know every single trend, piece of news or update that goes on within an industry. That’s what commercial awareness is, the ability to understand how industries and businesses work.
Employers love commercial awareness because it shows off your research skills (which is a gold standard skill to have under your belt), and it shows a real passion and care for the industry you’re trying to break into.

What’s an example of commercial awareness?

You’ll usually be asked a question that relates to commercial awareness in an interview/assessment day. These questions are…

  • What do you know about our business?
  • Who do you think are our main competitors?
  • Tell us about a recent business story that you’ve been interested in
  • What are the biggest challenges facing our sector in the next five years?

How can I develop commercial awareness?

There are many ways you can get your commercial awareness skills up to scratch. Loads of which you don’t even need to leave your house for. Here are some of them…

  • News. You can consume all sorts of news whether that’s mainstream or more niche topics.
  • Social media. This is a great source to find out what businesses are doing. Whether that’s through Instagram or LinkedIn, social media is super useful
  • Industry publications. These can come in the form of newsletters, industry magazines or reports. Some are available directly from businesses. PwC, Savills, TUI and many more have newsrooms for you to browse. For FREE
  • Work experience. Even if it’s just for a week, you’ll get a first-hand look into how a business works, its competitors and access to industry-related resources
  • School/college careers officers. These people are literal angels on earth and have access to lots of help. Go and ask them. Immediately.

Hopefully, you’ve learned all there is to know about soft and hard skills. If you’re feeling ready to start applying – go for it. We’ve put together a guide to the apprenticeship application process, click below to read more.