Soft Skills vs Hard Skills: Comparative Relevance for MBAs

The present-day Corporate World’s tryst with ‘Soft-Skills’ have made the term an omnipresent but hard to define buzzword. If you ask people to define Soft-Skills, you’ll by and large encounter rather ambiguous and divergent definitions. For the sake of clarity, Wikipedia defines soft skills as “associated with a person’s  EQ (Emotional Intelligence Quotient), the cluster of personality traits, social graces, communication, language, personal habits, friendliness, and optimism that characterize relationships with other people.” While Hard-Skills or traditionally known as technical skills are more closely related to a person’s IQ (Intelligence Quotient) and are defined as practical abilities learned through education and training. For example, the hard skills that an accountant would need include arithmetic, familiarity with generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP), and financial statement preparation.


Undoubtedly, dependency on the seemingly more-important ‘Hard-Skills’ cannot be undermined. But one thing is certain – the days of domination and exclusive control of these so-called Hard-Skills are a thing of the past. This is evident from this statement made by Harvard Business School professor in an interview. He said, “Many consultants said that technical skills – once the prime goal of executive searches – are still important but have become merely a baseline requirement.” For most jobs, while the hard skills are essential to getting into the interview, it’s the soft skills that will land the job because employers want someone who won’t just perform their job function, but will be a good personality fit for the company and make a good impression on clients.

During your entire 2 years at your B-School, you’ll observe that the methodology of teaching all the subjects is unique in the sense that in virtually every lecture, you’ll have to confront and deal with widely used ‘presentation oriented’ style of teaching. It is a precursory exercise universally adopted by B-Schools to equip their students with a blend of various Soft-Skills set, which will be instrumental for your future professional success in the severely harsh and competitive white-collar world.

For example, a project manager in an MNC, who belongs to an engineering background writes a report and assumes that people will read it – but that never happens. Because these days, however crackerjack and inch-perfect your report is – if you are not able to present your work effectively, you may never get the credit you deserve. And to be able to that with finesse you need the right kind of training and exposure beforehand. Then, with experience you can further hone and nurture those skills acquired over a period of time. That’s why the usually diffident and stand-offish but ambitious engineers invariably want to go for an MBA degree to boost their career graph by combining both their soft-skills and hard-skills. They get the best of both the worlds this way and hence an edge over others.

Just introspect – what good are great ideas if you are not able to articulate them well before the target audience. What good is your technical brilliance if your well-intentioned supervisor (Even that’s a rarity these days) does not feel confident to put you before the senior management. Moreover, Hard-Skills can be learned from books or online tutorials. Financial Accounting, for instance is a hard-skill that may be self-taught. An old-school proponent of Hard-Skills may argue that a financial accounting specialist may go on to associate himself with a CFA (Chartered Financial Analyst) and eventually become a CFA Charter-holder thereafter making a lot of moolah!

I would like to re-assert that depending on the kind of job your are in, you’ll need the relevant technical skills to get the job. However, it’s your repertoire of Soft-Skills which will actually make sure your technical skills shine and visible to your seniors and colleagues alike. A medical practitioner, for example, essentially needs to know what medicine to prescribe after an appropriate diagnosis. Isn’t it? But, in reality, which doctor would you prefer going to for a monthly regular check-up? A rude, eccentric genius who treats you like a lowbrow and attacks your ego (House MD rings a bell anyone?) OR a sufficiently qualified physician who knows you and your body well, is pleasant & courteous and takes time to answer your questions patiently? Mull over it!

Soft Skills vs Hard Skills: Comparative Relevance for MBAs

In situations like this, Soft-Skills do matter a lot. Perhaps more than you think they do. Your emotional quotient, self-confidence, presentation skills, ability to work in a team, work ethics, leadership/mentoring skills, selling skills et cetera all contribute towards a thriving career. Two vital skills hugely relevant in the present-day business enterprises worldwide and which are not included in the above list of Soft-Skills are worthy of mention here.

First one is ‘Self-Promotion’ skills. For whichever organization you are working for and regardless of who and how your boss is, just working hard doesn’t cut it. You will have to painstakingly promote your skills & working results within and even outside of your organization. You need to smartly but subtly build your reputation with the all-important people who may in any which way influence your performance review. You’ll realize that baby steps in this direction will yield rich dividends by the end of the financial year and will help you make your way up the corporate ladder.

Second important skill is ‘Managing Office Politics’, which has become a self-proclaimed but an unsaid component for professional growth and white-collar ascendancy. If you are adept in understanding the nuances of people dynamics and the goings-on inside the office premises, you will make yourself immune to discriminatory behavior and unscrupulous wheeler-dealings that sadly and surely exist almost everywhere.

Unfortunately, the significance of soft-skills is still underestimated in our country. This is where the role of MBA education comes into play. The entire MBA curriculum focuses on the skill-sets stated above. Personality development, self-awareness and increased confidence are natural by-products of a standard MBA course from a reputed B-School. Primary soft-skill attributes are inherently ingrained in its course structure and are deep rooted in its way of teaching, which is specifically adopted for the modern business world.

And it has become a prerequisite because present-day organizations expect their employees to know how to behave on the job without the need of a formal on-the-job training. They tend to assume that an employee already possesses the essential soft-skill traits in addition to the apparently more valuable hard-skills. It is a dangerous assumption which may lead to an increased attrition rate caused by non-productivity and de-motivation amongst the staff members. This preconceived perception needs to be changed.

Contributed by Pranshu Awasthi ( Class of 2007, IBS GURGAON )

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