Hard vs soft skills (and why they matter)

Need to translate your military experience into a stand-out CV? Understanding hard and soft skills is key.


Transitioning from military service to civilian life can be exciting, but it also presents a unique set of challenges. One of the most significant hurdles is translating military experience into plain language for a civilian resume. This is an area where the RSL Veterans’ Employment Program can provide one-on-one guidance. We invite you to reach out to us if you’d like to access this service. It’s free!

To improve your chances of landing a civilian job, it's essential to identify your hard and soft skills, and highlight them in your job application.


What are hard skills?


Hard skills are the technical skills you've developed and trained in during your service. They're measurable, easy to define, and specific to your training. Some examples of hard skills in military service include aircraft repair, speaking a foreign language, cooking, flying a plane, cyber scripting, mechanical work, and more.


How to improve hard skills


If you are transitioning from military service, you've likely completed extensive training in your area of expertise through university education and military training. However, transitioning into civilian roles may require some additional training. The good news is that improving hard skills is easily supported through on-the-job training or additional study.

Depending on the area you work in and what you're transitioning into, there may be some licenses or modern practices that you need to freshen up on. Undertaking further study could be a viable option. This might be at university, vocational training institutes, private colleges or by completing online courses. Some specific hard skills, especially in the digital space, can be learned online via platforms like Udemy and Upskilled for minimal cost and at your own speed.


What are soft skills?


Soft skills are attributes and abilities that make you able to work effectively for a business and within a team. Unlike hard skills, soft skills tend to be harder to measure and define. They aren't taught but learned over time and can continue to be developed well into the future. Soft skills are usually transferable to any industry, which is why they’re a great inclusion on a veteran’s CV.

Examples of soft skills gained through military service include teamwork, conflict resolution, grit, dependability, leadership, problem-solving, creativity, integrity, research aptitude, discipline, risk management, and values.


How to improve soft skills


To land a new job, it's essential to highlight relevant soft skills in your CV and cover letter, and bring these to the interview table. For this reason, you may want to brush up on the skills you've identified.

Picking the skills you want to develop is the first step. Job descriptions for roles will often highlight soft skills. Be honest with yourself about your strengths and weaknesses to see which skills you may be comfortable with and which may need a little more investment of your time. Asking someone you trust for honest feedback might be helpful – especially a former colleague.

Practicing your soft skills is also crucial. Pick a skill you can practice at home and work at it to see a difference in how this becomes a natural part of your work and life. Observing soft skills in others is also helpful. Think about whether someone you admire shows strength in one of the soft skills you've identified. Take note of what this person does and how they use this skill to benefit themselves, their work, and their team. Enrolling in a course can also offer a double benefit by helping you upskill in soft and hard skills.

Read more about the difference between hard and soft skills in this article from Workable.  


Transferable soft skills you might've gained in the military


While hard skills, such as specific technical abilities, can be easier to define, soft skills tend to be more difficult to measure and define. However, these are the skills that can make a big difference in your success in civilian employment.

Here are some transferable soft skills that you may have gained during your time in the military:


Teamwork: Working as part of a team is essential in military service, and it's a valuable skill in the civilian workplace as well. The ability to collaborate with others, communicate effectively, and work towards a common goal can make you an asset in any organisation.

Leadership: Military service often involves leadership roles, and the ability to motivate and guide others can be valuable in any workplace. Whether you're leading a team or simply taking initiative on a project, your leadership skills can make a big difference.

Problem-solving: Military service often involves complex and challenging situations, requiring quick and effective problem-solving. These skills can be valuable in any workplace, as employers value employees who can think critically and find solutions to problems.

Adaptability: In the military, you may have been required to adapt to changing situations and environments quickly. This skill can be valuable in the civilian workplace as well, as companies often face unexpected challenges and changes that require flexibility and adaptability.

Discipline: Military service requires a high level of discipline and commitment. These skills can translate to the civilian workplace as well, as employers value employees who are reliable, punctual, and able to work independently.

Communication: Effective communication is essential in any workplace, and military service often involves communication in high-pressure situations. Your ability to communicate effectively with others can make you an asset in any organisation.

Time management: Military service often involves strict schedules and deadlines. Your ability to manage your time effectively can be valuable in any workplace, as employers value employees who can prioritise tasks and meet deadlines.

Conflict resolution: In military service, you may have had to navigate conflicts and find ways to resolve them. These skills can be valuable in any workplace, as employers value employees who can handle conflicts and find solutions that work for everyone.

Overall, the soft skills you've gained during your time in the military can make you a valuable asset in any civilian workplace. By identifying and communicating these skills effectively, you can position yourself for success in your post-military career.

The RSL Veterans’ Employment Program can help


To improve your chances of landing a great civilian job, it's essential to identify your hard and soft skills, highlight them in your job application, and improve them where possible. The RSL Veterans' Employment Program can help veterans identify their hard and soft skills and provide guidance on how to develop and improve them. The program is free for veterans, their partners and families, and reservists.