Soft Skills or Hard Skills – which are more valuable?

As you may know, Stern requires all students to demonstrate proficiency in a core curriculum, which accounts for 31.5 of the 60 credits you need for your MBA. The remaining 28.5 credits are up to you to choose among a wide variety of electives.  Choosing electives can be a difficult task because there are so many great course topics offered. Making a choice for one great course often means foregoing another. You need to decide how to divide your time among the topics that interest you and which courses you think will advance your career the most.

I would categorize the course offerings at Stern into two buckets: “soft skills” and “hard skills”.  Hard skills courses are courses where you learn teachable abilities. Specifically, abilities that can be easily and objectively measured. For example, statistics, programming in python, time series forecasting, or options pricing would fall under the hard skills category.  To use Investopedia’s definition, “Soft Skills are less tangible and harder to quantify”. Soft skills courses at Stern would include: Negotiations, Power & Politics, Consultative Selling and Leadership Models.

So, which course type will best advance your career? The short answer is that it really depends on where you are in your career and what kind of changes you may want to make.

If you want to switch industries, taking a course where you learn a hard skill that will be needed to perform your desired job is a no brainer. For example, if you want to get into trading or pricing taking quantitative finance and statistics courses will be necessary.  Additionally, if you are earlier in your career, hard skills courses may make more sense for you too. Often these learned abilities will make you more versatile and efficient in your current function and that often can translate into professional success and promotion over your peers more quickly.

However, if you are more senior in your career, you may find the soft skills courses to be more advantageous. For example, understanding negotiation tactics, organizational structure trade-offs, or how to navigate a tough political climate to win favor and secure resources may be exactly the kind of value add that you need to rise in your organization.

Personally, I took a blend of both. I am a VP of analytics at Epsilon, a large marketing and technology firm. At my level in the organization the soft skills courses’ had a tremendous impact in my ability to manage my team, collaborate cross-functionally, and sell my ideas both internally and externally. However, as I also work in analytics, which by nature is a hard skills area, it also made sense for me to study ARCH GARCH models, regression analysis, SQL, and Python.  While I may not execute those hard skills on a day to day basis, it enriched my ability to hire new and promising talent, to understand how these skills can be applied to our client’s needs, and to keep me relevant and ahead of the curve in a fast and ever-changing digital analytics space.

You will ultimately need to determine which balance of hard or soft skills courses makes the most sense for your career goals, but I would absolutely recommend taking a blend of both with a nod towards the soft skills. My reason for this is that as you rise in your firm the hard skills will either be assumed as table stakes or they will be assumed to be handled by individuals on your team. The higher you climb in your organization the soft skills are going to become more and more important. And even if you are more junior in your career if you can employ those skills now it will not go unnoticed by those above you.

I have subscribed to this recipe and it has worked well. To provide some empirical evidence, since I began the Part-time Langone program in the Fall of 2014 I have been promoted 2 times in 3 years. I accredit my advancement directly to the skills I learned in the classrooms at Stern.

Pete McSherry

About Pete McSherry

Pete McSherry is a Langone Part-time MBA student out of Stern’s Westchester, NY campus and is expected to graduate in May 2018 with specializations in Business Analytics, Management, and Quantitative Finance. At Stern, Pete is a member of the Graduate Marketing Association, Arts & Culture Club, and the Business Analytics Club. Pete also volunteers his time to advocate for Stern at prospective student happy hours and through sharing his experiences in this blog. Pete is currently the VP of Analytics at Epsilon, which Adage recently named as the #1 US Agency across all marketing disciplines and #4 as the world’s largest digital agency network. At Epsilon, Pete helps his clients make data driven marketing decisions to strengthen their relationships with their customers.

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