• Job Skills – Part 3: What’s Better, Technical or People Skills?

  • Following up on my last couple of blogs about ‘hard’ (technical) versus ‘soft’ (people) skills for junior and intermediate-level job seekers in environmental consulting, I found out some interesting things in my survey of a few senior colleagues. Hopefully, these findings and the last two blogs will be of use to potential job candidates.

    Intermediate-level job candidates are apparently very hard to find for environmental consulting firms. Finding intermediate candidates with the right mix of technical and people skills is even harder, and such individuals, when encountered in the wild, are often referred to as rock stars, unicorns or even ‘Rock Star Unicorns”. I am not sure where you would put this description on your CV or LinkedIn profile, but if this describes you, you are in high demand.

    As to which skill set (hard or soft) is actually preferable, it can be hard to distinguish, as it can depend on the job position. Ideally, someone with both can indeed be the “Unicorn/Rock Star”, but some people are meant to stick just to technical aspects, and may never fully possess or develop true people skills. At an intermediate level, you can still build and develop technical skills, as those can be learned; however, it is harder to find someone who has all the desirable soft skills as those tend to be character traits and can’t really be taught.

    Without the soft skills, the technical skills are less helpful to an employer; but without the technical skills, a candidate can require too much training for consideration as an employee. A healthy mix of both technical and people skills is what makes a candidate stand out from the rest. Technical skills show up on a resume, soft skills show up during the interview process and during the employment probationary period. Most employers will weigh both the candidate’s resume and their interview performance before making a decision.

    The general consensus in my limited survey indicates that soft skills are more important because you can always teach a willing employee to do different technical work. One can have the most education and technical skills but if they don’t possess people skills (e.g. can’t communicate with others inside the company, or with clients), then they won’t be successful as an environmental consultant no matter how technically proficient they feel they are.

    For intermediate candidates, the ability to demonstrate increasing competency in both the hard and soft skill sets is sure to elevate your profile in comparison to other candidates. For those seeking their first job in the field, they will need to show how they can apply what they learned in school. Learning or improving technical skills with additional training courses, webinars, volunteer work, connecting with appropriate mentors, and even job shadowing can assist in gaining the necessary experience and expertise.

    To all the job seekers out there - good luck, keep at it, stay positive and don’t get discouraged!

    Bill Leedham, P. Geo., CESA
    Bill is the Head Instructor and Course Developer for the Associated Environmental Site Assessors of Canada (
    www.aesac.ca); and the founder and President of Down 2 Earth Environmental Services Inc. You can contact Bill at info@down2earthenvironmental.ca