As a tech professional, your skill set is highly valued. You’ve got impressive IT certifications, hands-on experience with tech projects, and a background drenched in innovation. But when it comes to your career, that’s only half the picture.
Consider that 67% of HR professionals withhold job offers from qualified IT candidates when they lack soft skills. Sure, unemployment rates are at record lows and it’s a candidate’s market, but you can only leverage current economic conditions when you possess the full breadth of skills employers want. When multiple candidates prove they can fulfill the technical aspects of a role, soft skills become the deciding factor and can be your differentiator.
When it comes to the soft skills employers want most, communication takes the cake. In fact, the demand for tech employees with strong communication skills increased 80% over last year. For a quick gauge of your communication skills, ask yourself a single question: can I articulate the tech projects I work on to someone not versed in technology? In IT we have our own language, and that requires translation to others. Refine this skill by thinking about how you would explain certain tech stacks, software programs, or security practices to your family and non-tech friends. At the same time, keep in mind that proper communication is not just waiting to talk; it’s about listening to another person, digesting what they’ve told you, and contributing to the conversation in clear terms.
Just like data rarely stays in silos these days, tech roles don’t either. IT pros fill dynamic positions that impact multiple departments within a company. When projects don’t exist in a bubble, that means they require input from other individuals. Connecting with end users to determine what’s working and collaborating with other team members to work through bugs and take projects to the next stage come with the territory. True collaboration requires understanding the goals of other individuals, articulating your position to them, and falling back on conflict management skills if you need to professionally disagree on a way forward. According to the head of IT at Harvard, younger generations in IT are causing concern for hiring managers:
IT professionals are typically the only ones who intimately know what’s happening with a company’s technology. As such, they might be called upon to explain a piece of technology to a group of people in board meetings, company trainings, and more. Whether it’s discussing the benefits of an IoT initiative to the executive team or describing basic cybersecurity best practices to other departments, it’s necessary to connect with other people in order to present effectively. One report indicated that 23% of IT employees fail at their jobs within the first 18 months because they lack emotional intelligence. Focus on getting in tune with others and your presentation skills will be the better for it.
Your fingers might be able to produce code at a lightning pace, but what about when it comes to the English language? A study of CIOs determined that the talent gap in soft skills is more pronounced than the gap in hard skills. For hiring managers, writing skills are often the first sign an employee lacks soft skills. After all, think about a time when you received an email from a prominent individual, perhaps even an executive, only to see misspellings, incomplete sentences, and other errors. Nothing undercuts a tech pro’s reputation like a terribly written correspondence. Project plans and deliverables get put into writing, and while it’s not your job to be an eloquent writer, it is your job to be able to write clearly and directly, leaving no room for confusion.
Tech pros are often given a degree of freedom to accomplish projects however they see fit as long as they are able to meet a projected deadline. Those who thrive in such a model are those who stay organized and can keep track of multiple projects at a time. In practice, we know that tech jobs entail more than just working on one portion of a sprint or updating a system. Modern, collaborative environments mean tech pros have to stay punctual, adhering to calendars while attending meetings on time. They must be able to produce previous paperwork or code that another team member might ask for. A large majority of employers value soft skills as much as hard skills, and they prize organization.
Going hand in hand with organization, prioritization is crucial in today’s tech roles. Many tech pros are fantastic at placing 100% of their focus on one thing at a time. The issue is that rarely is there only one task at hand, and that requires determining what must be done when. Considering what to do first must take more than just deadlines into account. It requires critical thinking, time management, accountability, and flexibility. Deficient soft skills are the #1 reason IT pros are fired because while an employee can be extremely talented, if they are unable to channel their efforts on the right projects at the right time, then they are not truly productive.
If all the above wasn’t enough to turn your head, consider this staggering statistic: 94% of recruiters believe an employee with strong soft skills has a better chance of being promoted to a leadership position than an employee with more years of experience but weaker soft skills. If you’ve ever dreamt of making it to the VP or CIO level, building leadership skills will be essential. Companies are thinking ahead when they hire, looking for those with potential to rise through the ranks, mentor others, manage employees, and run project teams. Come to the table with a hunger to learn and take every opportunity to work on your problem-solving, negotiation, and management skills. Outside of work, seek out volunteer opportunities such as joining the board of a nonprofit or other philanthropic organization to help you hone leadership and other soft skills.
Today’s IT positions can be lucrative, but when companies are paying so much money for talent, they expect candidates with well-rounded backgrounds. Soft skills are the missing piece of the puzzle for many tech pros. A lack of them will hold you back, while excelling in them provides a boost to your career. As you interact with coworkers, network, attend conferences, and more, you can focus on refining these essential capabilities one day at a time.