soft skills are competencies that support a person’s ability to develop and maintain relationships and interact with others. They include listening, communication, conflict resolution, leadership, decision-making, problem-solving and goal-setting. Marshall believes that “technical and ‘soft’ skills go hand in hand for today’s workforce” – which is clear when you consider how much technology and people impact each other and the organization. IT professionals especially must be able to communicate information simply and effectively to their organizations.
A study from business and technology consulting firm West Monroe found that more than three-quarters (78 percent) of HR leaders say they’ve become more focused on finding technology employees with strong soft skills. Sixty-seven percent say they have withheld a job offer due to a candidate’s lack of soft skills.
Tech professionals looking to bolster their competitive edge should strive to cultivate these soft skills:
The ability to not just communicate, but communicate effectively, is a vital part of success in any career field, especially tech. Your communication skills are a direct reflection of your company and your personal brand, so continuous refinement is necessary.
Most tech professionals are required to collaborate in teams and have lots of interaction with clients and users. You should be able to take highly complex information and present it to anyone in or outside of your company in a way they can understand.
Major key: Communication is not just about talking. It’s also about listening!
As organizations pursue digital transformations, tech professionals must be able to think creatively to grapple with rapid change, increases in project volumes and staffing shortages. In addition, many IT projects are aimed at solving business problems or creating new environments, and often require critical thinking.
Planning and organisation
The IT sector is a project-focused industry. Good planning and organisation skills are essential for graduates entering the tech business, in order to manage tasks on different projects with different deadlines and competing priorities. Effective planning makes it possible to anticipate problems and challenges and transform them into positive opportunities.
Demonstrate your graduate planning and organisation skills by:
- Showing that you can put structure to a task or project.
- Highlighting how you scope out an activity and allocate time to individual tasks.
- Showing how you anticipate challenges and issues that could arise and plan contingencies.
Teamwork skills allow you to operate well in a group setting in the workplace to quickly and effectively accomplish tasks. Teamwork is crucial for careers in market research, event coordination, and software engineering. Some examples of teamwork-related skills include:
- Conflict management
- Active listening
- Idea exchange
A little collaboration with our marketing sample on the right will give you some ideas on how to properly show your teamwork-related achievements.
Being analytical gives you a major edge in IT, where you’re expected to find logical solutions to problems frequently. Analytical abilities allow you to diagnose technology issues and fix them. They enable you to do things like figure out why a line of code isn’t yielding a desired result or why a server’s down.
If you have an analytical mind, you might even identify problems before they arise, or maybe you feel compelled to take things apart to get a better idea of how they work. If this is the case, you’re probably an IT pro in the making.
Examples of analytical abilities include the ability to create – and read – pivot tables in a spreadsheet, identify trends over time and identify key performance indicators. It’s also important to learn how to identify critical events and eliminate outliers from data sets.
Even if you aren’t in a management position, there may be a time in your career with us where you’ll be asked to lead a project or manage a team. This is where your communication skills will come in handy! You also need to learn to delegate tasks and keep focused on the end goal in order to guide your team to where you are ultimately trying to lead them. Additionally, there are many times you will need to teach new skills to your fellow employees, and any employer will appreciate someone who can walk someone through that technical process with clarity and patience.
In the 21st century, companies need to change at the speed of light to remain competitive. So they want workers who can also shift gears or change direction as needed. Also, while the economy may be recovering, many companies are not fully staffed, so they want employees who can wear more than one hat and serve in more than one role.
Some may argue that troubleshooting isn’t a soft skill due to the technical elements. However, troubleshooting isn’t just about tech; it also encompasses a particular mindset or way of thinking. It’s the ability to approach an issue strategically, following a logical flow toward resolution, and even being creative when a tried-and-true approach doesn’t yield results. When looked at from that angle, it’s clear that troubleshooting can be a soft skill, and an essential on, at that.
Most organizations exist to provide a service to a consumer. Companies must prioritize customer experience if they want their customers to come back and bring others with them.
Some 23% of employees fail at their jobs within the first 18 months because of low emotional intelligence, the report said. Companies are looking for customers who are both tech smart and people smart.
Curiosity and discipline
Helen Wetherley Knight, CIO, Calgary Drop-In Centre: The soft skills I believe are essential to IT are curiosity and discipline. IT is a science first, but it becomes an art in the application, making it essential that anyone pursuing a career in IT has an unquenchable thirst for knowledge, process improvement, and learning about the business or nonprofit they serve. This needs to be balanced with discipline; discipline to accept when the time isn’t right, when the tool still needs refinement, and when the non-technical teams you support need your business acumen, not just your analytic strengths.
Technology is getting to be the easy part, with so many off-the-shelf systems that can be sold to any business leader. The talent that the IT leader brings to the table is ensuring they use discipline to not jump to a solution until the problem is fully understood, articulated, and agreed upon. It is only when everyone collaborates and then agrees on exactly what problem they are trying to solve, that a technical solution can truly be sought.
I’ve found significant value in taking organisational change management training, in tandem with project management training. Learning the levers to use to help non-technical teammates gain buy-in is critical to any IT project’s success.