Today, 77% of employers say they value soft skills as much as hard skills. This means while your technical skill set will be what qualifies you for a new IT job, it will be your soft skills that differentiate you and attract the actual job offer. But within this stronger focus on well-rounded candidates, which soft skills are employers looking for in their tech roles? And how can you sharpen your soft skills in IT, even when your job has you alone in front of a computer screen all day?
What Communication Really Means
It should come as no surprise that communication skills are often touted as the #1 desired soft skill in an employee. This is because communication is an umbrella skill that strengthens nearly every other soft skill under it. But what does communication mean for you as an IT professional?
If you’re an app developer, talking to a fellow developer about your latest project is pretty easy, right? But how does that conversation go when telling your friends about what you do at work? Many tech pros find difficulty expressing their tasks in laymen’s terms, but this is a necessary skill for career advancement. Regardless of your IT position, you must be able to explain any of your tasks to the CEO, a client, or any other invested parties who are not versed in technology.
Specifically, writing skills are one of the most sought after soft skills in IT job listings. With an increasing reliance on email in the business world, it’s no wonder writing is so important. A miscommunication here and a coworker or manager may spend hours taking a project in the wrong direction. The key is to give emails and phone calls, even if they’re infrequent, equal importance and focus when they’re required.
A Teamwork Mentality
Employers often list “teamwork” as a desired trait, but what they are referring to is a teamwork mentality. Do you understand how your daily tasks impact the project as a whole, and to go further, overall business goals? Recognizing organizational cause and effect is a great first step to embodying this trait.
Even the most solitary IT jobs rely on some form of teamwork. Whether it’s a coworker with a technical skill set who needs to build upon what you’ve done, or a marketing manager who must sell what you’ve created, your ability to work with them directly impacts the success of the company. This mentality also stretches to client interactions. What if suddenly you are called upon to attend a meeting to assist in reviewing a client’s technical needs? Being able to not just communicate, but collaborate with various parties is vital to career success.
A healthy team is a well-informed one. When you understand what your coworker has been working on, the business can keep moving forward should that coworker get sick and miss a few days of work. Additionally, teamwork means providing and receiving feedback, which is extremely valuable to an employer as it can improve processes and products. Throughout it all, employers are especially looking for a team player who embodies positivity, as research shows that positive teams are more productive.
Organize & Prioritize
A full 25% of skills cited in tech job listings are soft skills, and that often includes organization skills. However, that means more than just keeping your desk clean and turning in projects on time. Organized IT pros are able to prioritize their workload, especially when changes arise. Employers want someone with a sense of urgency who can stay focused without getting distracted by a chaotic business day. A tech pro who can adapt quickly avoids falling behind, since they can rearrange their tasks while informing any necessary parties of how the changes will affect them. Unsurprisingly, that requires strong communication and teamwork as well.
Ways to Improve Soft Skills
While networking can sharpen your communication skills, it’s much more than just talking to other people in your field at a yearly conference. Networking can be as fun as you want it to be. Every community features entertaining networking opportunities, such as Ski Day and Startup Week held in the Denver area.
Participating in hackathons will not only help your technical skill set, but improve communication, teamwork, and even creativity. Thinking outside the box is a problem-solving skill that employers value highly, but only if you’re able to articulate those new ideas and solutions to others.
Ask your employer or reach out to your greater network to discover new professional development opportunities. When doing so, look for ones completely outside the realm of IT for the biggest soft skills impact. Consider attending sessions that focus on things like project management to round out your skill set.
Look to join a local school board, city council, church group, or charity, and practice public speaking whenever possible. Community involvement helps others and look goods on a resume, but it will also place you in positions to use your soft skills in a lower pressure environment. Toastmasters is a wonderful group that has helped many in this area.
Sharpening Your Soft Skills in IT
It turns out that nearly 50% of CIOs have backgrounds in liberal arts. Not only has that made them excellent at communication, teamwork, and organization, but it means they’re looking for the same in their workforce. Combine your IT skill set with strong soft skills, and you’ll become the elusive purple squirrel candidate that these tech leaders seek.
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