Technical Skills or Communication Skills? 3 Areas to Focus on When Hiring Tech Talent

by Michael McCormack on September 21, 2020 in Candidate Selection

When it comes to finding the right IT professionals for your organization, what’s more important: technical skills or communication skills? In an ideal scenario, you’d hire the technical guru who is also able to effectively communicate with their peers. But in reality, this type of tech talent can be hard to find. As a result, companies are often forced to choose between the experienced IT professional with limited communication skills or the promising tech talent with good communication IQ but limited technical skills.

So which skills should you be focusing on when it comes to hiring great talent for your organization? The answer, of course, depends on your specific needs and the position requirements. However, there is an argument to be made for giving more weight to communication skills when comparing candidates. Let’s look at the communication skills that are crucial to success in the IT industry and how you can find the tech professionals that are right for your business.

Active and Engaged Listening

Listening skills are number one on this list for a reason. Let’s say your tech team is getting ready to start an important project that will change the way some crucial systems within the organization operate. In order to prepare, the tech team meets with various departments and internal stakeholders who provide context on how the systems are currently used and where they’d like to see improvement. The tech team then pulls together their notes and starts the systems redesign based on these conversations. When the new systems are finally launched, however, no one is very satisfied. What went wrong?

Listening is not simply a lack of speaking. In fact, active listening involves engaging in the conversation by asking follow-up questions and discussing areas that need clarification. In the above example, gathering feedback and making the system changes that were requested wasn’t helpful because the solutions implemented didn’t address the real problems. That’s why great communication skills begin with active listening in order to truly understand the context and requirements of a project and create solutions that fit those needs.

How can you find tech talent with great listening skills? The interview process is a great way to test a candidate’s active listening and engagement. Do they provide answers that address all parts of a question? Do they ask good follow-up questions and use the information provided to go deeper? These clues will help you distinguish top talent from the rest of the candidate pool.

Clear and Concise Writing

Another overlooked but no less important skill for IT professionals is written communication. From documenting a project to creating a user manual for a new database, writing skills are necessary and crucial to IT success. Maybe you’ve hired a highly skilled cloud expert with years of migration experience. While those technical skills are important, what happens when they can’t provide concise instructions for employees to follow to complete the migration process? In order for technology to work as it is designed, your tech talent needs to be able to write clearly about their work and explain it to others.

A related issue is the overuse of tech jargon in written communications. To be honest, IT professionals aren’t alone when it comes to overusing technical or industry specific terms. But in order for communication to be effective, it’s important that your tech talent be able to communicate with their non-IT colleagues. Technology projects often involve lots of moving parts, backend work, and constant fixes and updates. With clear and concise written communications, your IT talent will be able to provide better updates to project stakeholders and the explanations necessary to make complex technical systems more user friendly.

For signs that your IT candidates have the written communication skills your looking for, check out their application materials and communications. Cover letters are especially useful here because they allow more of a candidate’s personality and skills to shine through. Is the cover letter poorly written or full of technical terms and details? This is a good indication that while the candidate might have the technical skills you’re looking for, their communication skills might fall short of what your organization needs.

Confident and Calm Speaking

The final communication skill that is important for IT professionals to master is public speaking. Like written communication skills, presenting and speaking to groups of people is vitally important in most IT occupations. We often imagine IT professionals hidden behind several computer screens writing code or completing complex tasks, but tech talent also needs to be able to step away from the screens and explain their work. This is where confident and calm speaking skills are necessary. Can your tech talent explain how their system works in ways non-technical teammates will understand? Great presentation skills are especially crucial for IT managers and project leaders who are often in charge of keeping complex projects running smoothly and communicating their progress to higher-ups.

Test out your IT candidate’s speaking skills by asking the right questions during the interview process. Behavioral, situational, and practical questions can all help you determine how the candidate would respond in various situations and whether or not they have the speaking and presentation skills your open IT position requires.

The Perfect Combination of Technical and Communication Skills

When asking, “What’s more important – technical skills or communication skills?” it’s important to recognize the specific variables of the position you are trying to fill. After all, it’s the nature of the position that dictates the priority of skills. Finding the right blend of technical and communication skills may be a difficult task, but it’s one that can be accomplished if you know what to look for.

Looking for IT professionals with the right mix skills for your company? Work with the tech staffing experts at EdgeLink! Reach out to get started today.


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