Writing, compiling and debugging programs; provisioning cloud resources and designing network architecture are just some of the hard skills that an IT professional may bring to the table, but if they are going to rise to the top in their industry, they will also need to master a suite of soft skills.
Here are 6 of the most important soft skills for an IT workplace. Demonstrate these, and you will have employers snapping off your hand to bring you on board.
Brilliant loner IT mavericks may sell movies and books, but employers want to hire people who can act as cogs in a super-productive team. A great team player can step up to the plate to lead when required, but they will also know when to pull back and follow.
Team working is especially important with remote working, due to the extra effort needed to pull together via Zoom/Teams and email.
Time is money in business, and when you work for an employer, the money in question belongs to them. If you can demonstrate an ability to work efficiently, you are likely to be hired above a less time savvy candidate, even if they have one or two more technical skills under their belt.
Time management is an umbrella skill for several other powerful abilities. These include planning, prioritization and focus. Even in the busiest environments, taking time to plan your working day will pay dividends. Some people choose to do their planning early in the morning. Others prefer to wait until the end of their shift and plan the following day. Having an app (or even a notebook) to record notes can help you to keep track of what needs doing ahead of your planning session.
Planning works hand in hand with prioritization. The simplest method of prioritization involves drawing one vertical line, marking an axis of importance, and crossing it with a horizontal line, marking an axis of urgency. This will form a chart with four quadrants, as follows:
High importance, high urgency: Plan to do these tasks first, once you've finished your planning.
Low importance, high urgency: Delegate these tasks to someone else.
High importance, low urgency: Plan to do these later in the day, ideally when you have most energy.
Low importance, low urgency: Plan to tackle these last of all. If you run out of time, carry them forward to your next planning session.
Keep your list as short as possible. If you don't get through your important tasks, try monitoring your productivity using one of the many productivity apps out there. If you are prone to procrastination, try setting up a reward system whereby you take a break, have a coffee or do something fun after completing a task.
If you find that other people distract you, consider silencing your phone during important tasks or wearing noise-canceling headphones.
You may already have excellent IT problem-solving skills, but employers are also looking for hires that possess general problem-solving abilities. Problems are the seeds that grow into new products, service and work processes, so employees who can use logic and intuition to come up with practical ways forward are highly prized.
You can use the IDEAL acronym to work through a problem:
- Identify the wider context
- Define the specific problem
- Explore alternative courses of action
- Act on the most promising one
- Look at the outcome
The best problem solvers are level-headed, resilient and flexible, able to tackle a stubborn problem from different angles to find a breakthrough.
The ability to effectively process information is becoming increasingly important in the era of Big Data.
Information processing can be broken down into three steps:
- Harvesting data (choosing which programs or APIs will provide the most useful and valid data)
- Manipulating data (using knowledge of stats and probability to extract meaningful information from the raw data)
- Presenting information to stakeholders
The last of these skills leads nicely on to another vital soft skill for IT professionals: communication.
Companies love to hire IT experts who can communicate complex technical information and concepts to a non-technical audience, both within and outside of the business. To be successful, businesses need to create demand for their products and services (marketing) and convince their target audience to buy them (sales). If you are able to communicate the benefits of the technology your team creates, improves or optimizes, you will be seen as a valuable link between the technical, marketing and sales teams.
While there are many courses and resources out there to help you improve your communication skills, a good exercise is to explain a complex technology to friends and family without resorting to jargon. For example, how would you talk about cloud computing, blockchains or front-end development to a lay person?
Great communication skills to develop include empathy (experiencing a situation by standing in someone else's shoes), conflict resolution and balancing confidence with humility.
There is one set of communication skills that will serve you well throughout your entire career and life in general: the ability to influence other people.
In a nutshell, persuasion is the art of presenting an argument that influences others to agree with your way of thinking. In the workplace, a persuasive employee can help motivate team members to get behind a project, increasing their productivity.
Ultimately, the recruitment process itself is one large exercise in persuasion. First, you need to persuade the person reading your resume that you are worth interviewing. Then, you have to persuade the interviewer that you are the best person for the job.
Once in post, your persuasive abilities may determine whether you are selected for a place on a training course, trusted to present to the board or short-listed for promotion.
Not all candidates pursuing roles in technology understand the value of soft skills. By brushing up on yours, you will stand out from the crowd.
The team at Myticas hopes to help you with taking your next career jump in the IT sector.