Plays well with others is not just gold-star worthy in kindergarten—when it comes to hiring IT pros, it can be the differentiator between who gets the job offer and who gets passed over. While having an impressive list of qualifications, certifications and expertise certainly matters in IT, being able to showcase your knowledge in a way that others understand, are engaged with, and frankly want is equally—if not more—important. The best way to present yourself as the complete professional package is to have both technical savvy and well-developed soft skills.
Bridging the Skills Gap
Soft skills, or the traits and attributes that make for successful working relationships, are what makes you a supportive team member to collaborate with, a strong leader to invest in, a valuable employee to nurture, and an overall good human to work with. Soft skills include time management, project management, cultivating curiosity, a drive for personal improvement, supportive of others, critical thinking and creative problem-solving. Other soft skills are more social in nature: demonstrating empathy and understanding, recognizing different viewpoints and perspectives, and being collaborative, cooperative and communicative. Emotional intelligence is often used in the same breath as soft skills, and for recruiters and hiring managers in tech and IT fields, soft skills have become a bigger focus when looking for top talent.
“What I found is that there are skill gaps in our workforce—we have a lot of technical expertise but an absence of these soft skills,” says Audrey Halpern, a NY-based professional development trainer who creates customized employee soft skills training. “Being able to sell your idea, persuade, connect, to not just use facts to back up an argument, the ability to communicate your ideas without the deer-in the-headlights look—CIOs want to address all of this. What I find surprising is that the skills the tech companies are looking for are not taught in school.”
And it’s showing. A recent joint study by LinkedIn and Capgemini found that of the 1,200 talent executives, tech recruiters and HR professionals surveyed, 59% said their organization lacks employees who possess soft digital skills, and that the skill gap between soft and technical skills is widening.
“The tech companies I’ve worked with and developed training for want to improve productivity, communication skills, find and support emerging leaders of teams of diverse people, improve presentation skills, especially when explaining and breaking down complex ideas into something simple and what’s important.” Halpern also notes that recent graduates and early-career professionals sometimes get their first taste of negative feedback at their first job or internship. Since they’ve been in similar peer groups throughout school, young professionals and recent grads might not realize how to write professional emails or the appropriate way to follow-up with superiors or effectively explain their logic.
Involve Yourself to Evolve Yourself
Recognizing, improving and actively highlighting soft skills is a dynamic exercise for all professionals because it creates added value and usable assets for themselves, their company and future prospects. For young professionals, new graduates or those transitioning into a more technical profession, soft skills create value for non-technical job candidates by creating opportunities in the moment, until the technical expertise is learned and earned from experience.
Soft skills also help tech-savvy, highly certified or technically proficient employees and job-seekers bolster their own employee value as more well-rounded and adaptable employees. Combining technical skill and personable adaptability adds shine to an already high quality package.
According to the LinkedIn study, “People with experience in soft digital skills, such as customer-centricity and passion for learning are most in demand by organizations and are an increasingly important characteristic of a well-rounded digital professional.”
Since the IT field is one of the fastest growing industries, competition for quality jobs at enriching companies is fierce. The LinkedIn survey also noted that “overall, 29% of employees believe their skill set is redundant now or will be in the next one to two years, while more than a third (38%) believe their skill set will be redundant in the next four to five years.”
The best defense is a good offense, and a well-rounded professional is always developing their skills—technical, emotional and social. How? Halpern says, “The first thing you need is sense of self-awareness. Emotional intelligence is the foundation of being self-aware and socially aware.” Regular self-evaluation and honest reflection can help point out gaps in skills or experience. Asking a trusted mentor or superior can also add an outside perspective. Professional development workshops or training sessions offer the safe space to practice and work on areas of improvement.
“Developing these skills is not rocket science. It’s really a matter of whether or not you want to get better at something,” adds Halpern. “Having this level of self-awareness, and making the conscious effort to put those basics into practice—it can be taught.”