Step up your IT game by sharpening your soft skills
Technical prowess, creative thinking, and the ability and willingness to keep up with rapid technological change are universally accepted values that IT professionals unanimously tout as indispensible to having any sort of success in the IT industry. While having these skills is certainly necessary for a career in IT, individuals in IT often neglect the importance of cultivating and developing their “soft skills” and, as a result, severely limit their potential to advance their careers. Despite the technical nature of the IT sector, soft skills are important to any aspiring IT professional who wants to maximize his or her career opportunities and stand out from the crowd.
Soft skills are essentially personal characteristics and behaviours that allow an individual to effectively and effortlessly communicate with others, as well as form healthy and productive working relationships. While not directly quantifiable and task-specific like hard skills, soft skills, and an individual’s proficiency in applying them, are recognized by a common set of broadly applicable and observable attributes such as sociability, leadership, flexibility, negotiation, presentation, teamwork and dependability. These attributes lead to better communication amongst employees and organizations and a more harmonious and dynamic workplace.
Given the rapid pace of change in the IT sector and the economy as a whole, IT skills are becoming increasingly important to employers as businesses and organizations seek employees who have the “whole package:” a strong technical aptitude combined with soft skills that make for communicative, motivated and adaptable personnel. Soft skills have always been important in IT because it is a dynamic sector and technological creativity and innovation have underpinned it since its inception.
The rapid pace of change in the economy and society, however, and the introduction of multiculturalism into the workplace has, among other things, made soft skills more of a necessity for IT organizations and businesses. IT employers are increasingly seeking individuals, who, in addition to their technical abilities, can lead and motivate others, communicate well, resolve disputes productively, and work in teams. Because soft skills are often underdeveloped (or not present at all), IT employers are increasingly stressing the importance of these skills for aspiring professionals who truly want to excel in IT.
Luckily, most people aren’t born with an ample supply of soft skills and, while they can be difficult to learn, they are in fact eminently attainable for IT professionals seeking to maximize their career opportunities. While having any soft skill will increase your employability in the field of IT, three skills in particular have been cited by leading IT employers as critical to success in IT:
Effective verbal and written communication skills are important in any sector, but doubly so in IT. Whether it’s speaking with management in order to obtain approval for a pet project of yours, or talking with help-desk administrators to collectively work through a problem, the ability to communicate your ideas effectively is indispensible to any IT professional. While your coworkers and employers will likely be familiar with the technical terms and jargon that permeate the field of IT, the layman, who more often than not is also your customer, won’t be.
If you want to acquire or retain his business, simple, clear and effective communication, not technical ability, will be what does the trick. At the end of the day, you can have unmatched technical skills and revolutionary ideas. Without the means to effectively and clearly demonstrate and communicate those skills and ideas, however, they will never be fully actualized and your development as an IT professional will be severely hampered as a result.
The ability to work well with others and establish healthy, productive working relationships is critical to success in IT. Because the IT sector relies so heavily on sharing knowledge and working with others in order to realize large projects, teamwork and solid interpersonal skills are of the utmost importance. Teamwork entails not only the capacity to engage and work effectively with others, but also involves demonstrating appropriate and compelling leadership skills when the situation demands it. Due to the nature of the job, most IT professionals are able to work independently fairly easily. Those who can also work well in teams, however, are often the professional assets that IT companies and organizations will move mountains to acquire.
Negotiation and Conflict Resolution
IT is essentially where people and technology intersect and, as a result, the ability to negotiate and resolve disputes productively is crucial to success in IT. Negotiation skills are important for everything from hiring new individuals, to finding new clients, to persuading otherwise hesitant company management to move forward with one of your proposals. Conflict and disputes are inevitable in any workplace setting, and the ability to build consensus and find agreement in these situations can propel your IT career to previously unscaled heights.
All three of the aforementioned soft skills and indeed, most soft skills in general, require tailoring your demeanour and attitude in a manner conducive to forming healthy and productive relationships. While soft skills can be difficult to master, there are several practices that you can incorporate in your dealings with others that will make you significantly more relatable and personable in your interactions with others:
Avoid verbose language. While many people think that using fancy terms conveys intelligence and expertise, studies have repeatedly shown that verbal and written communication that is simple, confident, and clear is what resonates most with people in all professional arenas.
Listen to others. People usually give hints about their personality, likes and dislikes when they speak. By paying attention to others’ mannerisms and focusing on every conversation despite the temptation to multitask, you can tailor your communication to others to make it have more of an impact.
Encourage others. Whether it’s in a team-based setting or with a client, encouragement and positive reinforcement will instantly endear others to you.
Share knowledge and information. Many people in the IT industry prefer to keep their knowledge, tips, and tricks to themselves, as they believe that doing so will make them more valuable to their employers. The reality is that, in life and certainly in IT, you get what you give. Being open about relevant information and knowledge will cause others to act the same with you, and consequently encourage healthy working relationships.
IT employers are increasingly seeking individuals with soft skills in addition to technical expertise. If you want to maximize your career opportunities and truly distinguish yourself, cultivating soft skills can exponentially propel your career in IT.