This feature first appeared in the Fall 2022 issue of Certification Magazine. Click here to get your own print or digital copy.
Today’s employers are looking for more than just technical competence from new IT hires. Tech savvy is obviously important — but it isn’t the only thing modern businesses use to rate top job candidates. In the modern working world, IT professionals must demonstrate secondary skills that offer added value and contribute to the company’s overall workplace culture.
These additional capabilities, often referred to as soft skills, aren’t explicitly linked to a specific IT job role. Soft skills are abilities that make you a more well-rounded and capable person, which in turn makes you a more valuable employee for any business that brings you onboard.
Soft skills go beyond having a pleasant demeanor and being punctual when attending meetings. Your innate personality and character may make some soft skills easier to manifest, but they are still acquired abilities that require deliberate and mindful practice to implement into your work life.
Let’s take a look at a six soft skills you can add to your personal portfolio to increase your value in a competitive IT hiring market. These skills are presented in no particular order, except for the most important one, which we'll address last.
Soft Skill No. 1: The ability to teach others
The ability to teach skills to others has a value that cannot be overstated. While large companies often have a dedicated training department, many employers will commonly expect that more experienced workers will be able to train newcomers on the job.
The best starting point for learning how to train someone is to draw on your personal experience. Review the education experiences that you’ve had during your professional career. What are the things you wish the person training you had done differently? What aspects of the experience did you appreciate?
You can learn more about what goes into becoming a good on-the-job teacher by looking up online content related to the "train the trainer" model. This model was designed to show instructors how to train others to be great trainers. There is a wealth of material on the web devoted to this subject.
Soft Skill No. 2: Time management
Time management means more than arriving at work on time and staying present until your shift ends. Time management is a skill set that covers multiple situations, including which tasks you should start your day with, how to avoid and deal with interruptions, and when to shift to a different task in order to optimize your daily output.
Every workplace has its own pace and priorities, sometimes varying on a day-to-day basis. The ability to manage your time effectively is a key contributor to your overall job performance.
Time management became a hot topic during the global pandemic, when record numbers of IT workers began working from home. Our home environments are not naturally conducive to work-based time prioritization; our homes are more typically geared around getting kids ready for school, getting pets fed and walked, and doing meal preparation tasks.
Fortunately, there are dozens of great time management apps, widgets, and gadgets that go a long way toward making anyone, even work-from-home employees, better at using time effectively. In fact, fitness tracking and time management are probably 90 percent of the use cases for smart watches, a technology hardware category that has gained great traction over the last few years.
Soft Skill No. 3: Leadership
Leadership isn’t about acting like you’re in charge — something that your supervisor might not greatly appreciate! Leadership is a set of skills and personality traits that can provide value in the workplace even when you aren’t in a position of authority.
Leadership skills offer a dual benefit in that they can improve the quality of daily workplace interactions, while also demonstrating your potential future value to an employer.
One example of providing leadership in a non-authoritative job role is contributing to team building. Businesses place a high value on the creation and maintenance of high-performance teams that work well together, in which different personalities are positioned to complement each other. Offering positive and constructive support to team-building efforts is a leadership skill that is definitely worth adding to your soft skills repertoire.
Soft Skill No. 4: Emotional intelligence
(EQ) Emotional intelligence has arguably never been as important in the workplace as it is today. There has been a massive cultural shift in the perception of what constitutes an emotionally healthy work environment. The ability to accurately judge the emotional context of a workplace situation and offer appropriate responses is a paramount modern professional skill.
Emotional intelligence is largely based on our sense of empathy. Empathy is the ability to put ourselves in the position of another person, recognize the emotions they are experiencing, and offer responses that will have a constructive impact (while avoiding responses that might escalate conflict or provoke negative reactions).
Building your EQ might be the toughest soft skill in this list to master. It can also be the most rewarding, however, in terms of elevating the interactions you have as an IT professional.
Soft Skill No. 5: Writing
There is a reason why many colleges and universities continue to make engineers and scientists take English courses. In nearly every profession — and in the IT industry in particular — you are at some point going to be called upon to write something in a skilled and qualified manner.
It could be an incident report, a description of a software bug, a budget request, or a performance appraisal for yourself or an employee under your supervision. The bottom line is that every IT professional should be able to write in a precise and coherent fashion once they have entered the workforce.
A common mistake made by people who aren’t confident in their writing skills is believing that one needs to build up a large and complex vocabulary in order to write effectively. While it’s true that some writers have substantial vocabularies, the most effective business writing is typically done with simple words that any middle school student would be able to understand.
Don’t worry about vocabulary. Do be sure to use the built-in spell checkers and grammar advisors found in most e-mail and word processing software. Your words don’t have to be complex, but they do need to be spelled write. Er, right.
Soft Skill No. 6: The master soft skill of all soft skills
There is a key soft skill that features through most of the previously mentioned soft skills. This key skill has been around since humanity’s earliest societies, and is the foundation of everything from successful relationships, peace treaties, and business mergers, to ensuring you get the right toppings on your pizza when you phone in your order.
The most important soft skill is communication and it is a critical aptitude for every IT professional no matter what their technology discipline is. Experts agree that poor communication in the workplace results in a long list of significant consequences: project deficiencies, poor client care, low worker morale, higher health and safety risks — the list of negative outcomes goes on and on.
The ability to effectively communicate in the workplace isn’t typically covered by IT training and certification programs, but any tech professional who wants to excel in the workplace needs to have strong communication skills.
It’s not difficult to see how communication feeds into most of the other soft skills. Teaching others, leadership, emotional intelligence, and writing are all skills that are dependent in some way on the ability to connect with people and share information and ideas with them.
As you might expect, there is no shortage of online learning materials and resources on the subject of communication skills. Researching effective communication techniques isn’t a mere dive down a rabbit hole; it’s more like trying to review every piece of code found in GitHub. You should have no trouble finding a starting point and working your way through what it takes to be a great communicator.
Start brushing up on soft skills
Hopefully we’ve demonstrated the value of soft skills for any IT professional looking to improve their career options and achievements. Don’t be discouraged if you are coming to these aptitudes for the first time; the great thing about soft skills is that they can be picked up and improved on at any stage of your career.
There are tons of great online resources available to help you master each of these skills, including self-paced courses, podcasts, video presentations, and written materials like books, articles, and blogs. You can also discuss any of the skills presented in this article with family, friends, and coworkers. The people in your life have personal experiences relating to these skills, and they can be a surprising source of insight.
Modern workplaces need modern skills, but you can benefit greatly from adding some classic soft skill techniques to your IT professional toolkit.