Of the numerous IT professionals who have solid technical proficiency, not everyone will go on to become a team leader, project manager, VP, or CTO. There could be various reasons for this. Lack of soft skills, however, is a big one.
Employers in the IT industry (and elsewhere) have been emphasizing the importance of soft skills quite a bit in recent years. If you take a look at some of the popular job websites, you’ll see that the number of job listings that specify soft skills as a requirement has gone up in the last few years.
Soft skills are innate qualities. In the corporate world, they’re also called “people skills,” or “interpersonal skills.” Soft skills, however, don’t come naturally to everyone. Does that mean you can’t build a career in the IT industry if you don’t have inborn soft skills? Fortunately, no. With the right effort, soft skills can be acquired.
The six most important soft skills
Communication — Many IT senior managers now consider good communication skills an imperative for developers and other tech professionals. In the IT industry, workers need to communicate clearly with others on their team, with managers, with non-technical employees at their company, and depending on job role, with customers.
Both verbal and written communication skills are highly beneficial, no matter what your role. Modern IT professionals must be able to understand complex technical concepts relevant to their jobs and be able to explain such concepts in accessible language that even a non-technical person can easily understand. Tech jargon is not for everyone and isn’t necessarily engaging.
IT professionals must also be proficient not just at face-to-face interaction in person, but also in video, e-mail, chat, and video conferencing.
With many professionals working remotely, proficiency in e-mail communication has become all the more important. Team members need to communicate with each other in order to understand project requirements, put forth ideas, and develop the right solution to a problem on budget and on time.
Collaboration — The ability to collaborate with coworkers is another must-have skill. Working in a team is becoming the norm in IT. Increasingly, CIOs and other IT leaders are realizing that software development projects work best when a team of skilled developers build a product or application together. This is especially important when something has to be built to scale.
Being able to collaborate with team members working remotely in order to solve problems as they arise, maintain workflow, and achieve deliverables on time, is crucial.
Analytical Problem Solving — Problem solving is a critical part of a tech worker’s job. To be able to come up with an optimum solution, an engineer or developer must understand the user’s problem. It helps to view things from the user’s perspective.
IT professionals are required to work out logical solutions to problems. Being able to understand why something isn’t working, and figure out how to fix it requires an analytical bent of mind. Analytical people can also detect a potential problem and prevent its occurrence. IT professionals who aren’t accustomed to thinking through problems need to adapt. Speaking of which …
Adaptability — The rapid pace of technological change makes it essential for IT professionals to adapt to new technologies and trends in order to stay competitive. A commitment to continuous learning can make the difference between career advancement and stagnation.
Empathy — Applications, products, and services are designed to solve problems and fulfil user needs. Unless developers and software engineers are able to empathize with a given user and put themselves in that user’s headspace, they are unlikely to understand that user’s experience. As a result, the application or service provided may not meet the user’s needs.
Being empathetic also helps one understand and identify with team members, and develop healthy bonds. This helps team members to bring out the best in each other and work together to build an optimum solution. Empathetic professionals have the potential to go on to become effective leaders because they can motivate others to give their best.
Organization and Time Management — An organized professional works systematically, keeping an eye on his schedule, prioritizing tasks, and taking care to complete work on time. Being organized enables one to fulfil one’s responsibilities, and work on multiple projects, simultaneously, if the need arises. It increases one’s productivity.
Being able to manage one’s time well is crucial to efficient systems management and security. A team member who lacks time management skills can cause their team to miss a project deadline, making the entire team suffer. Team leaders and IT managers value people with good time management skills because they can be relied upon to deliver on schedule.
Make your soft skills better
While soft skills come naturally to some, or have been built up over time at college and in the workplace in the case of others, many some tech professionals lack what are now considered core skills by many organizations. If you don’t have the best soft skills, don’t despair. They can be developed.
Let’s suppose that you don’t have confidence in your existing soft skills, or maybe aren’t convinced that you have them at all. What can be done to improve — or start from scratch — in this critical area?
First, know which soft skills are important for your current role or one you aspire to. Feedback from managers and coworkers is one of the best ways of becoming aware of your shortcomings. Constructive feedback from people you regularly work with is valuable. Be open to constructive criticism from those you interact with regularly.
If you already have a job, then you may already receive feedback from your manager about areas that need improvement. If that hasn’t happened, then it’s worthwhile to request a meeting with your manager. You could ask for an appraisal of your strengths and weaknesses. Others who could help are your team leader, coworkers, and even non-technical colleagues in other departments.
If you don’t have an immediate superior or are working independently, then you might want to take a reliable soft skills assessment test. These are available online from multiple vendors. When identifying the right online test, you need to verify whether the test has validation for your role.
The Graduate Management Admission Council offers a soft skills assessment. Some organizations use the Berke Assessment for gauge a job candidate’s soft skills before extending an offer or scheduling a second interview.
Specific steps to build your soft skills
Now that soft skills are considered essential for many IT roles, more and more companies are encouraging employees to opt for professional development of relevant soft skills. Some organizations offer to fund soft skills training courses for employees. Others help employees participate in seminars or corporate training programs.
Apart from employer-directed training, there are many options for self-directed learning.
There are numerous online classes available from multiple sources. It’s advisable to undertake some research before deciding on a course. Managers, colleagues, and industry peers are good sources of information. At some companies, HR may be able to offer suggestions about reputable training providers.
Udemy offers programs for developing specific skills including the following:
edX offers courses in communication, leadership, and other soft skills:
edX: Soft skills training
LinkedIn also offers soft skills programs:
LinkedIn: Soft skills training
Google Digital Garage also offers courses on communication, leadership, collaboration and other topics:
Digital Garage: Soft Skills training
Soft skills on the job
As with most other workplace skills, on-the-job training is one of the best ways to develop real-world soft skills. Communication is often deemed the most important soft skill, and you will naturally be required to communicate with team members and managers at any job.
Pay attention to how others communicate successfully, seek feedback on your own communications efforts, and don’t be afraid to adopt new strategies. Between e-mail, productivity suites, and video-conferencing, it’s more important than ever to improve your ability to communicate clearly, professionally, and effectively.
Be committed. This is one area of professional development that won’t just make it easier for you to succeed in the workplace. Soft skills apply across many different aspects of modern life. Developing your skills will not only help you get ahead in your career, they will add value to every interaction in your life.