By XTGlobal Posted 10-Sep-2014
While there was a time when having advanced technical skills and expertise alone would be enough to get the job, today’s hiring managers are inundated with resumes from candidates that share your impressive qualifications. In order to gain a professional edge over your colleagues, developing the soft skills critical for an IT professional has never been more important. By demonstrating these in your interview – or after you already have the job – you can solidify your place as a valuable company asset.
Today’s job market requires high-level thinking by IT professionals, which often exceed the traditional boundaries of writing code. Technical skills alone can only help you make decisions when the situation is unquestionably clear-cut, but making savvy and well-structured recommendations to further an organization’s business goals can set an IT professional apart.
Having an understanding of the business ramifications of technology decisions can give you a solid edge over colleagues who suffer from a myopic outlook. When you take the time to learn about your company’s goals and objectives, you can approach every project with the desire to improve your company’s position. Since project stakeholders may not always be able to agree on what the final deliverable of a project should be at the outset of a project, bringing solutions to the table that marry functional requirements and budgetary mindfulness can make your opinion all the more valuable within the team.
While many IT professionals believe they do some of their best work when they’re left alone, employers value the enhanced results that come from teams. Effective teamwork is about so much more than simply communicating with your team. According to job search expert Alison Doyle, you must “know when to take a leadership role and when to be a team player.”
When you take this soft skill to the next level, you’re able to put the good of the company above all else, even when it means taking the project in a different direction than you would’ve preferred. Taking a strong ‘company first’ approach to your project moves you from a reactionary state to a proactive state, allowing your team to better forecast the obstacles they may encounter. Having the ability to effectively marry being a proactive team player with advanced development or technical skills is a powerful combination that employers consider heavily when making hiring and promotion decisions.
Being organized is about more than just maintaining a tidy workstation and being on top of your deadlines. It’s about having an organized thought process and approach to your projects. Perhaps even more importantly, it’s the ability to present your highly technical ideas in a logical and understandable way to your team, your manager and company executives.
This is really where your critical thinking and higher reasoning skills will come in to play. It’s not just about explaining how you intend to approach a project or which programming language is best to fix a problem, it’s about expressing why this is the best decision for the end user and the company alike.
Once you’ve properly organized how you’ll present your thoughts, you’re ready to focus on enhancing your communication skills. According to Mary Shacklett, “IT project annuls are filled with failed projects that were good ideas but poorly communicated.” To increase the success of your projects – and your success as an IT professional – effective communication is a soft skill you must develop.
A communication trap many IT professionals fall into is the use of jargon. While there’s nothing wrong with this when discussing a project with other IT professionals, it’s critical to use easily understandable language when talking to people outside your department, including project stakeholders and employees in non-technical roles. Whether you’re the team leader or a member of the team, your ability to be diplomatic in the way you express your ideas is always important. This applies to whether you’re delivering bad news about technical limitations or learning that company executives want you to take the project in a direction you disagree with.
In the modern business environment, professionals at all functional levels tend to devote more time to speaking than to fully listening to what others are saying. Language is full of subtext and nuance, and it’s easy to miss what someone is really trying to tell you when your mind isn’t completely present in the conversation.
Since IT professionals are used to pulling the facts out of a conversation, it can be easy to assume you know what they want and interrupt with the solution to the perceived issue to save time. Instead of focusing on your response, give the person speaking your full attention until they’ve finished explaining the nature of the technical issue as they understand it. Then, ask any questions necessary to clarify the true underlying problem.
Quite often, the result of attentive listening is a fresh new approach to a project. While the client or stakeholder may have an idea of how a deliverable should function, it is not uncommon for a conversation to spark ideas amongst the development team, leading to a more efficient, user-friendly or scalable solution to the task at hand. For those who are overly focused on their own voice, these details can be missed, leading to a project that can potentially underwhelm the client, fail to serve their needs long-term or even exceed the budget.
Effective communication can only happen when you devote the time to fully understanding what the other person is telling you. Once you’ve mastered the attentive listening soft skill, you’ll be able to ascertain more about what a project stakeholder truly wants during your interaction, allowing your projects to run smoother and be more successful.
While each of these soft skills is necessary for a successful career in information technology, enthusiasm is arguably the most important soft skill to develop. It doesn’t matter if you’re the best communicator in your company if everything you say drips with boredom and complacency. In many cases, it will be easier for you to take an active interest in the projects you’re assigned when you understand how they’re important to the company as a whole.
When we take enthusiasm a step further, determination enters the picture. The beauty of being enthusiastic and determined about the work you do is that you’re driven to not only meet your goals, but to happily exceed them whenever possible. Your enthusiasm for getting even the most tedious parts of your job done, can make even those projects facing timeline or budgetary challenges more of a pleasure to work on than a chore.
Remember, all skills require practice, attention and development to master. Honing these soft skills will not only make you a better technology professional, but can also help your chances of advancing your career in terms of responsibility, or even moving up the ranks in your organization.
Buhl, L. (n.d.). Six Soft Skills Everyone Needs. Six Soft Skills Everyone Needs. Retrieved August 27, 2014, from
Doyle, A. (n.d.). Top 10 IT Soft Skills. About. Retrieved August 26, 2014, from
Shacklett, M. (2013, May 30). 10 highly valued soft skills for IT pros. TechRepublic. Retrieved August 26, 2014, from http://www.techrepublic.com/blog/10-things/10-highly-valued-soft-skills-for-it-pros/
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