Soft skills such as effective communication and the ability to collaborate are essential for the success of any IT department. However, IT hiring managers are finding that candidates who are proficient in these non-technical skills are increasingly elusive.
LinkedIn’s Global Recruiting Trends report, created in conjunction with Capgemini, found that top firms such as Citi and Vodaphone are using recruiters who specialize in artificial intelligence (AI) in order to screen candidates for soft skills. The report revealed that while 51 percent of firms report a hard skills gap, the number of firms who reported a deficit of soft skills stood at 60 percent.
So, which soft skills are in the highest demand? CIO’s Paul Heltzel recently asked a number of hiring managers and recruitment experts for their views on the most essential soft skills in IT. Here is what he found.
#1. Comfortable with ambiguity
According to the aforementioned Capgemini digital skills report, one of the most important soft skill requirements of IT departments is the ability to work with uncertainty and ambiguity. Today’s IT professionals need to be comfortable when faced with change. They need to handle unforeseen changes and alterations with resiliency. To a large extent, this ability is generational with Baby Boomers more resistant to change and Millennials having a ‘larger appetite for learning’ according to the report.
#2. Emotional intelligence
Heltzel interviewed Kong Yang of SolarWinds and asked which soft skill was most valued by his organization. Yang suggested that ability to read people’s emotions and react appropriately - ie. emotional intelligence – was one of the most sought after soft skills. Yang explained that IT professionals who have high levels of emotional intelligence are better able to collaborate, communicate and adapt to changes than their peers. Ultimately, this helps firms meet their business goals.
#3. Strong active listening skills
Yang’s colleague, Leon Adato, cited active listening skills – the process of reflecting back on what a person is saying – as one of the most important soft skills for employees to have in the IT industry. Adato explained that employees with strong active listening skills were able to verbalize and validate the nontechnical aspects of any conversation. This skill helps in the workplace and enables an IT team to collaborate more effectively.
#4. Ability to ‘work the process’
In interviewing Jon Toelke, Paycor’s senior manager of talent acquisition, CIO’s Heltzel was able to determine that the ability of an IT worker to put aside their ego was one of the most important soft skills. According to Toelke, technologies have a tendency to be particular when really they need to be united and work collaboratively in order to fulfil any directive. Intriguingly, Toelke revealed that the subject of ego was addressed with all Paycor candidates; Paycor doesn’t want or need candidates who have all the answers. They prioritize candidates who can identify their weaknesses, pivot, learn and adapt to drive outcomes.
#5. Willingness to adapt
Organizations need IT staff who are comfortable taking on new challenges because the direction and focus can change in an instant. Can a candidates move forward if a week’s worth of their work needs to be scrapped when a new solution is recognized? Toelke explained to CIO’s Heltzel that development is as much an art as it is a science and IT workers need to show a willingness to adapt. There’s no room for resentment or anger in a productive workplace.
This view was seconded when Heltzel spoke with iCIMS’ chief technology officer Al Smith. The most sought after soft skill among tech firms is adaptability, according to Smith. All IT professionals encounter setbacks and need the ability to maintain drive and focus when they encounter challenges.
#6. Problem-solving attitude
Heltzel interviewed the president and senior IT consultant for Technology Group Consulting, Vincent Tran, and asked which soft skills were essential for IT pros in today’s climate. Tran explained that highly valued individuals are those who are able to develop new processes and tools to resolve troubleshooting issues.
Tran noted that there’s a tendency among technologists to view new hardware or software as the solution for any problem. Truly great IT professionals are those who can create intuitive solutions with the tools at hand.
#7. Strong writing skills
In determining the ultimate list of soft skills, Heltzel reached out to Schellman & Co.’s practice director Matt Wilgus. Wilgus described writing as the ‘ultimate soft skill’ because it’s required at every step of every IT project. From completing a design document, to drafting a presentation and creating a report, writing is necessary at every stage of every project. Hiring organizations are increasingly asking candidates for a writing sample, and candidates should be prepared to deliver. This means eliminating misspellings and grammar errors, especially from cover letters and CVs.
#8. Ability to manage client expectations
When asked which soft skills were most lacking from IT professionals, Hettie Tabor, from Southern Methodist University’s Cox School of Business suggested that IT workers weren’t always able to ask pertinent questions. Tabor explained to CIO’s Heltzel that while IT staff often complained that business people don’t know what they need, the problem often lies with the IT staff.
One of the most important soft skills is the ability to manage client expectations. This means asking them the correct questions, and understanding how to create technical designs based on business ideas.
#9. Customer service skills
During an interview with Helzel, New York Institute of Technology’s director of experimental education Adrienne McNally suggested that IT pros increasingly need customer service skills. IT recruiters value candidates who can meet the needs of their non-technical colleagues just as well as those on the organization’s business side. All IT workers experience problems on the job and need to be creative about how they solve these problems.
Salesmanship is one of the most essential soft skill for IT pros to have, says Quick Base’s Jay Jamison. As the VP of strategy and product management, Jamison is aware that the ability of an IT worker to sell is just as important as their communication skills and self-awareness. To Jamison, salesmanship means then ability to sell people on your ideas and get people on board with your solution. Jamison argues that all roles are essentially sales at a certain level – whether you are selling yourself, a project or the company’s mission or product.
#11. Mentoring ability
Within organizations, technical career paths are often unclear. Therefore, mentorship and the ability to coach are incredibly valuable. O’Reilly’s chief content officer Karen Hebert-Maccaro says that the ability to mentor others is one of the top soft skills she looks for. She notes that mentoring can help to inspire others, build trust and develop oneself, not just others. Mentoring is just as valuable for the mentor as it is for the person receiving help, says Hebert-Maccaro.
#12. Effective communication
Dave Smith, DigitalOcean’s senior director of computer/network/storage engineering, suggests that IT managers and recruiters should ask every candidate to walk through their career progression highlights. This shows whether someone has good communication patterns and whether they are likely to help a team get along and perform well.
Jeremy Auger, chief strategy officer of cloud-based learning company D2L, identified empathy as one of the most important soft skills. IT pros need to incorporate different views before beginning any project. Although this has traditionally been the preserve of the UX team, IT pros who can think collaboratively will excel in any workplace.
#14. The ability to translate jargon
What separates great IT pros from simply good ones is their ability to boil things down to concise statements and convert tech jargon into regular language. According to CompTIA’s CTO James Stranger, this is one of the most important soft skills in today’s climate and can really help projects move forward.
#15. Collaborative attitude
As explained by DigitalOcean’s Smith, remote work and distributed IT teams are increasingly commonplace so the need to collaborate has never been greater. IT pros who can empathize, understand and collaborate with their team members are valuable assets to any organization.
These 15 soft skills are an invaluable insight for any IT candidate as they prepare for their next interview. They also give recruitment specialists and hiring managers an insight into the thoughts of industry experts. So, whether you’re an IT pro looking to brush up before your next interview, or a hiring manager who wants an insight into trends you should be looking for, these soft skills should give you a competitive advantage.