9 November 2018 · Absolute IT

Soft skills are more important for people working in the IT industry than ever before. You could be the master of the latest programming language, or a cyber security mastermind, but if your tech skills aren’t supported by a solid foundation of soft skills, you might find it difficult to snag your dream job. A strong set of soft skills makes you more appealing to employers, and therefore, more hirable. Soft skills are subjective and difficult to quantify as they relate to how you work with other people. These skills can be developed, but it takes commitment and self-awareness. Practice, particularly in context, is essential.

We’ve pinpointed the top five skills every IT expert needs. Keep reading to learn what these skills are, why they’re important to the IT industry and how you can develop these skills yourself.

Skill #1: Adopt a collaborative mindset

Teamwork and collaboration are two of the most important soft skills IT experts need. In most cases, people working in IT will be a part of a wider team or department- particularly if you work in a large organisation where a full IT team is required for the smooth day-to-day running of the business. Whether you’re reviewing wireframes with a UX designer, or planning sprint workloads with your project manager, working with others is pretty much unavoidable.

Every person is different and when working in teams, you will quickly realise this. What works for someone, may not work for someone else. Teamwork is all about gauging the best way to work with people and adapting your approach to achieve group synergy.

All IT’ers will know how quickly and suddenly tech-related issues can arise. Businesses rely on technology to complete the simplest of tasks, so when technology isn’t working as it should, almost everyone is affected. Collaborating effectively with other team members to solve an issue will get the problem fixed sooner – it’s a win win!

Why is teamwork and collaboration important for the IT industry?

Working collaboratively in person is one thing, but working in a team from afar amplifies the need for teamwork. More and more businesses are adopting flexible working policies – working from home, a local cafe or even a different country is fairly common. In such cases, the need to rely on other team members is enhanced and requires a concerted effort.

The perks of a team all being in the same office can be taken for granted. Shoulder tapping someone when you have a question, or regular face-to-face meetings are not always an option in some jobs. The main benefits of face-to-face contact are quick responses and the ability to read body language. Communicating via conference calls or emails removes some of those benefits, so understanding how to work collaboratively in a remote team is essential.

How can you develop this skill?

How comfortable you are working in a team will depend on how much experience you’ve had collaborating with others.

The only way to become an expert is to practice. Being in a team is the best way to learn about how to work well in a team. Ask your manager to involve you in the next team project, or invite a couple of colleagues to collaborate on something you are working on. When working in a team, ask for constructive feedback from your teammates or manager; what did you do that was great? What could you do to improve next time?

How do you showcase this skill in an interview or new workplace setting?

Employers will want to know whether or not you prefer working individually or collaboratively. Regardless of your preference, it’s really important to show you are open to and competent at both. Be prepared for a potential employer to ask for examples of how you’ve worked collaboratively in previous jobs, or in everyday life. It might be feedback you received from a previous employer about your ability to work collaboratively, or a sport team you excelled in – prepare your examples ahead of time, so you can confidently talk about about your collaborative chops in the interview!

In the workplace, make a conscious effort to involve team members in work you are doing. Share learnings, offer to teach people new skills and jump at every opportunity to work in a team.

Skill #2: Be adaptable and comfortable with ambiguity

Change is inevitable in the IT industry. With technology evolving rapidly, businesses regularly tweak their processes to ensure they are operating efficiently. According to CIO, being adaptable is one of the most sought-after soft skills for employers. With change, comes ambiguity – no business has a crystal ball to predict the future, so being open to uncertainty is paramount. The IT team is responsible for managing and processing information throughout a business, and therefore, it is likely any changes will directly impact this department.

The IT industry has even more change coming its way, especially with the regular development of AI and automation. Some experts believe certain IT jobs won’t exist in the future as they will be managed by robots. While this may be the case for some jobs, there are still plenty of IT jobs that require human brain power – no need to panic! Rather than hoping a robot won’t replace you, adapt to the changing environment and build skills in areas that robots don’t have.

Why is adaptability important for the IT industry?

Working in an industry where change is common and unavoidable, all IT techs need to be comfortable with this reality.

How can you develop this skill?

If you find new surroundings or situations are difficult to adapt to, seek opportunities to try something unfamiliar. Developing an interest in something new that mixes up your normal routine is a great first step. This hobby or interest should challenge you – don’t just stick with what you know.

The same approach can be applied in a workplace setting. Find something at work that you wouldn’t normally do – it might be presenting to the team, or getting involved in a project you haven’t worked on before. Practice makes perfect!

How do you showcase this skill in an interview or new workplace setting?

At some point in your job, you will face changes – big or small. When changes are communicated to the business, lead by example and be optimistic. If you have a larger change at hand, collaborate with your colleagues and devise ways to cope with the changes.

In a job interview, explain to your interviewer how you’ve overcome change in previous jobs or in life experiences. Bonus points – ask the interviewer for their opinion on a specific development in the IT industry and how they see it changing the landscape of IT work.

Skill #3: Effective communication skills

According to the February 2017 Absolute IT Job Seeker Insight, communication skills are the most sought after skill in the IT industry. Having strong communication skills is relevant to all industries and jobs – the ability to write, speak and read clearly is the key to success in any role.

The role technology plays in businesses has grown immensely. Previously, IT experts worked in silos and were the only ones who needed to understand technology and how it worked. Nowadays, it is fundamental to every businesses’ efficiency and success. This places more pressure on IT experts to become “tech translators”, ensuring that internal stakeholders understand how the technology a business relies on works. For people working in the IT industry, tech jargon is probably a second language, but it can be confusing for others in the business. That is why communicating technology information in plain english so that everybody understands the message is a highly rated and valuable skill.

Why are effective communication skills important for the IT industry?

Technical knowledge is important for all IT experts- it is needed to get the fundamentals of a job done. Technical expertise alone however, builds a barrier between IT employees and other team members. As Harvard University put it, “when you pair such interdisciplinary knowledge with strong writing and communication skills … you can build partnerships with business stakeholders, helping them make well-informed decisions.” IT experts are the intermediaries between technology and other stakeholders in the business. Communicating ideas, project updates and issues in plain language is crucial.

Many IT projects fail because of poor communication. In most jobs, everyone in a business relies on and uses technology. Businesses need the IT team to teach team members how to use tech properly. IT solutions are often sold to clients to help their business be more efficient. Issues arise when the client isn’t very tech-savvy and struggles to use the IT solution as it was intended. The IT professional needs to understand why the client is struggling and work with the client to come up with a solution. Clear comms makes these high-stress situations so much easier.

How can you develop this skill?

Reflect on your recent interactions with internal and external stakeholders alike. Consider the situation from the perspective of someone less versed in tech jargon – would they understand what you’re talking about? Is there a simpler way to explain this to them? Ask a colleague to peer-review an email before sending it, or practice a presentation in front of a friend before the real thing. Implement their feedback the next time you’re being a “tech-translator”.

How do you showcase this skill in an interview or new workplace setting?

Take initiative in the workplace and ask colleagues what their IT pain points are. There might be terminology they come across but don’t understand, or issues they’re having with internal IT solutions. Mentoring others so they have a better grasp on IT is beneficial to everyone. In a job interview, explain a situation where you relied on strong communication skills to problemsolve.

Skill #4: Get organised

Developing IT solutions requires strong project management skills to determine what can be delivered, when, and for how much. This can take years of practice. IT experts are in the best position to provide time estimates, as they understand the actual tasks involved in a tech project. Being highly organised comes hand in hand with being a IT expert; it’s difficult to manage the delivery of a project on time and on budget, without basic organisational skills.

When a piece of work is sold to a client, the business needs to set realistic expectations. The client relies on the business to deliver the project at or above these expectations, and an IT expert helps to ensure this is achieved. Organisation skills can be the difference between a successfully completed project, and a project that blew out on cost.

Why are organisation skills important for the IT industry?

The process of developing tech solutions has a lot of moving parts. IT experts need to have control over project progress and communicate this back to the project manager and client.

It is common to come across problems when working on IT projects. An IT professional needs to to detect issues early on, and essentially “have a sixth sense about projects.” Once an issue is flagged, the IT expert is responsible for communicating any delays to the project manager and other internal stakeholders.

How can you develop this skill?

If you live and breathe time-tracking spreadsheets and productivity apps, mentor other IT colleagues so they can also develop organisation skills. Or, if you need to develop this skill, identify a colleague who is competent in this area and ask to work with them.

Do some research on the apps available to help embed productive habits into your workflow. Introducing something as simple as a Trello Board can do wonders for productivity!

How do you showcase this skill in an interview or new workplace setting?

For IT techs who have experience in project management, explain situations where you excelled as a project manager, as well as moments where you had to deal with issues and problemsolve. If you don’t have much experience, express your interest to get involved in project work and to get skilled up with this process. Admitting you aren’t an expert, but are keen to learn will impress your potential employer!

Skill #5: Willingness to upskill

In order for an organisation to continue learning and improving its product or service offering, their employees should be hungry to learn. Developing your skillset is of interest to any business, so learning new things should be a priority for all IT gurus.

It is becoming common for employees to direct their own performance growth. Constant upskilling guarantees better job performance and progression into more senior roles in a company.

Why is willingness to upskill important for the IT industry?

Upskilling is essentially future-proofing yourself. As we know, change is an inevitable part of working in the IT industry. Take ownership of your career progression and gain skills in a variety of areas, whether it’s a new coding language or deployment process. Continuous learning will help IT professionals cope with the constant change in the industry.

How can you develop this skill?

Relevant training both inside and outside an office environment is a great way to upskill. There are many ways someone can upskill in the IT industry – we have a plethora of resources available at our fingertips. Find podcasts to listen to during your morning commute, subscribe to email updates from your favourite tech blogger, or head along to industry meetups in your area. Getting exposure to areas you don’t generally work in, is a great way to broaden your skill set. There are various platforms, such as Skillshare, that are designed to educate and upskill individuals. Do some research and check out online tutorials that could benefit you.

Reverse mentoring can also be an effective way to upskill. Find someone who may have a different skill set, or be more literate in certain IT areas that you aren’t as familiar with. In return, find out which topics they want to learn about and offer to mentor them in return – that’s a tick for both collaboration AND upskilling.

How do you showcase this skill in a workplace or interview setting?

Encourage your manager to invest in upskilling programs internally or externally. Companies are often willing to send their team along to conferences or events, especially if the learnings gained can have a direct impact on the business. Be sure to report back on what you learned and how it applies to your company. Personal development initiatives are another effective way to facilitate upskilling. Set aside a small portion of your time at work each week and dedicate it to your personal upskilling.

In a job interview, mention that you are a keen learner. You could provide an anecdote on something you learned from a podcast, or reference a recent meet up you attended.

There you have it – the five skills every IT tech needs. You may be more competent in certain areas, but don’t rely on one or two soft skills to get you by. Work hard to develop your weaker areas and to become an all rounder and tech superstar.  Need some more career advice? Check out our online resources to get the job of your dreams!