In today's fast-paced job market, employers are fighting tooth and nail to find and retain top talent. That's great news, but not every candidate has what it takes to be viewed as a top talent — a title reserved for a highly prized cohort. These are people who have the skills that are coveted by employers and hiring managers.
And, no, we are not talking about college degrees, qualifications, or experience gained on the job. We're talking about soft skills.
While the hard skills may vary from one company to the next, the soft skills are universal and often define the traits for top talent. Not convinced? Consider these stats:
- The National Soft Skills Association attributes 85% of job success to well-developed soft skills.
- According to a CareerBuilder survey, 16% of employers give more importance to soft skills than hard skills when vetting job candidates, while a whopping 77% believe soft skills are just as important as hard skills.
- Deloitte's Global Human Capital Trends report found that more than 90% of executives consider soft skills a priority for their employees.
Clearly, soft skills are what sets a candidate apart in the eyes of recruiters. This also means you might be doing your career a disservice if you do not develop your soft skills.
Now, you might be wondering — what exactly are these elusive 'soft skills'? Let's cover the basics before we delve into discussing the ones you need to possess to give your career the right direction.
What’s a soft skill, you wonder?
That’s what we’re covering here today. We will define soft skills, call out the most important ones for an IT career, and how you can gain them.
What are Soft Skills?
Soft skills refer to intangible and non-technical capabilities that a person possesses, which dictates how they work with others and navigate their environment. They can also be defined as a blend of interpersonal, transferable, and professional skills, such as communication, problem-solving, critical thinking, time management, responsibility, leadership, teamwork, etc.
As the term suggests, these skills are not specific to any vocation and have more to do with the general attitude and personality of a candidate. And because these skills help capitalize on your potential, leveraging them can be a massive game-changer in your career. As such, soft skills are necessary for every job-seeker, and for that matter, every individual.
Adaptability and Flexibility
We are often presented with unexpected situations at work. An urgent task may land on your desk, or an unforeseen challenge might show up and throw a wrench in your project. Your ability to be flexible and adaptable is what will help you sail through these situations smoothly. It can help you accommodate new changes and find alternate solutions.
To be truly adaptable, you need to be an adopter of change and a challenger of assumptions. You need to discard the attitude of "we've always done it this way". With the business world moving at a rapid pace and new trends and technologies disrupting the way we live and work, adaptability is one of the top qualities global organizations want in their employees.
just being able to articulate clearly. It is a broad category that includes many facets of dealing with other people at the workplace, be it co-workers, supervisors, or clients.
It could mean anything from how well you express yourself, both in writing and verbally, to your ability to persuade a board of execs, to resolving workplace conflicts, and everything else in between. Active listening and nonverbal communication are also valuable elements of this soft skill.
Because most things depend on communication, having strong communication skills automatically puts you in an advantageous position and boosts your chances of building healthy relationships in the workplace. You can — and should — hone your communication skills by attending a class on communication or joining public speaking workshops.
There have been situations in the past where a smaller company could get away with having a one-person IT department. Still, unless the company in question is exceptionally tiny (as in, fewer than 50 people), the lone wolf is a vanishing breed.
Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, the ability to collaborate remotely has increased dramatically in importance. With no definable end in sight to the health restrictions, the ability to work together when everyone is in a different location is paramount.
Remote working needs aside, collaboration also makes tasks like coding and app development easier. Every team member must not only know their role but be able to stay in their lane and lend a hand when needed.
It's common for us to encounter problems at work. The question is, how do you confront them? Are you someone who simply complains about problems, or do you look for solutions?
If you fall in the latter camp, congratulations — you are the type of person that every organization views as an asset.
Problem solvers have the ability to think critically that helps them find a way out of any given problem. Their thought process is solution-oriented, which allows them to divert their focus from the problem to figure out how to solve it. They analyze and critically observe every situation.
When you develop these skills, it allows you to bring new perspectives and well-thought-out solutions to the table. Employers consider these vital skills to help their organization progress.
The success of every company is rooted in the hard work of its employees. Now, every employee is different, and each of them has their own skill sets. But, it's only when individuals capitalize on their talents and work together towards a common goal; when all their strengths are combined that tasks get done, the company grows, and everyone wins.
Therefore, the ability to work as a team is of paramount importance. Teamwork involves:
- Showing respect for each other's opinions.
- Being able to negotiate to reach the appropriate outcome.
- Extending help to teammates when they need it.
Being a solid team player not only strengthens performance but also improves relationships at work. As a result, work quality will improve, there will be fewer conflicts, and it will create a favorable work environment overall. And, which employer doesn't want that?
In business, time is money. Naturally, every job comes with deadlines and the pressures associated with it. And, sometimes, the stakes are high. This is why time management is a skill that makes a difference between being in-demand and being disposable.
Effective time management skills are necessary for managing your day-to-day tasks, prioritizing them in a way that they are always completed within time, knowing when to delegate them to others, and utilizing your time as productively as possible.
It has been observed that employees with effective time management skills are viewed as organized and are more easily trusted with new tasks.
Not to be confused with being egotistical, an IT professional with a healthy ego has enough confidence that they won’t get rattled when they make a mistake. Errors, rather than living in their heads and inhibiting their future performance, instead become opportunities to learn. Furthermore, professionals who have a healthy ego and self-confidence have no reservations about standing aside and letting others tackle problems, rather than the "I alone can fix it" mentality, leading to failure and disappointment.
We can divide this soft skill into two sub-skills, humility and accountability. Taking responsibility for your actions and owning up to your mistakes makes you more comfortable to work with in a team setting, whereas the opposite causes teams to break up due to mistrust.
Self-confidence often stems from possessing the right hard skills to do a job, so taking courses in your related field could boost your confidence along with your skillset.
The better IT professionals are organized. It doesn’t mean that these people are OCD, but a level of organization helps you multitask (something you will inevitably be required to do), prioritize, and manage your time. An organized professional is a productive and efficient professional, thus an asset to any organization’s IT department.
IT tasks are notorious for being either difficult or tedious. A good IT professional can tough it out and keep grinding out results, even when lesser mortals have given up. Perhaps there’s an application that crashes at a given point, and no one can figure out why, try as they may. Determined IT professionals rise above the circumstances and are relentless in their pursuit of results. Nothing slows them down or discourages them, at least not for too long.
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Creativity and Resourcefulness
Sometimes, an IT team member needs to think outside the box, implementing an unorthodox yet effective solution. This need also means developing creative ways of using the resources the organization has given you to accomplish tasks or at least know where to find the answers.
Take a Hard Look at Your Soft Skills!
If you're learning new skills to stay relevant and grow your career, remember that only focusing on hard skills isn't enough. While upskilling is an excellent way to future-proof your career, developing soft skills should be on your list too.
The world is changing fast and furiously, and in order to keep up, you need to cultivate your interpersonal strategies that determine how successful you are in your current job and how you will advance in the next stages of your career. Soft skills aren't just your weapons for solidifying your position in the job market but also offer you a lifetime of lessons that will serve you outside of work.