Soft Skills Critical to Getting Ahead

Soft Skills Critical to Getting Ahead

Technology skills and certifications are a big deal. A report from Burning Glass Technologies Labor Insights says that U.S. businesses posted job notices for nearly 600,000 core IT positions during just the fourth quarter of last year alone. It notes that an additional 116,000 new IT jobs were added to the U.S. labor force in 2014.

In previous posts, we have talked about the importance of technical training and key vendor certifications in landing those types of opportunities. But, getting a job by virtue of a person’s technical skills is one thing, getting ahead in that job can sometimes be another. Often, soft skills can have more to do with advancement in an IT department than the more traditional technical skills.

A 2014 skills gap study from the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) found that people with soft skills are becoming harder and hard to find. The survey found the four biggest soft skills gaps are:

  • Written communications
  • Leadership
  • Critical thinking/problem solving
  • Professionalism/work ethic

It certainly seems to makes sense. Technology professionals who can communicate effectively, negotiate conflicts, work in teams, etc. are going to be more valuable.

In a CIO magazine interview, an executive with technology staffing and recruiting firm Instant Alliance commented, “I would argue that soft skills like communication, empathy, teamwork and negotiation are almost more important than technical skills, especially in leadership or executive roles. Technologists who have these soft skills are better able to understand and accurately convey the business value of IT projects to other, non-technical stakeholders, get their buy-in and support and deliver more successful projects.”

The good news is that, like any skill, soft skills can be learned. Here are some ideas on how:

  • Identify Mentors: Be specific about the skill set you are trying to develop. When you’re approaching a potential mentor, compliment that person with a specific example in which you’ve seen her/him practice that skill. Ask whether she/he would be willing to share ideas with you about how you might achieve the same level of capability. This might grow into a long-term mentoring relationship, or maybe it’s a conversation that happens over a cup of coffee.
  • Volunteer: Working with nonprofit organizations gives you the opportunity to practice and build your soft skills in a (usually) very supportive environment. As a double bonus, having high-profile volunteer work on your resume gives you an excuse to point out what you gained there. For example, “As chair of the technology committee, planned and carried out a thorough assessment of the organization’s current technical vulnerabilities and future needs. Utilized team-building, decision-making and cooperative skills. Extensive report writing and public speaking.” Nice!
  • Take a Course: Some colleges are mixing technology with areas such as effective written and verbal communication, teamwork, cultural understanding and psychology. Community colleges will offer writing and public speaking courses. Look for courses that target conflict-resolution or leadership skills.

Easier yet, call or email your KnowledgeNet success advisor. With so much focus on our vendor certification training courses, you may not realize that we have an entire segment of our training that is focused on business and professional development. More than 5,000 hours of training on everything from leadership skills to writing. All of these courses are included as a part of many KnowledgeNet annual subscription packages.

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