9 essential soft skills for IT leaders

Landing your next role takes more than just experience – skills like empathy and passion matter more than ever these days. Consider this advice for your next interview
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emotional intelligence

I recently presented a candidate for a C-level position at an established tech company. She ticked all the boxes for a chief product officer:

  • Decades of experience in bringing tech solutions to market
  • Experience in leading teams
  • Ability to pivot with market changes

In addition, she understood how to meld technology with market realities to ensure that any products developed would solve critical issues facing current customers and prospects.

Sounds perfect, right?

There was one issue: In interviews, she did not excite the hiring executives.

Just because it’s a candidate’s market for tech jobs does not mean hiring executives will make an offer, even when a seemingly perfect candidate is at their doorstep.

[ Also read: How digital transformation is changing the IT hiring game. ]

Being qualified (or even overqualified) to take on a role is not enough. You need to sell yourself, regardless of what position you’re pursuing. You may be ideally qualified for a job based on your hard skills, but more often, people get hired, promoted, and even fired based on their soft skills.

9 soft skills to highlight in an interview

To get hired, you need to allay any doubts that hiring teams might have, particularly that you may lack certain critical “soft skills.” For that reason, it’s essential to showcase these skills in interviews. Here are nine key skills to focus on.

1. Passion

Passion is essential in building your brand. It starts with a personal mission and the ability to excite others. You must be able to seamlessly translate your mission to a company’s mission to show a hiring executive how you will ignite the company.

2. Integrity

While most hiring executives will give candidates the benefit of the doubt on the question of integrity, it still pays to demonstrate examples of how you have upheld the morals and ethics of an organization. The best proof of this will come from your references.

3. Vision

Vision is critical in enhancing your brand. It is vital that you have a vision for how a company can contribute to the world and of how your role can help realize that organization’s vision. Executives with vision attract other candidates who want to be on the same road to success.

4. Flexibility

An executive with flexibility understands when to be tactical and strategic. The best leaders know when to regroup and when and how to forge ahead. Demonstrating this balance gives hiring executives confidence that you don’t have “analysis paralysis,” but also that you won’t plunge ahead without thought.

5. Humility

While it is important to take credit for accomplishments, it is equally important to do so with humility. Talking about your wins while also acknowledging the team’s role requires walking a fine line. Avoid using the word “I” and explain that achievements happen thanks to the power of the team. Humility will engender trust and respect.

Avoid using the word 'I' and explain that achievements happen thanks to the power of the team. Humility will engender trust and respect.

6. Empathy

Empathy is the ability to look at problems from various perspectives. Demonstrate how you have forged cross-functional teams across operating units to create understanding in an organization. Show how different perspectives enabled better decisions. Most importantly, admit your biases and how empathy helped to temper them.

[ Read also: The new CEO: Chief Empathy Officer ]

7. Ability to influence

Positive influence inspires people around you to be better. Hiring executives will want you to demonstrate how you have influenced people and empowered them to succeed.

8. Cultural fit

Hiring executives want to feel confident that you will fit and excel in their organization’s culture. To succeed, you should want this as well. We often see examples of cultural fit in sports: For example, a player who is marginal on one team might excel on another.

9. Authenticity

Authenticity is paramount. It can’t be taught. If you are branding yourself in a new role as a leader, admit what you don’t know. Not having all the answers is often the best answer.

Now that you know some of the most critical soft skills, how do you show that you have them?

Demonstrating soft skills is not always easy. The best approach is usually to demonstrate actions taken and results achieved. Describe a problem and explain how you solved it, or how you used comprehensive thinking and analysis to drive a decision. If possible, offer documentation that supports your experience.

Remember, experience alone won’t necessarily land you your next role if hiring executives doubt your soft skills. Your job is to overcome their uncertainty and get them excited – not just about your accomplishments, but about the soft skills that separate you from others.

[ Get exercises and approaches that make disparate teams stronger. Read the digital transformation ebook: Transformation Takes Practice. ]

Marc Lewis is a co-founding partner and CEO of executive search firm Leadership Capital Group. He has three decades of experience in retained executive and board search nationally, and two decades internationally.