Today’s leading IT organizations consider leadership and communication skills the most important traits in their workforce.
The simple truth is that soft skills like empathy, critical thinking, and adaptability have always played a role in hiring decisions. These traits frequently make the difference between a good technologist and a great one.
Interpersonal and organizational skills influence not only the organization’s culture but also how well an IT professional can communicate ideas, collaborate, and resolve conflict. These abilities are table stakes in today’s work environments – so if soft skills aren’t a priority in your hiring practices and workplace culture, it’s time to reconsider.
Soft skills separate good technologists from great ones
Picture this: You just hired a senior software engineer who aced their skills test and brings years of experience and an impressive resume to the table. In their first few weeks, they knock out tasks, meet deadlines, and deliver exceptional outputs. But when it comes time for the engineer’s first project with direct client contact, things go south – fast.
The engineer fails to translate technical jargon and ideas into digestible content for your business-minded clients. And they don’t take time to understand the client’s problem and business impact before bringing in the technology, which makes the client feel rushed and makes them doubt your team’s ability to understand the task at hand.
[ Also read IT leadership: 5 ways to create a culture of gratitude. ]
While this example is a worst-case scenario, it’s not far off from what can happen when you make hiring decisions without considering an applicant’s non-technical skills. A lack of soft skills – like conflict resolution, expectation-setting, and proactivity – can negatively impact entire teams and their projects, not just the individual’s success.
With organizational spend under greater scrutiny, it’s critical for every new hire you onboard to add value to the business. Productivity and technical skills are paramount in demonstrating resource value. But when you have two candidates with comparable technical skills, you need to consider the value each person’s soft skills bring to the table.
How to recruit and foster well-rounded technologists
Soft skills impact how teams communicate, collaborate, and problem-solve, and these capabilities determine the success of your IT projects and client relationships – and, ultimately, your organizational culture.
Company culture also plays a crucial role in your brand reputation: You want clients and job candidates to view your team as pragmatic, business-minded problem solvers and communicators. So as non-technical skills continue to play a critical role in the IT arena, it’s time to reconsider the qualities you search for and foster in employees.
Evaluate soft skills during the interview process
Skills tests like coding problems and design scenarios make it relatively easy to gauge an applicant’s technical skills. But soft skills are more subjective and often require deeper conversations to evaluate in an interview. As your team interviews candidates, spend ample time on conversations highlighting each candidate’s ability to communicate and think critically.
Ask questions like these:
- What would you do if your team were on track to miss an important deadline?
- How could you avoid that scenario in the future?
- How would you explain X to a client?
- Can you tell me about a time you had to work with a difficult co-worker?
Don’t expect interviewees to answer every question perfectly. But situational questions like these force applicants to go off script and provide on-the-spot answers to how they would act in real-world scenarios.
Foster soft skills in the workplace
A focus on soft skills during the interview helps narrow your talent search, but you can also help employees foster non-technical abilities with on-the-job experience. Senior leaders often leave entry-level employees out of tough conversations and scenarios – which is a disservice. Shadowing opportunities allow younger employees to see how leaders act, speak, think, and collaborate with their teams in difficult situations.
You can also promote soft skills by building retrospective meetings into your organization’s culture. Many teams working under an Agile project management framework already hold retrospectives after software deployments. But you also can – and should – reflect on scenarios that involve your teams’ interpersonal and organizational skills.
For example, next time you face a challenging client situation, take a step back and discuss how it went. How effectively did the team communicate when an issue arose? How could you have better handled a last-minute change of plans? This type of reflection helps surface areas for improvement and opportunities to iterate processes so the team can play to its members’ strengths.
Today’s IT leaders need well-rounded teams with exceptional technical and interpersonal skills. No matter how advanced a person’s coding or data architecture knowledge is, well-developed soft skills give them a leg up in the workplace and ultimately lead to better business outcomes and a more positive organizational culture.
[ Ready to level up your communication skills? Get advice from IT leaders. Download our Ebook: 10 resources to make you a better communicator. ]
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