Ladder Climbing Soft Skills for IT
Being an expert in your field of study is not enough to make you successful in the Information Technology industry or any industry for that matter. Only focusing on your technical expertise and spending all of your time being a heads-down Subject Matter Expert (SME) is only part of your professional profile. Some IT careers do lend themselves better to introverts, but all of us in IT need to have an entire set of well-developed soft skills. I talked extensively about Communication as the #1 Soft Skill in a previous article, but what are other soft skills necessary for success in an IT Career and how do you build them?
The Most Commonly Mentioned High-level Soft-Skills
- Time management
- Work Ethic
- Decision making
Here’s a comprehensive list of soft skills I found through a quick search:
The great thing about these lists, for those of you just starting out, is that they provide you with a visible representation of many of the qualities that can make you “successful” in a professional environment, beyond being an expert in your field of study. This is not a checklist, and you don’t need to set a goal to obtain them all, or even 50%. The lesson here is to recognize that your success in a professional environment is dependent on MANY factors only one of which is your technical skillset. It’s never as simple as: “I’m the best systems administrator ever. Irreplaceable in fact!”, or “I’m the smartest person here by far!” That’s not enough.
How do you get these skills without being in an IT job?
If you have been reading here for a while and haven’t looked at MeetUp.com, do so now. MeetUps require your physical attendance, unlike everything else on the internet that you try to learn from, and that’s the point. It forces you into the kinds of situations that you need to develop relationships with like-minded individuals and in-turn your soft-skills. It will help improve many of those skills, and the professional networking can lead you to a new job.
A long-standing organization that can get you past the fear of public speaking.
Make “Talking Head” YouTube videos about your hobbies or interests or the latest football game (NFL or Premier League) – read and respond to comments; stay positive; make corrections.
Quora and Reddit
Posting to these sites in any sub that interests you is a great way to work on your writing and get feedback.
Teach, Coach or Mentor!
Volunteer or paid community positions are available that increase your communication skills. You can work a booth at your county fair, be the President of the County baseball league, be the Treasurer for your Condo Association. There is no shortage of organizations looking for help. Finally, be a mentor and find a way to help others; a great way to learn is to teach.
Other Volunteer Work
You can volunteer for many different types of positions in many roles. Find one that interests you and go for it. When my son started playing hockey, I volunteered to be a coach. Not only is it great because I spend time with my son, but it’s taught me a few things about organization and communication. Parents who are paying for sports have different expectations than your single colleagues in the office.
Whatever avenue you choose to work on your soft-skills your ultimate goal is feedback; both good and bad. Improve strengths and make corrections to weaknesses to update your soft-skills. You are going to get negative feedback, and some may be unbearably nasty. Do everything in your power to ignore the outright abusive comments, as they contribute no value to anyone. However, all comments are learning experiences (apply Pareto’s Law.) For the most part, people like to help others, and you will find that your fear will disappear quickly. Your weakness will be addressed, your soft-skills refined and your boss will notice!
I direct message (DM) people on Reddit as a way to coach and mentor. It’s a questionable “tactic” among the internet marketing professionals, but I find that I get about 98% positive feedback. Every 100 or so DMs I get a nasty message back. In all but one case so far I followed up on those ugly messages and something positive came out of it (I asked those Redditors questions about how I can improve then I adjusted my marketing message.) I determined that the one I didn’t respond to was just not worth my time (One of nearly 500 DMs so far!) I deleted it and moved on. In many of the responses that were positive I developed a relationship with someone to transfer my years of knowledge to help them with their careers; which is my mission. Stay focused on the positive.
Another Way to Work on Those Skills
The most important “soft skill” to me is actually leaving your office/cube and going to talk to people – communication. In fact, for all of my entry-level direct-reports, this was Task #1 on their list of first quarter objectives. We like to hide behind our computers and use email, instant messaging, or even the phone. Nothing beats a good old fashion face to face conversation. The development of many soft skills starts if you are comfortable out of your chair and office.
I will warn you though, as with everything there is a line you should not cross. There is a difference between being an excellent networking, verbal leader well known in the office versus being “that guy” at the water cooler who won’t shut up. Or the office or cubicle that everyone avoids. Or why everyone else’s door is closed, but yours isn’t. Your conversations have to revolve around providing value to the person you are talking to. Or very quickly getting value for yourself out of someone (like an executive). You have to be acutely aware of how useful your conversations are and recognize when you cross the line. Recognize and know when to stop talking and walk away… a skill on its own!
If you really want to talk casually with someone, even an executive, I’ve always given the advice to take them out to lunch. Almost nobody refuses free food. Even executives will provide you with some leeway with their time if you are paying for their meal. Chosen wisely, the timing of meals and the use of your resources (money), splurging on lunch can be a big career boost. The executive may end up picking up the tab anyway!
Never just list Soft Skills on a resume.
Read the above sentence three more times… 1… 2… 3…
Got it? Thanks.
Soft Skills on The Resume
If you need or want to put soft skills on your resume they should be in the form of an example – use action verbs, “I was the head counselor at a camp for kids ages 7-15. As the head counselor, I was responsible for leading the organization of activities and ensuring adherence to strict schedules.” Simply listing out “your” soft-skills provides zero value on the resume.
If you are not getting responses to your resume on Indeed or Monster, are your skills just listed out without any explanation or background justification? If so, go back and modify them, so the reader understands how you gained or applied those soft skills. Many people want to know what some “magic words” are for their resume. Action verbs related to your successful tasks and projects describing how you contributed to your teams’ mission are those magic words.
Soft Skills ARE Critical
Finally, soft skills are evaluated as equally as technical skills, if not more so, in all but the most technical positions, and more so as you move up the ladder. Find a way to address your soft-skill weaknesses and increase your soft-skill strengths, and you will find yourself making significant progress in your career!