To be successful in their careers, IT professionals need the technical chops to manage systems, secure networks, and build servers. However, IT soft skills are equally important to career success.
Consider the following two IT professionals. The first is excellent at her job. She knows her organization's data backward and forward and knows how data serves her company's business objectives. She knows how the company's software applications are connected, she's deeply familiar with the hardware and software she relies on to do her work, and she's comfortable working with related technology—but she's difficult to work with, she's frequently late, and she isn't a team player.
The second is just competent. She knows enough to get the job done, but her work isn't always perfect. When she makes a mistake, she quickly owns up to it, asks for help, and works hard to fix the problem. She gets along with coworkers, shows up on time, and works well with everyone.
In today's IT workplace, employers look to build and leverage teams of skilled and dedicated professionals. The second IT employee would add more value and likely last much longer in the role due to her soft skills.
Hard vs. soft skills.
A person's skill set comprises two types of skills: hard skills and soft skills.
Hard skills are often learned through education or hands-on training. They're the specific skills a person uses to perform a job. In IT, these technical skills can include expertise in programming languages, coding, building computer systems, or upgrading networks.
Soft skills aren't necessarily job-specific. They're often called transferable skills because they're as necessary to IT as they are to any other career. Time management, communication, ambition, and work ethic are all soft skills.
Many schools are emphasizing hard and soft skills concurrently, as they realize that soft skills can help their graduates land and keep jobs. Inside Higher Ed reports that employers are increasingly looking for employees with well-developed soft skills. Among the skills most valued, according to a survey of hiring managers and HR professionals conducted by Cengage, were listening skills (74 percent), attention to detail (70 percent), and effective communication (69 percent).
5 critical IT soft skills.
Employers want IT professionals with a combination of technical acumen and soft skills, including
Communication. Strong verbal and written communications can help you build connections with teammates and solve technical problems more efficiently. Being able to communicate effectively in writing—not just email and messaging, but being skilled at drafting a well-written document—will go a long way to helping your career. Anyone working in business should be able to send a clear, coherent, and polite email. While it's tempting to fire off a one- or two-word reply to a coworker or boss, those emails can come off as unhelpful, curt, and rude.
Emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence, according to Psychology Today, is the ability to manage your emotions and the emotions of those around you. Being cognizant of and controlling your emotions helps you connect with coworkers and adjust to how they learn and communicate.
Collaboration. If you work in IT, chances are good you're running agile methodologies as part of a team. Being a productive member of that team—helping to solve problems and resolve conflict as a group—is important. IT professionals who want to lead those teams need to be good collaborators if they want to be promoted to scrum master or project manager.
Time management. There are a lot of moving parts in a development project. In order to complete tasks on schedule, you need to be able to manage your time. Meeting deadlines conveys professionalism and can help you rise through the ranks.
Creativity. LinkedIn lists creativity as the soft skill most sought after by employers—and for good reason. Much of IT involves solving problems, developing new technologies, and troubleshooting errors. Being able to think creatively is key to accomplishing each.
Developing soft skills.
The old stereotype of the lone IT professional maintaining a server room is no longer true. Today's IT professionals work in teams and interact with company leadership. They're expected to explain the development process to users and product owners. IT professionals in leadership roles—or aspiring to leadership roles—need to display professional behavior and be able to work with and manage others.
Earning a degree in IT will net you necessary technical skills, but you can also hone your soft skills through an IT degree program. WGU’s Master of Science in Information Technology Management includes a course on Power, Influence, and Leadership that will help you develop soft skills. Success in other courses such as technical communication, management, and critical thinking will make you more competitive on the job market. You can also develop soft skills with your capstone. Further, professional development courses, managerial training, or mentorship will help you develop soft skills.
As technology and artificial intelligence advance, the world will need professionals with strong soft skills to manage cutting-edge machines. A creative IT professional who manages people well is more likely to thrive in an automated world than someone with only hard skills.