Anytime I stumble across surveys and reports about tech or IT pros, I tend to give the information a second look. That was definitely the case when I read a survey about IT workers self-identifying as needing to be more business savvy in order to grow in their careers. While we at Digium work with a lot of IT folks and developers who already have a good bit of “business savvy” and advanced soft skills, we thought this information was still worthwhile for those just starting in their careers or who haven’t had a clear path for career growth opportunities presented to them. Consider that by 2020, employment in all computer occupations is expected to increase by 22 percent, according to the 2014 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) biennial update of employment projections. This rise in IT jobs goes hand-in-hand with the shift in expectations of IT candidates in the workforce. Today, the vast majority of IT executives, managers, and employees recognizes that business proficiency is just as valuable to their careers as are new technology skills, according to a recent survey report from Wisegate. According to the survey, the number one noted skill IT workers cited as most worthwhile for them to focus on for career advancement was “being business savvy.” In second and third place were “influencing others,” and “building relationships.”
As IT becomes more tightly integrated into the business process, the experienced IT professional is expected to be able to understand the business, communicate ideas with coworkers and clients, negotiate, and even lead. This is the case because as within any career, the further you advance, the more important it becomes for you to be able to successfully work with and lead others – you have to be able to communicate your knowledge effectively. Here is a list of soft skills to master in order to move up the IT chain:
With the amount of emails, proposals, and design documents an IT professional is expected to write, written communication skills are essential. Verbal communication is key as well, as IT employees have to clearly explain technical terms and ideas to coworkers and customers in any easy-to-understand manner. Presentation skills also fall under this category. Whether you are presenting one-on-one or in front of twenty people, being able to communicate your ideas well aids in others’ support and financial backing of your ideas.
Great Team Player
Given their work environment, IT professionals tend to remain isolated in their specific job duties. Those who are able and willing to collaborate and work with others on tasks are viewed by higher-ups as an asset on projects. The ability to mentor and support a fellow IT employee is also a great skill to have, as most of the “real” technical learning occurs while on the job, not in a lecture hall. Plus, the more people like working with you, the more opportunities to do so present themselves.
Ability to Negotiate
No matter what area of IT you specialize in, or how far up the chain you currently are, there will come a time when you need to negotiate. People respect those who are willing to compromise and set ego aside for the good of the project. On the same note, standing up for your ideas and being able to defend their worth is equally valued. Being able to come to an agreement that satisfies both parties is a skill that will take you very far in life and in your career, especially if you want to be promoted to a management position.
Overall, 85 percent of employers say adaptability is the hardest skill to find. More than any aptitude, technology requires an agile mindset that thrives in a constantly changing environment. IT professionals often face setbacks ranging from technical problems to issues with vendors, and being able to adapt to change and focus the energy on finding a creative solution is a valued skill to employers.
Learn These Soft Skills
The good news is that most skills, including these soft skills, can be learned. The better news is that acquiring these skills not only helps you advance in your professional life, but can enhance every aspect of your personal life as well. Where can you learn these skills? Here are some suggestions:
- Take a Course: Many colleges offer classes such as public speaking, interpersonal communication, and creative/technical writing. Look in the events section of your local paper to find classes or lectures in the areas of team-building, leadership, or negotiation skills.
- Seek a Mentor: Identify a specific trait you would like to work on, and seek a mentor who embodies it fully. You can find a mentor within your place of work, or branch out to local organizations, colleges or universities, business chambers of commerce, or even your own family. Pick his or hers brain or set concrete mentoring-meetings. For a list of mentoring resources, check out this article by Forbes.
- Volunteer: Working with nonprofit organizations not only gives you a great opportunity to build your soft skills while giving back to your community, it also boosts your resume. What better way to list your sharpened soft skills than to be able to write something such as this: “As chair of the sustainability board, planned and carried out a citywide neighborhood cleanup campaign. Utilized team-building, decision-making, and leadership skills. Extensive report writing and presentations.”