In today’s competitive IT landscape, possessing technical skills and expertise is crucial for success. However, it is equally critical for IT professionals to develop and showcase their soft skills. Soft skills encompass behaviors and personality traits that enhance an IT professional’s performance, such as effective communication, collaboration, problem-solving, leadership, and adaptability.
Employers are increasingly looking for soft skills in potential employees. Illustrating this trend, a Harris poll of 2,138 hiring managers found that 77 percent of employers value soft skills as much as hard skills.
Soft skills complement your technical skills and can help you succeed professionally in the IT industry. In this article, we will:
- Explore essential soft skills for software development and IT and share some tips to develop them.
- Break down the step-by-step process for overall soft skill development.
- Discuss ways to showcase your soft skills.
Top Soft Skills for IT Professionals
A study from Boston Consulting Group, Emsi Burning Glass, and The Burning Glass Institute found that the need for soft skills is up 22% from 2016 for IT openings. The top five jobs with the most significant increase in demand for soft skills were:
- Mobile Application Developer
- Web Developer
- Computer Programmer
- UI/UX Designer/Developer
- Computer Support Specialist
But what soft skills were employers looking for in these positions? Let’s delve into these soft skills and share some specific tips for developing them:
Communication is the ability to express your ideas clearly and concisely, both verbally and in writing. It also involves listening actively and responding appropriately to others. Communication is essential for IT professionals and software developers, as they must collaborate with their colleagues, managers, clients, and stakeholders on various projects. Communication skills can help you:
- Understand the requirements and expectations of your projects.
- Share your progress and feedback with your team.
- Explain technical concepts to non-technical audiences.
- Express to others the value of your solutions.
- Resolve conflicts and misunderstandings.
To improve your communication skills, you can:
- Practice speaking and writing in different situations and contexts.
- Use simple and precise language that avoids jargon and ambiguity.
- Ask open-ended questions and paraphrase what others say to check your understanding.
- Use non-verbal cues, such as eye contact, gestures, and tone of voice, to enhance your message.
- Seek feedback on your communication style and areas for improvement.
Teamwork is the ability to work well with others towards a common goal. It involves respecting diversity, sharing responsibilities, supporting each other, and resolving conflicts. Employers look for this soft skill in software developers, who often work in teams to plan, design, develop, test, and deploy software products. Teamwork skills can help you:
- Leverage the strengths and expertise of your team members.
- Learn from different perspectives and experiences.
- Increase creativity and innovation.
- Enhance productivity and quality.
- Foster trust and morale.
To improve your teamwork skills, you can:
- Clarify your role and expectations within your team.
- Communicate openly and regularly with your team members.
- Appreciate and acknowledge the contributions of others.
- Give and receive constructive feedback.
- Embrace diversity and inclusion.
Problem-solving is the ability to identify, analyze, and solve problems effectively. It involves applying logic, creativity, and critical thinking to find optimal solutions. Problem-solving is a core skill in IT with the various challenges and issues that arise. Problem-solving skills can help you:
- Define the problem clearly and accurately.
- Break down complex problems into smaller and manageable parts.
- Generate multiple possible solutions and evaluate their pros and cons.
- Implement the best solution and monitor its outcomes.
- Learn from mistakes and failures.
To improve your problem-solving skills, you can:
- Use various tools and techniques, such as brainstorming, mind mapping, flowcharts, algorithms, etc.
- Seek input and advice from others who have relevant knowledge or experience.
- Experiment with different approaches and test your assumptions.
- Review your solutions regularly and make adjustments as needed.
- Reflect on your problem-solving process and identify areas for improvement.
Adaptability is the ability to adjust to changing situations and expectations. It involves being flexible, resilient, and open-minded. In the technology world, change is constant and happens fast. Adaptability skills can help you:
- Embrace new technologies, tools, methodologies, etc.
- Respond quickly and effectively to changing requirements, deadlines, priorities, etc.
- Handle uncertainty and ambiguity.
- Learn new skills and update your knowledge.
- Manage stress and emotions.
To improve your adaptability skills, you can:
- Seek new opportunities and challenges that stretch your comfort zone.
- Be proactive and anticipate potential changes or problems.
- Seek feedback on how you handle change and cope with stress.
- Develop a positive attitude towards change and view it as an opportunity for growth.
- Practice mindfulness techniques that help you stay calm and focused.
Creativity is the ability to generate original ideas or solutions that add value. It involves thinking outside the box, challenging assumptions, and experimenting with possibilities. For developers, creativity is especially needed for project ideas and solutions to make the idea workable code. Creativity skills can help you:
- Identify new opportunities or gaps in the market.
- Design user-friendly interfaces or features that enhance user experience.
- Optimize code or algorithms that improve performance or efficiency.
- Overcome obstacles or limitations that hinder your progress.
- Stand out from the competition.
To improve your creativity skills, you can:
- Explore different sources of inspiration or information that spark your imagination.
- Brainstorm ideas without judging or filtering them at first.
- Try different perspectives or approaches that challenge your thinking.
- Experiment with different combinations or variations of ideas or solutions.
- Seek feedback from others with different backgrounds or opinions on your ideas or solutions.
Developing Soft Skills: A Step-by-Step Approach
We’ve only covered some soft skills employers seek in their IT workforce. Since we can’t go through all the others, we wanted to provide a framework for developing soft skills in general. No matter what the soft skill is, these steps will help you optimize it.
1. Seek Feedback
To improve your soft skills, seek feedback from colleagues, managers, clients, or mentors. Honest and constructive suggestions from others can enhance your communication, teamwork, leadership, and other soft skills.
2. Learn from Role Models
Observe and learn from individuals who excel in the desired soft skills. Look for role models within your organization, or seek inspiration from industry leaders, experts, and influencers. Additionally, utilize resources like books, articles, blogs, podcasts, or videos that offer valuable insights and advice on soft skills development.
Repetition is key to developing proficiency. Take on new challenges or opportunities that require the use of soft skills. Volunteer to lead projects, present proposals, mentor junior colleagues, or collaborate in cross-functional teams. The more you practice, the more confident and adept you will become.
4. Take Advantage of Courses and Workshops
Enhance your soft skills by enrolling in courses or workshops dedicated to specific areas. Numerous online platforms offer various classes covering communication, teamwork, leadership, creativity, problem-solving, and more. Additionally, explore courses provided by your employer or professional associations to strengthen your skill set further.
Showcasing Soft Skills: Making an Impact
So now you know the importance of soft skills (especially to employers) and how to build them. While cultivating new soft skills is vital, we can’t forget to capitalize on the ones we currently have.
Even if you’ve just started your IT career, you likely already have one or two soft skills under your belt. The experienced professional might have several soft skills they’ve mastered so far. So how do you showcase these soft skills? Let’s go through a few ways to do so:
Optimize Your Resume
When crafting your resume, ensure your soft skills are highlighted with your technical skills. Incorporate relevant keywords in the summary statement, skill, and work experience sections to effectively showcase your soft skills. For instance:
Summary Statement: “A creative and collaborative IT professional with over five years of experience in web development and project management.”
Skills Section: “Communication, teamwork, leadership, creativity, problem-solving.”
For Interviews, Prepare Examples of How You Used Soft Skills
Maximize your potential during interviews by researching the company and the specific role you are applying for. Anticipate the questions that might be asked and prepare examples that demonstrate how you have effectively utilized your soft skills in previous projects or situations. For instance:
Question: “How do you communicate complex technical concepts to nontechnical audiences?”
Answer: “I use analogies and metaphors that relate to their everyday experiences or interests. For example, when explaining encryption to a music-interested client, I compared it to a musical score that only certain instruments can play.”
Build a Strong Portfolio
Create a portfolio that showcases your technical and soft skills through work samples. Highlight how you approach problems, collaborate, present ideas, and handle feedback. Utilize online platforms or tools where you can upload or link your work samples. Include descriptions or explanations for each work sample, emphasizing the soft skills involved.
Demand for Soft Skills is Here to Stay
Soft skills will continue to be in high demand by IT employers. By developing these skills, you can improve your performance at work, collaborate better with others, create innovative software products, and achieve professional success. Hopefully, you’re one step closer to growing and showcasing your soft skills to complement those hard-earned technical skills.