Expanding or honing your skill set as an IT professional is part of the job. The rapid evolution of technology certainly forces the need for ongoing education and updated certifications. But a desire to accelerate your own professional growth can also ignite a passion for learning. In today’s competitive business environment, it’s the ability to master non-technical skills, or soft skills, that quickly boosts your reputation as an effective IT pro.
By 2020, employment in all computer occupations is expected to increase by 22 percent, according to the 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. According to a recent report from Wisegate, the vast majority of IT executives, managers and employees surveyed said they recognize that business proficiency is just as valuable to their careers as new technology skills. In fact, the number-one noted skill IT workers cited as most worthwhile for them to focus on for career advancement was “being business savvy.” Rounding out the top three responses 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 it becomes a matter of working with others. The countless technical certifications hanging on your wall still matter (and always will), but if you aren’t able to communicate that knowledge effectively, you may have fewer opportunities for advancement.
In this slideshow, Digium shares a list of five soft skills to master in order to move up the IT chain.
Five Soft Skills to Master
Click through for five soft skills IT pros should master in order to move up the IT chain, as identified by Digium.
With the amount of emails, proposals, and design or scoping documents an IT professional is expected to produce, strong 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 an easy-to-understand manner. Presentation skills also fall under this category. Whether you are pitching a concept one-on-one, presenting technical options to a small committee, or delivering a keynote speech to a room full of people, being able to communicate your ideas effectively is essential in gaining others’ support and financial backing of your ideas.
Great Team Player (Collaboration)
Given the typical work environment, many IT employees tend to remain isolated, focusing on their specific job duties. Your ability to collaborate and work closely with others on tasks is viewed by higher-ups as an asset on projects. Similarly, stepping up as a mentor and providing support to your fellow IT employees is also considered part of a collaborative mindset, and demonstrates your ability to lead. Plus, as you earn the reputation of being someone people like working with on IT, you’re likely to get more opportunities.
Ability to Negotiate
No matter what area of IT you specialize in, or how far up the chain you currently are, a time will come when you need to negotiate. This includes negotiations for purchasing and budgeting decisions, and for negotiating project development and scoping requirements. 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 any management position or on the career path to CIO.
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 quickly adapt and focus your energy on finding an alternative solution is a valued skill to employers.
At the foundation of all the other soft skills previously mentioned is the ability to listen, comprehend the information being exchanged, and respond effectively and succinctly. This is often classified as “active listening,” and sometimes described as being “present in a conversation.” It sounds simple, but given the number of mobile devices constantly vying for your attention at any given moment, and the other distractions bombarding you, the ability to truly concentrate on a conversation can be challenging – for anyone, not just IT pros. In an era when everyone appears to be challenged to fully focus their attention and process information in real time, your ability to master the art of actively listening is a soft skill that will pay endless dividends.