Soft skills can mean the difference between success and failure in your career, especially the IT industry. Soft skills will help you interact better with coworkers and clients and will make you a more well-rounded employee.
Soft skills can be learned and developed over time, and they’re crucial for career success. The problem is, many companies decry the lack of soft skills but do very little to bridge the gap for current and prospect employees. There are skills gaps and the blame game is real, mostly being pinned on the employee or educational systems. But, when employees lack soft skills, who is to blame?
In this blog post, we’ll discuss the most essential soft skills for IT professionals to learn. So whether you’re just starting your career or you’ve been in the industry for a while, read on to learn about essential soft skills that every IT pro should know, even if you hate people.
Table of Contents
What Are Soft Skills, and Why Are They Essential for IT Professionals?
What are soft skills? They are often described as “people skills” or “interpersonal skills” and refer to the ability to interact effectively with others. While hard skills are the technical abilities that you can learn through education and experience, soft skills are more difficult to quantify.
The reason is that soft skills are crucial for communication and interpersonal relationships. You may place technical skills higher on your list, and they are obviously important, but if you can’t effectively communicate with your team or clients, you won’t be successful.
You need to be able to work with people, accurately describe your needs, and be able to receive and follow instruction while promoting feedback.
Some of the essential soft skills for IT professionals include good communication, teamwork, problem-solving and critical thinking, time management, flexibility, and organization. If you can improve your soft skills in these areas, you’ll be well on your way to breathing new life into your career in IT.
How Can You Improve Your Soft Skills to Advance Your Career in IT?
In order to improve your soft skills, you need to be willing to put in the time and effort. It takes a lot of work, but it’s worth it.
There are many ways to improve your soft skills, and the best way is to practice with intent. You can take courses or participate in training programs that focus on developing these skills. There are also many books and online resources that can help you improve your soft skills.
Once you’ve learned how to improve your soft skills, make sure to put them into practice at your work.
Get to Public Speaking
If you really want to level up, consider coaching in the area of public speaking. See if you can find an experienced speaking coach in your area to receive instruction, examples, and ultimately give a talk.
Alternatively, you can seek out speaking groups like Toastmasters. There may be a club closer to you than you think!
Depending on your personality type, public speaking may be terrifying. However, you should strongly consider learning this skill. It’s hard to describe all the skills you will learn and the opportunities that will open up by becoming more recognizable and relatable. Besides, your confidence boost will be invaluable.
What Are Some of the Most Important Soft Skills for IT Professionals?
Soft skills are essential for all employees, but they’re especially important for IT professionals who often work with technology that can be difficult to use. The most important soft skills for IT nerds to learn include:
Effective communication is essential in any profession, but it’s especially important in IT. You need to be able to communicate with colleagues, clients, and customers in a clear and concise way. When you’re working on a project, you need to be able to explain the technical details in a way that everyone can understand.
And you need to be able to listen to others and understand their needs, especially the needs of a project.
Most projects in the IT field are completed by teams of people. You need to be able to work well with others and contribute to the team’s success.
Your bad experiences with team assignments in college are over. We’re in the real world now where every participant will have a stake in the success of a project and lasting consequences for failure.
Working as part of a team includes being able to communicate needs and what works or doesn’t work, compromise or find compensating controls, and work together towards a common goal.
3. Problem-solving and Critical Thinking
Problem-solving skills are another important soft skill for IT professionals. You need to be able to identify problems and find solutions. Sometimes the correct solution isn’t the best fit, so things aren’t as cut and dry. You will need to identify the root cause of a problem of a complex project that requires critical thinking and out-of-the-box solutions.
Critical thinking involves the consideration of all available inputs (facts, evidence, observations, experience, etc.) to form a judgment on the path forward. In IT, several definitions, outcomes, and problems can co-exist at any one point in time. Critical thinking allows for creative solutions to manifest.
4. Time management
Time management skills are also important for IT professionals. You are often juggling multiple projects with tight deadlines. It’s important to be able to prioritize your tasks and manage your time effectively.
The need for effective prioritization is something that will be constant in your career. Learn how to evaluate priority, as you won’t always have managers to guide you.
IT is a dynamic field. There is a lot to learn, but things can also change rapidly. You need to be able to adapt to new situations and technologies.
New conditions and technologies don’t just refer to emerging technologies. You might be assigned to a project that requires you to learn new skills or use new software.
In the beginning, learn to be a generalist and take on new projects and learning opportunities as they come.
In your early days, you will learn to be organized so you can maintain proper documentation. Staying organized and taking meticulous notes will mean you are efficient in your work.
The employee with the best notes, work journal, or collection of thoughts will win. Besides being prepared to take on projects and flow well in meetings, you will create a higher perception of competence amongst your management.
How Can You Use Your Soft Skills to Succeed in the IT Field?
If you want to improve your soft skills, there are a few things you can do. First, practice active listening. This means really paying attention to what the other person is saying and not just waiting for your turn to speak.
Second, try to see things from the other person’s perspective. This will help you to better understand their needs and concerns.
Third, be patient and flexible. Not everyone will have your level of understanding and will require varying time commitments to function in their area.
And finally, always be learning. The IT industry is constantly changing, so it’s important to stay up-to-date on new technologies and trends.
Developing these soft skills will help you advance in your IT career by making you more well-rounded and successful in your job. If you have strong soft skills, you’ll be able to build better relationships with your team members and clients, and you’ll be more successful in your career.
Managers high and promote people they like and can count on. By showing high competence in many soft skill areas, you will easily be able to convey your value and get noticed.
Effective Email Communication Examples
You may be wondering how soft skills will work in the real world. Let’s consider 3 real world examples of effective email communication.
Cold Email Outreach
I love this real example. This is how you reach out to people:
Subject: COMPANY Security Briefing
Body: Hi NAME,
I haven’t been out your way in several months. Recently I’ve been doing security briefings for the larger customers and thought I would include you guys in the next round. As a CISSP for the past 10 years, I regularly attend cyber security training and have been helping customers stay secure with their Microsoft products. There’s a new type of attack that has recently been automated to exploit user identity and the best practices of a few years ago are now vulnerable to current automated attacks. There are several things you can do to protect yourself including free utilities and settings changes. I would like to come out and discuss some of these new security best practices, free utilities, and products you already own that will help you best protect your workstations, servers, and domain controllers.
I’ll be in the area Friday morning on DATE. What’s your availability for me to come out for a couple of hours first thing in the morning? The audience would be the CISO, Active Directory administrator, and others interested. Please let me know.
This was a great cold email. It’s simple and effective. After reading this email, you know what they want, how they will do it, and what steps to take to move forward. After the meeting had occurred, here was the follow-up:
Body: Hi guys,
Thanks again for your time Friday before last. I’m glad we were able to spend the time to get you caught up on some of the new COMPANY security capabilities. In addition, here is the list of best practices we discussed. Please take a look and adjust your security settings as needed.
RESOURCE ON LINKEDIN
I see NAME is already scheduled to come out for a follow-up meeting. That’s great news. Let me know if you have any questions.
This turned out to be a great engagement. If only all cold emails were so effective. We wouldn’t have to waste as much time.
Introducing Yourself to New Colleagues
It is a great opportunity to quickly learn who everything is when your supervisor introduces you to your colleagues. Sometimes you get a supervisor who does not do this for you so the onus is on you to interact with people and thrive.
I wrote about How I Used Calendly to Connect with Co-workers a few years ago. I recommend you check that out so you can see a real example of how I was able to bridge this gap. Here’s the quick version of what you need to do:
- Identify who you need to connect with and make a plan on how you will do it.
- Make a spreadsheet with these fields:
- First and Last Name
- Department or Office (label)
- Notes (points of contact, times, etc)
- Create a general availability within your calendar.
- Reach out to your co-workers with a brief email introducing yourself and provide a scheduling call to action.
- Be friendly, curious, and supportive!
- Keep track of who you talk to.
Presenting at Meetings
When you get a chance to brief another department, you should take it! Here’s a real example of scheduling a briefing:
Thank you NAME for the warm welcome to the next GROUP committee meeting on the 30th. I’d like to attend to say a few words but I don’t need the full hour. The first talk might look something like this:
1. Brief intro.
2. What we’re up to, IT security wise.
3. One action item for you all.
4. Brief discussion and then I’ll answer questions.
This might be around 10 minutes depending on discussion. Just let me know where.
Thanks, looking forward to speaking with you all.
Nothing fancy, but simple and effective.
Proofread Your Emails!
Be sure to proofread your emails at least once before sending them out.
Here’s a real example of a funny email that went out:
I want to thank you and your staff for the installation of a Wife Connection inside our office. I don’t recall of asking for it; however, I thank you for the gift.
Have a great day.
There isn’t anything too bad with this blunder but we did endlessly mock this person for his new “wife connection.”
How to Deal With Difficult People
Not everyone will be receptive to your attempts to branch out. There are varying groups of people, each with their own personality and external circumstances.
Try to not take negative reactions from people personally. Try to be warm where possible, but appropriate problem-solving and communication strategies as necessary. Most of the time when people show difficult behavior, it is because they think that this is the best way to get their needs met.
This only allows a stressful work environment to flourish. Despite their transgressions, you have a choice on how you will respond to these types of people. Focus on people’s needs, but not at the expense of your stress level or the culture of your organization.
When responding to difficult behaviors, do NOT respond with any of the following:
- Being extra pushy with your requests.
- Engaging in the blame game.
- Throwing others under the boss.
- Setting yourself to avoid future accountability.
- Knowledge shaming.
- Lying about your experience or area of expertise.
The goal is to be positive and try to move issues and solutions forward. You don’t want to meet them down in the negativity. Try responding to difficult people with your own positive behaviors:
- Show confidence.
- Practice active listening.
- Always demonstrate respect and willingness to provide value.
- Create a sense of dignity on their behalf.
Dealing With Unacceptable Behavior
You are well within your rights to not accept toxic behavior. This is a subjective assessment, so your threshold will vary. Be sure to remain calm as frustrations and lashes may not be your fault. They are just directed toward you.
If your colleague makes personal threats, verbally abuses you directly, or generally behaves in an unacceptable manner, then be sure to let them know that you do not appreciate this type of behavior. Then escalate the issue with the appropriate party if necessary.
After the negative interaction has concluded, take a quick break before your next interaction. This can be taking a walk, listening to a short video or podcast, grabbing a beverage, or just stretching your legs and clearing your mind.
The ability to handle stress effectively will not only maintain your health, but also provide professional expectation for everyone else you interact with moving forward.
Soft skills are the interpersonal and communication abilities that we use every day in our personal and professional lives. They can be learned and developed over time, and they’re crucial for career success. In the IT industry, soft skills can mean the difference between a successful career and a stunted one.
Some of the essential soft skills for IT professionals include:
- Problem-solving and Critical Thinking
- Time management
Improving your soft skills will take time and effort, but it’s worth it. These skills will help you be more successful in your career and make you more valuable to your employer. If you’re not sure where to start, there are many books and online resources that can help you. There are also many courses and workshops available, both in-person and online.
Practice your soft skills in your outreach methods. Proofread any written communications and learn to deal with difficult people without taking personal offense. People can be insufferable at any job, so learn to be the best professional you can be.
These are just a few of the essential soft skills for IT nerds to learn. Do you have any essential soft skills to add to the list? Sound off in the comments below.