An IT career is a stable and growing one. In times of economic uncertainty, that’s not a given for a lot of jobs. In fact, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics expects computer and IT occupations to not just remain stable but to grow 11% from 2019 to 2029, faster than all other occupations.
That’s not all. The European Union reported that IT employment was “relatively resistant” to the numerous financial and economic crises that the Union had gone through over the last decade. So not only are there plenty of IT jobs to go around, but you’re quite secure in them too.
But that doesn’t mean you can rest on your laurels. You still need to continue investing in yourself. In its Future of Jobs Report, the World Economic Forum said that business leaders even expect you to pick up new skills. This doesn’t necessarily mean learning new technologies. Instead, it might mean polishing your soft skills.
What Are Soft Skills?
Soft skills are the personal, non-technical skills that determine how you interact with other people, how you solve problems, and how easy you are to work with. It’s often said that hard skills get you a job and soft skills keep you in it, but that’s an understatement. More than ever, companies want to hire and promote those who have good soft skills.
Because soft skills are fairly intangible, it might seem as if they’re something that you’re either naturally good at or not. But nothing could be further from the truth. Just like technical skills, you can learn and get better at soft skills too. All it requires is a conscious effort, time, and dedication.
Which Soft Skills Are Important?
Empathy is a foundational soft skill. All other soft skills are grounded in empathy, both for yourself and the people you’re interacting with. The more you’re aware of people’s feelings, needs, and concerns, the easier all other soft skills will become.
Put yourself in the shoes of the other person. What are they thinking? How are they feeling? Why are they feeling this way? Don’t judge, but understand. See things from their point of view. You’ll automatically become a more caring individual, which in turn will unlock new career opportunities over time. Plus, the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes could translate into building better products, an intuitive user interface, and more, because you understand their needs and concerns.
Many people hear, but they don’t listen. They wait for the other person to finish speaking so they can say what they’re thinking. Those who genuinely listen have a step up in the workforce. Active listening means being patient, giving the right verbal cues, asking good questions, and summarizing what the other person said.
Becoming a better listener means you’ll remember more of the conversation. This, in turn, can improve your productivity, help you make better decisions, and allow you to navigate the politics of your workplace better.
A Growth Mindset
More than perhaps any other industry, a job in IT is a job where you’ll need to keep learning. The technologies and machines you’re using today will seem antiquated a decade from now, or sooner. Having a growth mindset is vital for your professional success.
This needn’t be exhausting. If anything, it’s exciting! Being able to pivot to something new when required will make you so much more valuable to the company you’re working for. If they know you’re willing to learn and adapt, you become a candidate for jobs that you might not quite have the skills for yet.
Anyone can give feedback, but being good at giving feedback is a rare skill and will help you grow beyond an individual contributor to become an excellent manager. Good feedback is constructive, neutral, and doesn’t hurt the person on the receiving end. The best feedback does the following:
- Combines the good with the bad
- Is specific and problem-focused
- Is said quickly after the facts
- Doesn’t use loaded language
The ability to think deeply and critically about an issue is important at all stages of your career. Critical thinking is challenging because you need to use your imagination, your reasoning skills, your past experience, and even your gut feeling to decide on a certain something. Plus, it can be extra challenging given the pace of work, and the need to make rapid decisions seems to continue to accelerate.
It’s hard because our brain is beset with cognitive biases. More often than not, these biases sabotage our insights and make us draw the wrong conclusions. That’s why it’s a good idea to have a strong understanding of your cognitive biases and how they influence you. It will help you question your assumptions and think more strategically.
There will be points in your IT career where it’ll seem as if you’re stuck or, worse, at a dead end. Everyone has this experience. The ability to push through these difficult moments is necessary for advancing your career in IT.
Those who persevere get more done, faster. Compare that to someone who shies away from the tougher tasks or simply gives up. Which person do you think a good company will hire or promote? The ability to give your project that little extra push, even if you don’t want to, is what sets you apart from those who let frustration win out.
It’s easy to hide behind headphones or at home. While you might get by spending your career in the shadows, you’ll never achieve your full potential that way. For that, you’ll need to work together with other people across not only your own team but the organization you’re working in. You’ll always be part of a bigger team and it’s the people that surround you who hold the key to your success. As you become better at the six previously-mentioned soft skills, teamwork should become easier too.
While no team is ever perfect, you’ll be able to achieve much more with the right soft skills. So don’t neglect them. Make sure you’re good technically, but never underestimate the power of the skills that aren’t as easy to measure.