How to Develop Soft Skills
Technical skills have little value if you have poor soft skills. Don’t get me wrong, your tech expertise matters. But don’t be fooled by your tech skills. King of Linux, champion of Oracle? You’ve got it made, right? Give me a break! Tech skills alone are no guarantee of success.
Although technical skills are important for most jobs, soft skills can be even more important. Employers are looking for candidates with strong communication skills, creativity, analytical thinking, diplomacy, flexibility, problem-solving, leadership, team-building, and listening skills. If you’re weak in any of those areas, here is what you can do to improve.
The first step is to identify your strongest soft skills. When writing a resume or speaking in an interview, emphasize your strengths. In most professions, technical skills are important, but soft skills can be even more important to employers. They want to know if you are dependable and can deal with people in a positive way.
After researching soft skills, determine which ones may be weaknesses for you. Do you hide under your desk at the first sign of conflict? If you have a problem dealing with change, aggression, office politics or difficult people, consider attending a class to address the issue. It is an investment in your future.
If a formal class is too expensive, consider borrowing books or videos from your local library. Many books have been written about improving customer service skills, assertiveness and handling difficult people.
Soft skills empower you and create opportunities.
In my opinion, the main benefit of soft skills is empowerment. How does your tech skill translate to value? How do you create opportunity? Soft skills are useful for creating and taking advantage of opportunities – jobs, career and business. No matter how great your tech skills are, when job hunting, your marketing skills should be first-class. Otherwise others who may not be as capable as you, but who have better marketing skills might beat you to the jobs or work you want. There are opportunities in IT. But there are also challenges and competition. In such a competitive environment, perception often reigns supreme.
If your technical competencies are similar to those of other candidates how do you differentiate yourself? You claim to be a technical wizard. The problem however, and this is a big however, is how do I know if you are good if you can’t sell what you have – yourself or your ideas? Your certifications and previous work experience are important. But the issue at stake is this: can you convince the interviewer or clients that you will solve their problems and deliver value?
Soft skills not only improve your career, they also offer personal growth.
Interestingly, the acquisition of soft skills also empowers you by allowing you to build flexibility into your future IT career plans. How? Most soft skills are regarded as transferable skills, e.g. communication, project management, business and team work, which are needed in nearly all aspects of life, not just for your career alone. You need to grow not just as a techie but also as a person.
Developing professional ethics is vital to your career.
Stop negative conduct whether deliberate, due to ignorance, or because of an unsupportive environment. No matter your environment, you can’t afford to be ignorant, insensitive or unprofessional simply because you feel you are a technical guru. IT “Hot stuff”, swallow your pride, dig deep and identify your soft skills gap. Then make a conscious effort to close the gap. Nobody is perfect. But that’s no excuse to empower your weaknesses. Developing your tech skills while actively cultivating poor soft skills is akin to moving one step forward, two steps backwards. It burns and wastes what you hold dear –time, money and resources. Poor soft skills devalue. Period!
Control co-worker’s perception of you as a professional and an expert in your field.
If you are perceived as being difficult and unfriendly, of what value are your Linux skills when no one is ready to work with you? Are you doing your best in your area of specialization? But to people that interact with you – colleagues, clients, instructors, managers – what is their perception of you? A great asset, a fantastic contributor, just someone who does IT stuff, or the techie from hell? It’s a hard fact of life, but this book will often be judged by its cover. Most importantly, it’s not just about succeeding in work or business. What is the essence?
To grow as a professional, to grow in business, you must also grow as a person.