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Soft Skills to Prioritize in Your Next IT Candidate

Hiring Professionals Ask: “How Important Are Soft Skills And Which Ones Should I Focus On With IT Candidates?”

Answer: Soft skills can be a “make or break” with any new hire. This is especially true with IT employees.

In the technical skills-based world of IT, soft skills are often overlooked and/or undervalued by hiring professionals. This can be a serious and consequential mistake.

One fact I think we can all agree on is that employee compatibility with your business culture is critical to corporate wellness.

In this post, you will learn the value of three critical soft skills to look for in every new IT hire.

We’ll also briefly discuss how to discern relevant soft skills during the candidate selection process.

From a sales executive to a coder to a DevOps professional, look for the different manifestations of these three critical soft skills:

  • People (aka Interpersonal) Skills
  • Social Skills
  • Communication Skills

Before we dive into an examination of requisite employee soft skills, though, let’s consider the overall anatomy of a great IT employee.

Hiring managers tend to be hyper-focused on technical skills when sourcing IT employees.

While this is understandable to some extent, you need to be cognizant of the cultural fit and the interpersonal characteristics of every new hire as well.

A great first step on the road to a seamless employee integration scenario, is to carefully examine the social aspect of the prospective role. Some simple questions to consider:

  • What Department Will The New Hire Be Working In (Sales, Devops, Development, Support, Etc.)
  • What Level Of Internal And External Customer Interaction Will Be Expected?
  • Will The New Employee Be Part Of Your Permanent, Temporary, Or Contingent Workforce?

Based on these basic but essential, questions you can start to formulate a personality profile for the new team member.

This brief profile will help you to identify some of the critical soft skills to look for.

Let’s consider some real-world scenarios. There are significant differences in the soft skills you would look for in a desktop support technician vs. a salesperson for example.

These two roles, although very different from each other in the workplace, would actually require some very similar soft skills. Customer support roles require excellent interpersonal skills. Sales positions also demand similar interpersonal skills, but the personality types might be completely different for these two employees.

To clarify this a bit, from Investopedia:

“Soft skills have more to do with who people are, rather than what they know. As such, they encompass the character traits that decide how well one interacts with others and usually are a definite part of an individual’s personality.”

So what exactly are interpersonal/people skills? Job board giant Indeed sums it up succinctly:

“Interpersonal communication is the process of face-to-face exchange of thoughts, ideas, feelings, and emotions between two or more people.”

With this in mind, let’s continue with the same example. You begin to see that required soft skills start to diverge with the two roles. Consider social skills. This subset of interpersonal soft skills refers to human interaction at a social level.

A salesperson will often interact with clients, including diverse groups, in social settings inside and outside of the office. These social interactions might include everything from group presentations, designed to keep the audience engaged and attentive, to dinners and other forms of entertainment.

The social environment for the support tech will be much more limited. Interaction will typically be virtual, e.g. via phone or screen share, etc. Desired social skills would include empathy, courtesy, politeness, etc. The support tech doesn’t need the entertainment level social skills that a salesperson might require, however.

What about communication skills?

Written and verbal communication skills are always high on the list of required soft skills.

Let’s look at another quick example. Consider two positions inside a software development team:

  • A contract software developer who’s been hired for a specific piece of code integration.
  • The lead interface from the development team to the marketing department for new software releases

There is an obvious difference between the level of communication skills required for these two positions. The contract coder is expected to deliver purpose-built code, and that’s it! Interpersonal communications could be extremely limited in a role like this.

The marketing interface, on the other hand, must be able to communicate software features and functionality in the language of marketing and salespeople.

Here are two software developers, both with dramatically different levels of communication skills required for them to effectively do their jobs.

So what’s the bottom line when evaluating a candidate’s soft skills?

Context, context, context! As you can see from our brief examples, the job requirement must be evaluated in the context of the candidate’s potential interpersonal and social exposure within the company.

Hiring managers need to be mindful of the fact that the right blend of soft and technical skills can make employees significantly more valuable in the workplace.

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