Communication in IT: Why Soft Skills Matter
If you’re working toward a job writing code or managing cybersecurity for an organization, then you’ve likely explored the technical skills you’ll need to succeed. But while tech skills are essential, there’s also a growing focus on the value of soft skills like communication in IT.
“Not only are soft skills important, I think they’re more important than technical skills,” said Laurel Schneider, an adjunct IT instructor at Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU). “I’ve hired and managed hundreds of people over my career. The technical skills may get you the interview, but it is the soft skills that get you the job.”
Schneider is not alone. According to Monster’s The Future of Work 2021: Global Hiring Outlook report, employers across many industries named soft skills such as dependability, collaboration, flexibility and problem-solving as the top skills they want in employees.
These skills have become increasingly necessary in the field of information technology, which has become a much more integral part of strategic business planning and operations in recent years.
Considering a career in IT? Let’s explore some of the top soft skills IT professionals need to succeed in the workforce. But first, let’s take a look at what soft skills really are.
What are Soft Skills in the IT World?
Soft skills are the non-technical human skills needed in every job across every industry. Communication, problem solving, critical thinking, analysis, perseverance and creativity are all considered soft skills.
Technical skills like coding and programming are critical to success in IT roles. But without strong soft skills, even highly skilled workers can struggle in today’s workforce, said Schneider.
“You can be the best coder in the world, but if you can’t get on (a) call or be in a meeting with a customer and work through an issue and not lose your temper or sound condescending, then you’re not going to do well on a team,” she said.
Why is Communication Important in IT?
Communication and other soft skills like problem solving, ethics and analytical thinking have become increasingly important in IT as the role of technology professionals has evolved.
While early IT jobs may have focused on managing passwords, maintaining technology infrastructure and fixing computer viruses, IT roles today often take on a much more strategic role in the business, said David Numme ‘16MBA, an associate dean of STEM programs at SNHU.
“Now IT is being rightly viewed as a strategic and operational business partner, and they have a seat at the table,” said Numme. “In order to maximize the value of IT through an organization, they have to have those soft skills to explain how technology solutions have strategic and operational value to the institution.”
Soft skills are also critical to pursuing leadership roles in an IT department or company, said Daniel Hawkins, an adjunct IT instructor at SNHU. IT leaders often spend a lot more time working with other departments and with other business leaders than sitting behind a computer.
“Moving away from the keyboard means that the IT professional starts having people work for them,” said Hawkins. “It also means working in teams, which is very collaborative. As the IT professional grows, that team collaboration evolves into leadership roles, which guides the teams to where they need to be.”
Learn how to become an IT manager.
What Soft Skills are Needed in IT?
So, what soft skills do you need to work in today’s evolving IT environment? While communication in IT is one of the most commonly sought-after, the list of must-have soft skills is long.
When you work in IT, it’s not enough to simply understand and use your technical skills to solve problems or create opportunities for your company. You also need to be able to communicate those efforts to key stakeholders.
Depending on the project you’re working on or the role you play in the business, those stakeholders could be anyone from an end-user to a company leader. Great IT communicators are able to adapt their message to appeal to these different audiences, said Numme.
“You can be the most brilliantly technical person to walk the planet, but if you can’t present, share and communicate those ideas to others, those ideas have diminished value,” he said.
When you work in IT, you may find yourself working in a team of other technology professionals. You might also have consistent contact with customers, other departments or even top executives.
Being able to work well with a variety of people from different professional experiences is key to success in this environment, said Schneider.
“It doesn’t matter where you work or if your job is customer-facing,” she said. “If you work in IT, you interface with everybody.”
Many IT professionals end up managing many projects, tasks and problems all at once. Because of all of this multitasking, good organizational skills are valuable soft skills for IT workers.
According to an article about soft skills in IT from global tech association CompTIA, being organized can make you more efficient and productive at work and help you prioritize your daily tasks better.
So much of the work done by IT departments is problem solving. Whether you’re custom coding a solution to buggy software, designing a cybersecurity program or responding to a hack, you’ll need strong problem solving skills to find innovative solutions, said Numme.
“Those problem solving skills are so important,” he said. “One of the ways that you solve problems is you have to work with others to get their input, brainstorm, solve problems.”
Before you can successfully solve a problem, you need to be able to analyze it from all angles and diagnose technology issues. IT professionals with strong analytical skills can do this work more easily, even spotting potential problems before they arise.
According to CompTIA, “being analytical gives you a major edge in IT, where you’re expected to find logical solutions to problems frequently.”
IT may not be commonly considered an art, but solving IT problems often requires a lot of creativity, said Schneider. With a job in IT, you will be challenged to come up with creative solutions, workarounds and fixes to keep business moving forward in the face of technical challenges.
“I can’t think of another field that uses creativity more,” Schneider said. “Without creativity, there is no innovation. And what is IT? It’s innovation.”
Just like creativity is required to solve IT problems, perseverance is another soft skill you’ll need to leverage often to be successful in this field. When you’re troubleshooting an IT issue, it’s not uncommon to have to rule out many potential causes before fixing a problem.
“The answer is almost never the first thing you tried,” said Schneider. “You have no choice but to persevere until you do have the answer.”
Resourcefulness is almost as important as communication in IT. You will need to be resourceful to solve new problems and learn new skills throughout your career.
According to CompTIA, IT professionals who know how to use available resources and seek out new ones are typically the most successful. Resourcefulness ensures that even if you don’t know the answer to a problem, you do know how to find it.
How to Build Soft Skills in IT
Ready to improve your communication in IT roles and build more soft skills? There are many ways you can start to improve your own skill set.
Building soft skills starts during your IT degree program. While many IT degrees focus most of their coursework on building technical skills, some programs do put a lot of emphasis on soft skills development as well, said Schneider.
At SNHU, for example, an IT bachelor's degree program includes classes dedicated to communication in STEM professions, as well as courses related to project management, leadership and more.
Degree programs also provide other opportunities for natural soft skill development, said Numme. Class discussions, group projects and peer review opportunities are all opportunities to learn how to communicate complex ideas, work collaboratively and even disagree respectfully.
But while building soft skills during a degree program is important, Hawkins said a lot of soft skill development happens on the job — and continues throughout your career.
“I believe that soft skills are actually something that you grow into as you work in the profession and learn more about yourself and how to communicate with others,” he said. “Soft skills get better with age and a lot of bumps along the way.”
How to Use Communication in IT to Get a Job
Because communication and other soft skills are in high demand in the IT field, they play an important role in helping you land your dream job.
Schneider said it starts by using soft skills to stand out during the application and interview process. Make sure that your resume is well-written and that any written communication you have with company representatives is professional and clear. Then, prepare to discuss examples of your soft skills during the interview.
“The best way to demonstrate soft skills is to just be really prepared for the interview. That’s where you’re going to shine,” Schneider said. “Everybody in the waiting room has the technical skills. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t be sitting there. What will distinguish you from someone else is the soft skills.”
And if a long, successful career in IT is your goal, it’s also important to find a job that makes you happy and fulfilled, said Hawkins. Doing so can also give your soft skills a boost.
“Soft skills come about and improve with practice and making mistakes along the way,” Hawkins said. “It is far easier to develop soft skills when it is something that you like and are motivated by.”
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Danielle Gagnon is a freelance writer focused on higher education. Connect with her on LinkedIn.
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