8 Non-Tech Skills IT Pros Need To Succeed - InformationWeek

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5/12/2016
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8 Non-Tech Skills IT Pros Need To Succeed

Communication and active listening don't normally come to mind when thinking of top skills for IT pros, but these "soft skills" can make a tremendous difference in building a successful career.
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(Image: Rawpixel Ltd/iStockPhoto)

(Image: Rawpixel Ltd/iStockPhoto)

IT pros have who have spent years honing technical skills to advance their careers might be surprised to find that there is another set of talents that is just as valuable that they may be lacking -- so-called "soft skills".

Each business has different demands for IT applicants when it comes to technical skills. However, all IT organizations share a need for professionals who can listen, collaborate, and communicate complex information.

These soft skills may not seem significant to IT workers who are focused on their technical expertise, but they can make a difference in whether or not you land your next job.

"The hard skills are important to get you the interview and qualify for the work, but the person who gets hired has the [technical] box checked and the ability to express and communicate at a very high level," said Rick Dionisio, president and owner of Ingenium, a tech and creative talent agency.

[Looking for a career boost? Read these 10 big data books.]

The problem is, most IT pros aren't aware of the importance of these soft skills.

Dionisio explained how when choosing between two candidates, a hiring manager is more likely to select the one who has mastered their soft skills -- even if the alternative candidate has superior technical capabilities.

Today's businesses aren't simply looking for IT pros who can take assignments, work by themselves, and leave at the end of the day. They want people who can collaborate with employees in different parts of the business, share their ideas, and be open to criticism.

What are some of the top soft skills to have as an IT pro today? Here, recruiters share the skills they've noticed are in high demand among employers. Do you have these skills? If so, have they made a difference in your career advancement or landing a job? Let us know in the comments below.

Kelly Sheridan is the Staff Editor at Dark Reading, where she focuses on cybersecurity news and analysis. She is a business technology journalist who previously reported for InformationWeek, where she covered Microsoft, and Insurance & Technology, where she covered financial ... View Full Bio

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Whoopty
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Whoopty,
User Rank: Ninja
5/12/2016 | 8:08:42 AM
Communication
I was waiting to find communication on the list, so good to see it so early on. This is so important for tech-heads, as so often you will find yourself explaining something technical so someone who doesn't intrinsically understand it can do so. 

That requires patience and a good understanding of language. It's vital.
Technocrati
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Technocrati,
User Rank: Ninja
5/12/2016 | 2:34:45 PM
Re: Communication

@Whoopty   Agreed.  But one has to be careful here, if you are a good communicator, you can distill the topic down so much that it appears "easy" to the non-techie.

 

Not sure if this outcome is a more annoying  than not being able to communicate at all.

SaneIT
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SaneIT,
User Rank: Ninja
5/12/2016 | 8:28:52 AM
Confidence
Under the Confidence, Polite Assertiveness section there is mention that new IT pros don't trust their own instincts, I've actually seen the opposite over the years.  Normally they come out of the gates with different ways to do everything and have to be corralled a bit before they start doing things that will make for a lot of clean up later.  Presenting those ideas doesn't seem to be much of a problem either, they may not know how to express why they think their ideas would work best but from what I've seen most of them are very confident in their ability to do things.
Technocrati
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Technocrati,
User Rank: Ninja
5/12/2016 | 2:38:44 PM
Re: Confidence

"...but from what I've seen most of them are very confident in their ability to do things."

 

@SaneIT    For the most part that has been my experience as well.

Technocrati
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Technocrati,
User Rank: Ninja
5/12/2016 | 2:28:51 PM
IT Pro's and Knowledge Sharing ? Only So Much......

"..Tech pros should have the ability and patience to share knowledge and mentor employees both inside and outside their IT organization."

 

I love the "should" in this statement.  It has been my experience that Tech pros normally only share so much.   A lot of surface information but the details that matter most always seem to be unclear.

 

I am sure this is an effort to protect their job, but most IT pros know the surface details, it knowing the details of the details that makes one better than average.

Technocrati
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Technocrati,
User Rank: Ninja
5/12/2016 | 2:51:24 PM
The Art of the Deal ?

Negotiation is a soft skill I hadn't thought about.  And I agree it is vital to dealing with vendors who want your business bad.

SaneIT
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SaneIT,
User Rank: Ninja
5/13/2016 | 8:21:22 AM
Re: The Art of the Deal ?
Negotiation is huge if you want to move up in the IT field but there are lots of opportunities to learn.  Low level you negotiate solutions to simple problems with end users because what they want isn't always what they need.  Moving into management you start to negotiate contracts for services and smaller purchases.  Eventually you move into large project spending and negotiating with executives, the learning curve can be steep on some of these but the opportunity is there. 
Broadway0474
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Broadway0474,
User Rank: Ninja
5/13/2016 | 10:38:15 PM
Re: The Art of the Deal ?
No. 1 on my list would be patience with non-IT people. Think that's a skill that's valuable no matter your level --- whether you dealing with end users and their day-to-day issues, or your dealing with executives and their phobios and misconcepted expectations around tech.
SaneIT
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SaneIT,
User Rank: Ninja
5/16/2016 | 8:31:52 AM
Re: The Art of the Deal ?
I can see slowing down with non IT folks being valuable, on the other side of that coin though there's nothing like having corporate systems and controls in place then having the customer/end user you're helping telling all about how their neighbor/nephew/guy who knows this stuff says you should do it this way.  I learned many years ago not to comment on another company's policies 9 times out of 10 they are using a specific software, have specific polices in place or limit user access for legitimate to them reasons and playing Monday morning quarterback doesn't help anyone.  I think a lot of IT folks get defensive when someone asking questions because very often it doesn't come off as curiosity it comes off as criticism.  
Technocrati
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Technocrati,
User Rank: Ninja
5/12/2016 | 2:54:46 PM
Emails: Short and Sweet

"Unfortunately, a lot of IT professionals have poor communication skills and don't know how to write quick, short emails," 

 

I am surprised by this statement as well as what was mentioned in regards to speaking articulately.  

Not a good sign for someone whose opinion is to be relied upon and respected.

moarsauce123
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moarsauce123,
User Rank: Ninja
5/14/2016 | 10:16:38 AM
Re: Emails: Short and Sweet
I find short and sweet emails utterly useless. They generally lack information that is needed and that requires sending a reply requesting more info, waiting for a response that again is short and sweet, and so forth. I rather see well written verbose emails that organize content properly. Give a summary of what this message is about at the top. If I need more info I can read on, getting all the details needed. It also depends on the recipient, some like bulleted lists, others are more into visuals and prefer diagrams and screen shots.
moarsauce123
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moarsauce123,
User Rank: Ninja
5/14/2016 | 10:20:10 AM
Collaboration
Collaboration is the buzz word of our time. If things don't work the managerial advice is to "collaborate more". What the heck does that mean? Talk to each other more? Write more stuff down and share it? Push decision makers into making decisions? "Collaboration" should be a word banned in businesses. That way we may get some better direction.
vnewman2
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vnewman2,
User Rank: Ninja
5/15/2016 | 6:20:09 PM
Re: Collaboration
I agree with you. I don't like this word. It's overused. And it's presumed to always be a good thing when I feel like certain projects aren't best served with collaboration. I can't say it any better than Steve Wozniak did so I will quote him: "Most inventors and engineers I’ve met are like me — they’re shy and they live in their heads. They’re almost like artists. In fact, the very best of them are artists. And artists work best alone — best outside of corporate environments, best where they can control an invention’s design without a lot of other people designing it for marketing or some other committee. I don’t believe anything really revolutionary has ever been invented by committee… I’m going to give you some advice that might be hard to take. That advice is: Work alone… Not on a committee. Not on a team."
Broadway0474
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Broadway0474,
User Rank: Ninja
5/15/2016 | 10:41:56 PM
Re: Collaboration
vnewman, great quote. Though I think for most of us, collaboration --- or whatever you want to call it --- is a fact of business life. Unless you are a true "artist" --- someone so talented and recognized for that talent that he or she gets a wide birth --- you must please other people in the process of creation. 
vnewman2
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vnewman2,
User Rank: Ninja
5/16/2016 | 1:47:05 PM
Re: Collaboration
@Broadway - I don't disagree with you that it is a fact of business life, although my query is, "should it be?"

I suppose if you work with brilliant people who are always giving 100 percent then it's a dream, but...

What if all the people you have to collaborate with are mediocre at best?  And at worst...well, what's the point then?

I feel like when collaboration is forced - the result is only as good as the lowest common denominator. 
Broadway0474
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Broadway0474,
User Rank: Ninja
5/16/2016 | 10:28:51 PM
Re: Collaboration
vnewman, I don't think collaboration is forced. What I think that's forced is confirmation. The need for sign-off. Consensus. That's what often passes for collaboration. And what consensus does is force the creative types to do the work, then allow the decision-makers to feel a part of the process after the fact, which then usually generates rounds and rounds of more work. 
vnewman2
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vnewman2,
User Rank: Ninja
5/17/2016 | 2:20:59 PM
Re: Collaboration
@Broadway - Perhaps you are right in your clarification, I just find myself asking, "Why is it that we (in the US) assume collaboration is an inherently better process which yields higher quality results than just having folks just work alone?"  That is  - assuming that the project is able to completed in such a manner.

I find that I am often put in the position to "work with other people" on a project when I could have completed it faster and, IMO, better if I had just done it myself. 

To put it bluntly, why don't we trust in the effort of the individual?
Broadway0474
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Broadway0474,
User Rank: Ninja
5/18/2016 | 8:00:10 AM
Re: Collaboration
I've been in positions in large organizations where much of the work was entrusted to me --- except for certain points at the beginning and end when "collaboration" was needed with stakeholders. And again, it comes down to certain peoples need to be involved for the sheer fact of it and the need to exert control. All politics!
Broadway0474
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Broadway0474,
User Rank: Ninja
5/18/2016 | 8:00:12 AM
Re: Collaboration
I've been in positions in large organizations where much of the work was entrusted to me --- except for certain points at the beginning and end when "collaboration" was needed with stakeholders. And again, it comes down to certain peoples need to be involved for the sheer fact of it and the need to exert control. All politics!
Technocrati
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Technocrati,
User Rank: Ninja
5/22/2016 | 12:11:44 PM
Re: Collaboration
@vnewman2  I agree.  I think collaboration is overrated.  Sure if there is an roadblock, it is often good to have some "different eyes" look at the issue.  

But for the most part, I get more done when working on my own and I think most people function best this way.
vnewman2
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vnewman2,
User Rank: Ninja
5/23/2016 | 12:03:22 PM
Re: Collaboration
@Technocrati - I guess that's my real beef with the whole notion.  It is now almost assumed that "collaboration" is a necessity regardless of cirumstance.  American society as a whole has turned into a bunch of "collaboration lemmings."  

And what really doesn't make sense then, is the competitive nature of the American education (especially college/university) system where individual achievement is given the utmost importance.  How do you expect these kids to then go into the workforce and be able to "collaborate" when their entire lives they are taught to compete for everything?  It makes no sense.
Technocrati
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Technocrati,
User Rank: Ninja
5/23/2016 | 3:32:00 PM
Re: Collaboration

@vnewman2   I agree completely.  I remember during my undergrad years, some of my classes were project team based.  I remember how difficult it was to work with some people, even though I think that was the goal of making students work as a part of a team - to learn how to work with others.

To your point, while it is very competitive otherwise, many colleges are using this method of teaching.  I am not sure in the end it is all that beneficial.

People skills and working with others will be foisted upon you once you enter the workforce.

LeeB120
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LeeB120,
User Rank: Strategist
5/23/2016 | 7:05:39 PM
Re: Collaboration
@Vnewman2      Well, there is one reason.... When it's decided on by a committee no one person get's the blame when things go wrong versus one person doing it right or wrong.    Human nature - blame someone else and it's hard to blame someone when everyone makes the decision
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