Why Tech Pros Need to Develop Soft Skills

When evaluating job candidates, employers and HR managers consider emotional intelligence and interpersonal behavior, including eye contact and body language.

By Kathy Harris

You’re an ace at coding or

network engineering. Or perhaps you are a big data guru with a talent for finding signals that no one else sees. Those are great selling points when speaking with a recruiter or a prospective employer, but in today’s marketplace, it’s only part of what you need to bring to the table.

Today, employers are looking beyond the hard technical skills to candidates who also have soft skills. Soft skills infuse our interpersonal relationships; they demonstrate how well you will relate to people—not just to numbers, dashboards or computing infrastructures; and they are shaping an evolving corporate culture in the technology field.

In addition, more technical departments are applying agile methodologies to develop applications, and more teams are working collaboratively than ever before. This also means that team members have to communicate well: no more sending email messages over cubicle walls. That change also applies to tech leaders.

When evaluating a job candidate, employers and HR departments consider emotional intelligence and interpersonal behavior, including eye contact, body language, the ability to make small talk, and even knowing when to stop talking. To that end, companies rely on a variety of tools, including personality assessments, as well as situational interview questions to gauge a candidate’s emotional intelligence and ability to work in a team setting.

Interview teams are often instructed to focus on various behavioral traits when interviewing candidates. These might include asking about situations in which a candidate handled a stressful work issue or gave difficult feedback to a colleague. The best way to prepare for these types of questions is to practice a sample narrative giving a brief overview of the situation, action steps taken and a summary of the result.

Here's why soft skills are so important to employers.

Corporate Culture

Just as employees are attracted to a workplace environment that complements their values and appreciates their performance, companies are shifting their strategies for attracting top talent. They are increasingly focusing on creating a more positive corporate culture that fosters greater employee satisfaction.

According to the latest findings in the Harris Allied Annual Technology Hiring & Retention Survey, when attracting top tech talent, employers ranked corporate culture a very close second to excellent compensation and benefits packages as their most important recruiting tool.

As part of this changing corporate culture, communication, adaptability and collaboration have become higher priorities. In response, employers are developing initiatives that align teams with business goals and improve employee morale.

Communication

Today, emails and messaging are being eclipsed by more in-person communications: Regular team meetings, shorter sprints and paired programming provide opportunities to break out of silos and collaborate on projects. The ability to communicate effectively is evaluated throughout the interview process with whiteboard demonstrations, open-ended interview questions and brain teasers that ask a candidate to think out loud.

Adaptability

Ironically, the one constant in the tech sector is change. Business priorities and technologies shift to keep pace with competition, and people and teams also need to adapt in order to meet market demands.

Employers today are keenly interested in building teams with potential for technical and professional growth. The ability to learn and grow is dependent to a large extent on an individual’s communications skills and flexibility to take on new challenges. At interviews, job seekers should be prepared to discuss their experience with organizational change and learning new technologies.

Collaboration

The team approach to problem solving is spreading across organizations and throughout all levels of management. Whether it’s working on a project or solving a problem, collaborating across teams or departments—even outside partners—is a key driver in today’s corporate culture.

The ability to work effectively in a matrixed environment with multiple project owners can be daunting. According to the Harris Allied survey, the ability to work collaboratively in a team setting was the most desirable quality in tech hires.

The ability to collaborate effectively affects many areas in the workplace. Knowing when to ask for guidance on a project demonstrates that you can evaluate situations and are mindful of delivery schedules. And being able to work together to bring a project to fruition shows you are able to communicate with others—and that you might have had to adapt to a change in team members, work styles or deliverables.

These are just three of the soft skills being sought by employers, but you can see how they extend in various ways into other areas of a company’s operation. Develop and demonstrate these skills and you’ll become a more attractive job candidate in today’s competitive business world.

Kathy Harris is the founder and managing director of Harris Allied, a New York-based executive search and consulting firm.