So soft skills really ARE important

Whenever IT people talk about a shortage of workers with necessary skills, everyone assumes the skills in short supply are technical skills, aka “hard” skills. Recently, though, InformationWeek led off an article with this:

People who work in IT frequently hear that having excellent technical skills isn’t enough to land a great job — they also need soft skills, like communication, collaboration, and teamwork. The implied criticism is that technology workers might be good at working with machines, but they're not all that great at working with other people.

But is that really true? Are soft skills really that important to employers? And if so, which kinds of soft skills do they want job candidates to have?

To get the answers, we turned to people who have the difficult task of assessing job candidates’ skill levels on a daily basis: LRS Consulting Services recruiters. One recruiter noted that soft skills, especially the ability to communicate well, have always been important for specific roles such as project managers, business analysts, and help desk staff.

Kevin Jovanovic, Technical Recruiter, echoed that opinion. “Soft skills are extremely important to keep in mind, but in certain positions more than others,” Kevin said. “A Project Manager will need excellent soft skills especially if they are client facing. There are other roles that are more ‘heads down,’ where the technical skillset trumps the soft skills.”

Sometimes it’s our client, the hiring manager, who emphasizes soft skills, according to Technical Recruiter Dan Barraco. “Some clients put a ton of emphasis on their desire for a candidate who is personable, able to work with teams, take direction, assist other team members, and so on,” Dan explained. “Other clients just want to see technical skills, and soft skills might not matter as much.”

Kendra Jones-Lee, Senior Technical Recruiter, sees a soft skill like communication as crucial for all jobs. “Soft skills are important,” she said. “A person selling me on them as a person is just as important as them selling me on their ‘hard skill’ set.”

Expanding on that idea, Technical Recruiter Daniel Stephens said, “I’ve found that some of the best candidates to work with are the ones that can explain their job to me very clearly. If they’re truly passionate about what they do, then they’ll usually love talking about it.”

So it turns out that soft skills really are important to clients and to the recruiters searching for good candidates to present to clients. Rob Colombo, Senior Technical Recruiter, has seen the value of soft skills evolve.

 “In the past, managers would be OK with developers being ‘heads down’ and quiet or even quirky,” Rob noted. “Now that the business is getting more involved with IT, developers in some environments must be polished in their verbal and written communication. They don’t want a mute person trying to describe why he or she is making application changes that are ruining an executive’s day.”

Could soft skills become even more important to clients? Rob thinks so.

“I see some Junior Developer, BA, and QA roles where the managers are looking for the right soft skills and they will just teach them the technical skill sets they are lacking,” he said.

So the answer for InformationWeek is, yes, soft skills are important. Very important.

And IT consultants need to begin working to improve those skills, if they haven’t already.