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4 Soft Skills That Will Get You The Job – And Keep You There


Image via ComNetwork

Picture this.

You’re fluent in HTML and CSS. You sling Javascript or wrangle data with the best of them. You can optimize the bejeezus out of any website, or program in Python like nobody’s business.

Sound like your fantasy future as a kick-butt front-end web developer or data analyst?

It’s within your reach. But as you sharpen your technical abilities, it’s just as important to nurture your soft skills. Often, the differentiating factor in landing a job isn’t how clean your code is—it’s your interpersonal competence.

In a recent CareerBuilder survey, 77 percent of employers said soft skills are as important as hard skills in getting the job offer. One in five said soft skills are more important.

“We look to find individuals who excel in the necessary skills for their roles, and are additionally focused on more than just the job,” said Alexis Lamster, in People Operations at software giant Palantir Technologies. “Those with soft skills — a willingness to teach, strong EQ [emotional intelligence], affability — [are] focused on not only creating great work, but working well with the people around them.”

Want a lift in landing work over your competitors? Here are four soft skills that will set you apart when you use them in your current work (remember, practice makes perfect, and references speak volumes) and demonstrate them in your interviews.

Strong Communication

You may communicate handily in HTML, but if you don’t speak the same social language as your manager, your peers, and your clients, you’ll be at a loss.

Communication is crucial, too, for data analysts, whose ultimate goal is to tell a data-based story to technical and nontechnical audiences alike.

Communication with your manager: Different managers have different expectations for frequency of progress reports. Once you establish your boss’s preference, be diligent about delivering updates so there are no surprises. Outside of regular check-ins, make sure you’re openly communicative about any blocks you experience. Also convey high-level progress on a project’s deadlines, so your manager can feel confident you’re on top of the work. Be open to feedback and industrious in applying it.

Communication with your peers/reports: Tactful communication is key among your cohort as well. You want to provide your peers and direct reports with the right information, in the right way, at the right time, just as you do with your end users. Web development and data science are team sports. If you respect your peers, and communicate nonjudgmentally with them, together you’ll hit it out of the park.

Communication with your clients: There’s nothing clients hate more than the silent treatment. Don’t leave your client in the dark: keep him/her/them apprised of your progress at preestablished intervals. Also remember that your clients may or may not be familiar with technical concepts. When you communicate with them, translate the industry jargon into English. When they communicate with you, be patient in transcribing their requests into your lexicon.

Agile Problem-Solving

The most technically capable developers and analysts wouldn’t be where they were in their careers without powerful problem-solving skills. Let’s get more specific.

Troubleshoot by breaking down larger problems into smaller, more easily solved pieces: Turn the mountain into multiple molehills and you’ll not only be able to see the snag more clearly, you’ll be able to communicate it (see above) with your client and team more effectively. The best solution is often the simplest.

Figure out the question behind the question: One of the most challenging parts of working with clients can be detecting exactly what they’re looking for. Sometimes they don’t know how to direct you to achieve their vision. For example, when a client says, “Can you make this button do [something specific]?” what they’re really saying is, “I’m looking for a solution to a specific problem, and I think the solution is the button…”. It’s your job to hear the implicit “…but maybe it’s not,” then go back to the client to get a little more information. Eventually, together, you’ll figure out the right way to arrive at solving the problem.

Understand the end result: Consider the larger picture in every move you make on a project. Avoid the tunnel vision of zeroing in only on your role, which can blind you to pain points or potential gems that are only peripherally related to your work but still crucial. As you work on a given component, question how it will affect your teammates working on the same project. It can also help to make an ultra-detailed list of what you need to accomplish, explicitly contextualizing each item based on the desired end result (“this step matters because”).

Healthy Passion

If you’re not obsessed with it, why are you doing it?

If you’ve read this far, you’re obviously pretty into this whole career-in-tech thing. Keep that passion alive, and you’ll be an asset to your client and your crew.

Dedication also gives you a leg up in the interview process. For example, front-end developers can earn bonus points by proactively mentioning tools they use to test code performance, even before the interviewer has the chance to ask the question. Similarly, data analysts can demonstrate their stats, multivariable calculus, or linear algebra skills before an interviewer requests it by offering up an insight related to the topic at hand.

Stay plugged-in, knowledgeable, and curious: There’s never an end to learning in the tech industry. It’s a rapidly changing field, with trends and tools and best practices shifting constantly. Don’t ever stop investigating, exploring, asking questions. The same curious, passionate spirit goes for the still-nascent field of data science. Stay plugged in to the work and hungry for insights.

Maintain side projects: Use your free time to fiddle around with side work. It’s the best way to perfect your skills without the perils of screwing up a high-profile project. Proud of something you’ve been tinkering with? Share it on GitHub.

Self-starting Motivation

The top tier in any field is composed of self-starters. Particularly in a freelance or startup environment, it’s crucial to be able to rev your own engine. But regardless of the work setting, no one’s going to hold your hand.

Take the initiative to ask questions—the right questions—then digest the answers and act: What are the right questions? To figure out, do your research on the subject at hand (the client, the client’s industry, the platform, the browser, the language). Then picture how someone you’ve encountered in your career who you admire would pose a question about that topic. Once you have your answers in hand, dive in.

Embrace risk: You never know until you try. Explore new ideas and push your own boundaries. That said, there’s a difference between risky and reckless. Don’t launch something that was a lightbulb earlier that day: give it time to gestate.

Never give up: Self-starters are tenacious. Don’t be discouraged when you hit roadblocks. Spend time probing the issue, take a breather to get some perspective, or turn to a trusted colleague or mentor. Persistence will serve you well in hunting down solutions to problems (there’s that problem-solving again).

The Bottom Line

If you focus on cultivating these four soft skills, your career prospects in the tech industry will only brighten. “Identifying people with strong soft skills is incredibly desirable,” said Lamster, of Palantir Technologies. “We want people who are willing to mentor and teach, to share their experiences, and to function well within a team.”

By devoting as much energy to nurturing your interpersonal strengths as your technical skills, you’ll stay ahead in the rapidly evolving tech landscape.