One thing rarely written about in the IT space are the soft skills and other non-tangibles skills that are extremely useful to obtain within the world of consulting, or IT work in general. Soft Skills being skills that one has to be able to clearly and concisely communicate issues, solutions, and other topics with a client. Team collaboration being pretty self explanatory. In my experience – these skills prove to be just as important as a consultant’s technical skills.
To paint a picture – imagine being a recruiter and having two candidates:
1. Candidate 1 has an amazing resume and skills years beyond the standard for how long they have been in the field. This individual can obliterate stories in your SCRUM cycles, and rarely comes to a point where they don’t know how to complete something. At the same time, this individual is so ingrained in the technical aspects of their work that they have a tough time being able to communicate topics in an easily digestible format – things like getting too far into technical details, not understanding your audience, or not having the practice of public speaking / speaking with business process owners.
2. Candidate 2 has great soft skills, but lacks the technical experience compared to candidate 1. This may be due to not having the years of experience, technical aptitude for picking up new skills, or being new to a platform overall. On the other hand, this user is someone client’s consistently state they enjoy working with. Despite not always having the answers, their approachable, friendly personality and ability to explain things clearly keep the customer from believing that they are getting a runaround. They say things like “I don’t want to tell you something incorrect, so let me follow up with you on that” or “I understand your concerns, let me review this with a few coworkers to get a second opinion”.
Which would you hire? I would choose candidate 2 all day.
Hard technical skills are something that can be learned and developed. This should be a go/no-go decision off the bat for any consultant. If someone can’t learn or teach themselves new concepts constantly, they may not be a great fit for the consulting world. This skill is crucial for anyone in the IT world period. With the industry developing at such a quick pace, individuals having frequent changes in their “specialty” or focus area, it is absolutely imperative that they don’t get left behind with the platforms that they are working with.
Since any of your candidates should be able to teach themselves these technical skills, I personally don’t view current technical skills quite as important as this is something that they can develop over time. Hiring someone with less technical skills can be viewed as an investment.
Now compare this to someone who lacks soft skills. What do you view as easier to develop – technical skills or soft skills? The ability to articulate themselves properly is a skillset that is much harder to “teach”. This is a skill that takes practice and is developed over time through an almost “trial and error” speaking with clients. Technical skills, on the other hand, can be learned in one’s non-customer facing time via collaboration with team members, online resources, or books. A book will not be able to teach someone (easily and effectively) how to speak with their clients.
This soft skill is important for more than just client-facing communications. This skill will allow an individual to collaborate internally with team members, where applicable, to expedite the learning process of technical skills.
Bottom line – the ability to communicate complex issues in an articulate manner is a much harder skill to develop than raw technical skills. Technical skills can be developed easily even through classes. Effective communication is a skill that requires a lot of practice over time, and being successful at it, can even allow further leeway in any lacking hard skills. Always be aware of your audience’s goals and expected outcomes when thinking of how to demo or even just hold status meetings.