How Soft Skills Can Help You Get Ahead in a Tech World
You’ve read the headlines: If you don’t have tech skills, your career is doomed.
While it’s true that technology plays a huge part in virtually every job out there, plenty of other skills contribute to your performance, and being able to code will only take you so far. If you want to set yourself apart as a workplace superstar, either as a manager or individual contributor, you’re going to have to develop into a well-rounded professional.
The road to success is paved with soft skills, an unfortunate label because these skills are anything but fluffy. When you complement technical skills with soft skills, you increase your value beyond any specific job responsibilities. One recent survey of recruiters found that 94% believe “an employee with stronger soft skills has a better chance of being promoted to a leadership position than an employee with more years of experience but weaker soft skills.”
Once you’ve learned hard skills, you’re responsible for strengthening and maintaining them over time. Soft skills, on the other hand, may not change radically due to technological advances. However, you still need to continue to refine and develop them as your career evolves and you find yourself in new situations, with new people and new business demands. One Harvard Business School professor went as far as to say that “deficient soft skills is the No. 1 reason workers are fired.”
Okay, you should be convinced now: soft skills aren’t soft! Get to work on yours.
If you aspire to leadership
Transitioning into management isn’t as simple as getting a new title, and being a people manager isn’t the same as doing your old job. Most of the traits that characterize great managers are the intangibles associated with strong soft skills.
The soft skills to focus on as you build yourself into management material — or work your way up from being an okay manager to a great one — revolve around leadership and emotional intelligence. As a manager, you assume responsibilities that are hard to plan for, like motivating your team, having difficult conversations, and fostering an inclusive and innovative environment. You have to get comfortable in these situations.
As a manager, you’ll probably also find yourself more often in the position of giving presentations and speaking in public. You’ll probably spend more time interviewing job candidates, too. Successful managers tend to be outstanding communicators who know what to say (or what not to say) and how to say it.
Even if you don’t want to be a manager
Individual contributors shouldn’t skimp on soft skills either. Leadership, empathy, emotional intelligence — you’ll be more valuable in your role if you shine in these areas too. We all can think of someone we’ve considered a leader, even without “manager” in their title.
The fact of the matter is that technology is reshaping pretty much everyone’s job these days. Moreover, in some cases, automation is replacing humans in performing certain tasks, if not entire occupations.
In this environment, successful employees will excel in areas where the robots and algorithms can’t. So far, computers are no match for people when it comes to critical thinking, creativity, judgment, and the like.
Become your best self
Then there are the professional skills that form the foundation of every successful career, the strengths that can take an employee from satisfactory to outstanding. You won’t always see these skills in job postings, but they’re the things colleagues remember when they provide references and reflect on why you were so great in your role compared with others.
For example, there are few positions where being good at managing your time and maintaining focus wouldn’t be appreciated. Both of these skills boost productivity. To your coworkers, someone with these skills is someone they can count on to meet important deadlines and deliver what’s expected. Communication, both written and verbal, is another soft skill most of us could improve.
Finally, if you don’t think stress management is a soft skill worth developing, think again. You can’t reach your potential if you’re distracted, burned out, and mentally fatigued. You can learn strategies for finding a healthy balance in your workday, so stress doesn’t undermine your performance.
The secret to mastering soft skills is to practice applying them in real situations. For example, you can’t sit in a classroom for a few hours and learn how to be an effective leader; you need to put what you’ve learned into action over and over again. If you’re unsure which soft skills employers are looking for, you can find guidance in the trending topics on my company’s learning platform.
A version of this article was originally published in Entrepreneur.