How to avoid a soft skills gap in IT contracting

Author: Stef van den Broek, Business Director, Hays Netherlands

One of the hot topics in the HR world at the moment is ‘soft skills’, i.e.- personal attributes that enable professionals to interact effectively and harmoniously with other people and organisations. In traditionally relationship-focused professions, having good people skills has long been seen as a key factor in achieving career success, but now these same skills are often being asked for in job specifications for technical roles.

At Hays Netherlands, we recently conducted a survey on soft skills in IT contracting because many of our clients have been telling us that technical skills are now the minimum requirement for the IT contractors they hire, and that soft skills are the real differentiator.

Indeed, the results of the survey confirmed that IT contractors are as aware of the importance of soft skills as client organisations. However, IT contractors are not yet prioritising their soft skills development enough, despite there being no major barriers for them to do so. There was also a mismatch between which soft skills IT contractors saw as important in their job roles, and which soft skills they were actually making efforts to develop.

Both of these issues could lead to a future soft skills gap in the IT contracting market, which would have a negative impact on both an IT contractor’s career prospects and an organisation’s ability to complete their critical IT projects. Here’s my advice to both parties:

IT contractors

As an IT contractor, which areas should you focus on in order to offer greater value to organisations and improve your career prospects?

1. Conduct a soft skills self-assessment

Look at a list of soft skills and give yourself a rating from 1-5 on each. If you also decide on the top three needed in your role, this will help you to prioritise where to develop yourself. You can also speak with ex-colleagues and managers to get their opinion and see how this matches up with your self-assessment. To get a more impartial response you can even create a short anonymous survey to send out to them. You may even discover hidden skills you didn’t know you had!

2. Take tangible steps to develop soft skills

As mentioned, seeking peer review feedback is one way to develop your soft skills. Undertaking training related to the particular soft skill you want to develop, taking part in a mentor scheme, getting public speaking experience and attending industry events and networking are also all viable tactics. Prioritise your soft skill development in the same way you do your technical skills and you will stand apart from the crowd. Lack of time should not be an excuse.

3. Sell your soft skills in interviews

Rather than just listing your technical skills or describing the technical requirements of projects you’ve completed, go into detail about how you completed the task. Have you overcome stakeholder friction with your communications skills? Did you motivate your team to complete a key project milestone under a tight deadline? Can you collaborate with non-technical functions to ensure your work meets business objectives? If so, make sure you tell your interviewer. Given the importance placed on soft skills by hiring managers, this will increase your chances of getting a project and broaden the career options available to you.

Hiring managers

As a hiring manager, how can you cultivate soft skills in your existing team and in new hires?

1. Address your soft skills gap

Audit your permanent team’s soft skill abilities through project involvement, testing or one-on one assessment. Once you’ve identified the critical gaps, implement an action plan for upskilling, which also considers your flexible workforce. If you find your teams are particularly weak in one area, prioritise candidates who demonstrate this as a strength when hiring IT contractors.

2. Detail soft skills needed in your job advert

What will a typical working day look like in your organisation? Who will the candidate be working with and how would you describe the culture of your team? How does their role fit into the wider objectives of your business? If you give this information in your job advert or brief to your recruitment agency good candidates should be able to tailor their application to show how they can match these aspects of the role. If they can’t, they probably don’t have the soft skills you need even if they meet the technical requirements of the role.

3. Test soft skills in the interview process

When hiring, go beyond just prioritising technical skills. Look for soft skills and test the potential candidate on their ability to apply them effectively through their personal attributes. Ask questions which give them the chance to demonstrate these traits – behavioural or situational analysis questioning techniques are particularly effective here.

Thank you for reading! For more useful advice and insights about the world of work, visit our dedicated blog page here or click on one of the links below.

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