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Our guide to the human skills you need to get ahead

23 May 2022 by Grant Brummer
S Oft Skills Blog 1
In our new series of guides, we'll help you work on the core skills you need to complement your technical skills - we call them human skills.

Technology recruitment has changed in many ways over the last twenty years. Since our company started in 2003, we have seen a huge shift of emphasis from technical skills to behavioural skills as the technology landscape changed. Recently, the way the whole world was forced into a sprint to digital transformation also seems to have sharpened people’s focus on these behavioural or ‘soft’ skills. Over the years, we have placed thousands of candidates and interviewed thousands more. Part of our job is to help clients find and identify these skills while simultaneously helping candidates communicate and refine their skills. It’s not an easy thing for either side to do, compared to dealing with technical skills. That’s why we’re renewed our focus on soft skills for technology professionals with our new series of skill-boosting guides.

The other reason we’ve decided to put time and effort into creating behavioural/human skills guides is the effect we have noticed remote working has had on them generally. Without being able to interact with, shadow and learn through osmosis the way we used to pre-pandemic, many people have accidentally neglected their focus on core skills such as good communication and leadership. So our guides are designed to give you simple, actionable ways to improve these skills quickly.

They’re not exactly ‘soft’

The term ‘soft skills’ is outdated. Like a lot of annoying business jargon, it’s borrowed from the American military. Back in the 60s, the term was made up to distinguish skills that used machines from those that didn’t. As people progressed up the ranks, they needed fewer hard skills and more soft skills. They’d have to be more organised, better at critical thinking, better at communicating with lots of different people, creative in their approach to problem solving and more. Nowadays, all these ‘soft’ skills are not options you take on as you get promoted. You need to build them from the start to the end of a career. These skills that make you employable and they’re the ones that make candidates stand out when they’ve got comparative experience, tech skills and qualifications.

In many ways the soft skills are often more important than technical skills because they’re the abilities you will take from job to job. They're harder to learn and they're much harder to teach. The adjective ‘soft’ downplays the difficulty involved in mastering these things - let's take empathy. One of the things that makes a great tech leader is the ability to empathise with individuals in entire departments in order to make the right decisions. That’s a *hard* thing to learn.

We tend to avoid the term ‘soft skills’ because the term undervalues some of the most critical skills an employee could bring to an organisation. The Chartered Institute for Securities & Investment’s chief executive Simon Culhane recently wrote: “The so-called softer skills, which in many respects are actually harder to do, are going to be much more in demand. How people keep themselves up to date with what's going on regulatory wise and investment wise, but also how they have their skills on the people side, is going to be really key to them.” That’s something we’ve always found to be true when looking at our client’s requirements. These people-focused skills aren’t auxiliary skills that are nice to have. They are the core, transferrable skills that humans bring to work. It’s probably time we used an alternative adjective to ‘soft’ to describe them.

Product management expert Kate Leto is one of many that use the term ‘human skills’ instead. “Human skills are different from technical skills, yet they are inexorably tied together. Putting a technical skill in action often means using a human skill. After all, without things like empathy, the ability to collaborate or influence - your roadmap isn’t going anywhere.”

Human skills often masquerade as fixed personality and character traits. Empathy for example, is seen by many as something you either have or don’t have. But it’s not binary - you can increase your empathy in a matter of seconds and become a more empathetic person by practising.

Beware the human skills gap

Businesses have been talking about the soft skills gap for years. LinkedIn's global talent trends report a couple of years ago before the pandemic reported that 92% of hiring managers who responded to their yearly survey said that nowadays soft skills are equal to or more important than technical skills.

Another bit of pre-pandemic research from the Society of Human Resource Management told us that in the future employers are going to value skills like problem solving, critical thinking, the ability to deal with ambiguous and complex situations and communications as the top skills above any technical skills.

Increasing automation in our jobs (especially in tech functions) has increased employers’ need for human skills to be more refined and developed. But with the world still getting back to normal work through the pandemic, there’s a looming skills shortage which might turn that ‘soft skills gap’ into a soft skills crisis. We all need to take responsibility for our own behavioural skills and boost the skills of those we work with to avoid this.

Our focus on human skills

Based on the research we’ve done:

- within our own client base which involves some of the biggest financial institutions in the world

- through our talent pool of thousands of tech, fintech and banking professionals

- via reports from Deloitte, McKinsey, IBM, LinkedIn and the SHRM,

here are the top skills we’ll focus on to help you boost your soft skills as a technology professional, a candidate or a hiring manager.

  • Willingness to be flexible and adaptable to change

  • How to become more adaptable

  • Capacity for innovation and creativity

  • A growth mindset

  • How to Build a Growth Mindset

  • Empathy

  • Critical thinking

  • Developing Resilience

  • Cultural awareness

  • Diversity and inclusion

  • Emotional intelligence

  • Taking Initiative and being proactive

  • Time management and the ability to prioritise

  • Decision making

  • Active listening

  • Team-working skills

  • Habit forming

  • Ethics and integrity

  • Coaching and mentoring

Look out for our regular updates on the blog and sign up for our email newsletter to get the guide. Read more about the most in-demand soft skills in technology jobs here.