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Don't Ignore Soft Skills Development
Why are soft skills so important when it comes to thriving in technology jobs? We'll explain — and what you can do to refine your soft skills today.
You've spent years honing your craft. Learning to code, mastering UX/UI, the art and science of product management — whatever your hard skills are, you know exactly what matters and how to demonstrate them for a prospective employer. But what about your listening skills? Can you give a compelling and engaging presentation? Can you give feedback constructively — or perhaps more importantly, can you receive it without becoming defensive or riddled with self doubt?
For many of today's tech workers, the answers to those questions is, unfortunately, "no."
That's because these are the skills that empower teams to work cross-functionally and adapt to changing needs, and the skills professionals need to lead, manage, and get ahead. In fact, a 2021 report from Randstad Risesmart found that the skills employers cited as most crucial for the future are all soft: adaptability (32%), communication (31%), and problem-solving (23%).
Without these skills, today's tech professionals can't expect to get ahead or stay relevant in the changing world of work. Fortunately, you can start honing your soft skills today. Here's how.
So where do you start when it comes to developing your soft skills? How do you even figure out which skills you need? The answer's pretty simple: You ask.
Start with those who will best know the skills you need most — namely, your supervisor and close coworkers. This might seem awkward, but you've probably already had these conversations, even if you didn't realize it at the time. Look at your last performance review? Did your boss tell you to work on communication, or perhaps presentation skills? If so, that's a place to start. But if not, gathering feedback can be as easy as a conversation during a one-on-one or even while grabbing a coffee.
Prioritize the skills you need most
Once you know what skills you need to focus on, make a list to help you prioritize the ones you need to focus on first. If you heard from your boss and your colleagues that you need to work on communication and collaboration, put that at the top of your list, while de-prioritizing other skills you might want to add to your toolbox later.
If you got differing feedback from your boss and colleagues, choose one to focus on and work your way down the list. Just don't try to hone more than one skill at a time.
Make a plan
While there's no foolproof plan for developing soft skills, there are some steps you can take to keep yourself on task and accountable. Start by setting goals that are attainable. If you want to become a better communicator, you won't become a Toastmaster overnight, but you can set the goal of writing shorter, more concise emails or giving a presentation to your team or company.
It's also important not to try to rush or adhere to an unreasonable timeline. If you're taking a self-directed course, don't try to rush through it in a week. Do one module or chapter a week, otherwise you'll burn out between working on your soft skills and your other responsibilities. Remember, you learn at the speed you learn, so anytime you feel more time would help, be sure to grant it to yourself. Otherwise, you won't get the full benefit of your skilling efforts.
Find the right resources
One of the best parts of honing your soft skills is that you don't have to start from scratch. There are any number of free or low-cost resources out there you can leverage. Some of the leading resources include:
But don't stop there — there are plenty more out there to choose from. Class Central, a course aggregator, can help you find one that meets your needs and your budget.
Get a sponsor
Lastly, find a sponsor who can help guide your development and hold you accountable. This can be your manager, someone more senior at another company, or even just someone you respect and look up to. Set up regular check-ins to monitor your progress, and allow them to provide guidance and feedback on how your skills are developing.
Now that you're armed with the basics for improving your soft skills, you should have what you need to get started. Just don't stop with the first skill you master!