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Remember your people skills for IT jobs

February 03, 2014

Good people skills can set you apart from the competition for just about any job, but they're becoming especially essential for IT careers. For that reason, it's worth polishing your soft skills as you continue your job search.

IT recruiters seek professionals with people skills
As IT network services become increasingly complex for companies, IT staff members need to tie together all aspects of the business. This includes assisting employees at all levels with their technological resources, strategizing with executives and implementing customer-facing technology. To complete these tasks successfully, IT professionals need to be able to communicate effectively and perceive the needs of teams and individuals. With the growth of social technology for marketing and internal enterprise communications, Computer World explained, IT services must develop intuitive, engaging programs to serve ever-expanding needs.

In addition to needing collaborative solutions, businesses need people who work well in less centralized authority structures, MarketWatch contributor John Shinal observed. In other words, companies are replacing linear management with "matrix" style leadership, where teams are interconnected. Important decisions, Shinal said, are made with input from a group of people, rather than the top boss.

"It's a different type of skill set than the traditional command-and-control personality," Kelly Kay, a partner with Heidrick & Struggles who recruits executives for large software companies, told Shinal. "They're looking for a more subtle, sophisticated type, someone who is an influencer."

Even at the non-executive level, IT professionals need to excel in team environments. People in IT jobs will be expected to contribute to discussions and help form the company's strategic plans.

How to showcase your soft skills
To meet these needs, employers are watching for people skills as they fill their IT staffing needs. Shinal mentioned that some firms use personality questionnaires to profile candidates, but employers also observe emotional intelligence and communication ability during interviews. Computerworld advised recruiters to consider candidates' listening skills, collaborative ability, track record working with non-IT people and ability to explain clearly.

At your interview, you should be attentive to the verbal and non-verbal clues you give about your people skills. According to Computerworld, you can demonstrate that you listen actively by asking good follow-up questions. This is important to recruiters because it shows you'll be able to discover the precise needs of your coworkers or clients. CIO magazine advised candidates to think of the interview as a two-way conversation.

"This illustrates a level of intellectual curiosity, which is certainly a positive trait to convey in a professional situation," Piera Palazzolo of Dale Carnegie Training told the magazine. "Planning them out beforehand will help you think out a full articulate question; sometimes, thinking of questions on the spot may be less developed or a bit discombobulated, and you may be perceived as unprepared."

A fluid interview is an important way to show your people skills, but it doesn't start or end there. You need to be on your game in every interaction with the company, from your early communications with recruiters to when you accept a job offer. When you're on company property for a visit or interview, keep in mind that anyone you meet could exert an influence on your job offer. As CIO magazine emphasized, you can make a positive impression by remembering basic manners: open the door, smile and say hello, give up the better parking spot to someone else and hold the elevator.

Don't forget the thank you
You should also write thank-you notes to each of your interviewers to acknowledge appreciation for their time and remind them that you're very interested in the position. While it's acceptable to send an email to each person you encountered, a hand-written card can add an extra touch. Send them as soon as possible—Rick Gillis, a job search strategist, suggested writing them out immediately after the interview and returning to ask the receptionist to hand-deliver them.

"In a situation where folks have cleared their schedules to speak to you, have taken the time to spend with you, this technique will make the difference," he told CIO magazine. "When was the last time they received a hand-written thank-you note? You will destroy the competition. You will slay them."

These small things show that you're a pleasant, attentive person in addition to a skilled IT professional.

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