With unemployment at a 50-year low and the number of job openings higher than ever before, times are good for the average employee in America. Those with technical training are doing even better.
Now is the time to take advantage – by developing skills that get the attention of prospective employers, you’ll increase your negotiating leverage and take leaps forward in salary and title.
Your hard skills, such as software proficiencies, professional certifications, technical experience, and degree attainments, are hard-won. But employers also crave “soft” skills – such as interpersonal abilities and leadership traits.
According to a survey recently published in Wall Street Journal, 92% of executives polled said soft skills are equally or more important than technical skills. And 89% of the same group admitted they struggle to find people with the right attributes.
Here are 5 soft skills you can develop to gain the attention, trust, and respect of employers in technical professions.
Why it matters: Any time you spend looking for a single file on a crowded desktop, or flipping through your glove box to find the correct schematic, could be better spent elsewhere. Imagine if you took ill and couldn’t complete a project within the allotted time. Would somebody else be able to pick up where you left off, or would your disorganized “system” be so indecipherable your employer might lose the contract?
How to work on it: Getting organized takes a relatively small commitment. All you need to do is treat organization as a priority. Take the time to make sure you have all the supplies you need, such as hanging files, shelving, or color-coded folders. Same goes for your digital materials; take a lazy Sunday to organize your files into logical folders, archive old files you don’t need anymore, and run a diagnostic to clear out cached files – and even speed up your system. After that initial push, continue to tidy up each day. Once you have a system — and a habit — down, you’ll be able to neaten up automatically while composing an email in your head, or thinking about how to tweak specs to work around a power line.
Why it matters: Going against the grain or going in alone may feel like the fastest or easiest way to get a task done, but you still have to take other perspectives into account. Otherwise, you could miss an important detail that could lead to a catastrophe. And if you never rely on the complementary strengths of your teammates to do what they’re best at, you’ll end up doing everything… ineffectively.
How to work on it: Use whatever teams you’re already on as a lab where you can experiment and practice.
Try the following:
- Focus on one preferred channel for communication so that all team members can participate equally.
- Maintain an open mind about any ideas that crop up, even if you don’t initially think they have merit.
- Ask what other team members think of something you already have a plan for, just to see how their approach might be different.
Why it matters: Let’s say a high-paying client insists on using a particular CAD software. You’ve tooled around with it and found the software less than magnificent. Do you draw a line in the sand and refuse to work with the clunky CAD? Perhaps a better question to ask yourself: Who do you think your employer would prefer to keep around – you or a $50 million customer? The ability to “roll with the punches” will serve you well in your career.
How to work on it: Some people are hard-wired to be a little more stubborn to change. Often, the best way to open yourself up to new possibilities is to embrace spontaneity every now and then. It could be something small, like taking the scenic route to work, or trying a new snack. Changing up your usual routine can be a fun way to remind yourself that “new” isn’t always “bad.”
Why it matters: One of your suppliers bought three tons of pre-tariff aluminum before any plans were completed. Now your firm is in a position to complete the project using aluminum at a lower cost and higher margin than any competitor. The only problem is, the schematics call for copper-brass. You’ve got two options: fulfill the project using copper-brass, or come up with a creative solution that makes use of the aluminum.
How to work on it: In technical professions, there’s always some new wrinkle to take into account or a problem that could be more elegantly solved with a little creativity. But it’s probably better to avoid waiting until you’re facing a super high-pressure situation to start training your creative mind. Often the key to creativity is trusting yourself and your process – the best ideas tend to come when your mind is clear and relaxed. Honing that trust is something you can work on, over time, both on the job and in your personal time. Try a creative hobby, like doodling or playing an instrument – something low stakes where you can try, fail, explore, and experiment without an audience.
Why it matters: You work and research tirelessly for weeks to provide strategic input for an upcoming project’s scope of work. It could make or break your firm. Along the way you discover a brand new way of doing things that could cut down on operational inefficiencies, allowing you to execute a solution that over-delivers. But when it’s time to share your work, you break out in a rash, shrink into your chair, ramble on, and/or start shouting and interrupting for no discernible reason. Your firm goes in a different direction, and your dream project is never realized. Ideas are often only as good as our ability to communicate them.
How to work on it: Public speaking is the #1 fear in America – it even outranks heights and bugs in sheer squeamishness. While some have a knack for communicating, others tend to freeze. Don’t let that prevent you from developing communications skills.
Keep in mind, there are many different ways to communicate. You may be better at written communication, or over the phone, than you are in person. Lean into your preferred style. When you have to communicate in person, remember to focus on the other people rather than yourself. People like to have conversations rather than sit through one-way lectures. Indulge them! Listen attentively, then slow down and respond thoughtfully and with clarity.
Practice often in non-pressure situations, like neighborhood meetings or family functions, and you’ll feel a lot more confident when it’s time to present that big idea.
While this is by no means an exhaustive list of the most sought-after soft skills in technical professions, it is a good primer. Each of the above skills has the potential to get you to that second round of interviews, or put you first in line for that promotion you’ve been wanting.
Want to learn more about which soft skills to develop, and how to go about it? Download this FREE ebook!
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