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Hiring IT & Tech Professionals: How important are soft skills in building teams?

Increasingly, there’s a focus on hiring people who are the whole package. Employees who have years of technical expertise and hard work under their belt which they can demonstrate through communication skills, emotional intelligence, and a people-oriented, team-focused attitude. And in the IT and tech realm, simply having hard skills in your repertoire is no longer enough; prospective candidates need to combine their knowledge with personal attributes to really stand out.

When it comes to building teams, these two aspects can combine to create a powerful workforce who are more than ready to take on challenges and obstacles. With the help of a range of sector experts and recruitment professionals, we’ll take a look at the role soft skills play when it comes to hiring for IT and technology.

Hard skills vs. soft skills: a recruiter’s view

Through the sheer volume of CVs they see and hires they make, recruiters in the IT and tech sector are well placed to see how approaches to hiring can shift. Alex Pitts, Midlands Recruitment Manager at Applause IT, mentions the changing tide here:

“This year, we have also noticed that the ability for a candidate to settle into the team dynamic is increasingly the deciding factor between applicants, rather than technical ability.”

Alex notes that a candidate’s soft skills become their value proposition, pointing to specifics such as communication, a willingness for accountability and emotional intelligence. “

Identifying soft skills at the interview stage

Because soft skills aren’t necessarily obvious from a candidate’s CV, the interview is the prime opportunity to identify these intangibles. Don Byrne, IT Specialist for the Recruitment Industry at IT support business Cheeky Munkey, notes that the greater focus on data-centric roles puts such professionals in high demand, and so employers should act accordingly.

“It’s key for companies to make themselves as attractive as possible and engage with candidates at every stage of the hiring process,” he says. A tailored approach to questioning in order to glean the requisite information from them is beneficial.

Don continues: “IT managers should be asking potential employees what their desired working life looks like at an early stage. Flexible working and holidays can be part of this formula, while learning and advancement opportunities should be addressed”.

While not immediately apparent, questions on such topics clue the interviewer in on the valuable aspects of a candidate’s personality and attitude to work.

Likewise, James Lloyd-Townshend, Chairman and CEO of tech recruitment specialist Frank Recruitment Group, notes that canny questioning during the interview is important. “Technical capabilities can be tested before you speak face-to-face, so determining soft skills should take precedence during the interview. A question I really like, if someone mentions that they’re a quick learner, is ‘what was the last thing you learned?’” Questions like this let an interviewee give concrete examples of their abilities and lets you see how they react when put on the spot, a measure of their enthusiasm and responsiveness.

The proliferation of soft skills can have a positive influence on a company’s culture, too. If there are a number of people in the office who offer camaraderie, teamwork and other positive traits, then it’s easier to foster a culture based around these things.

To this end, James says: “You want to complement your team’s strengths while also helping to plug any gaps at the same time. I think having an identifiable culture makes the interview process easier, as you can see how they will fit in with your company ethos.”

The soft skill checklist

“A candidate with the suitable personality can be easily trained into the right role”, says

Scott Gregory, CEO of workplace personality assessment consultancy for the Fortune500, Hogan Assessments, further underpinning the increasing favouring of soft skills. “This is especially true in the cybersecurity and tech world where companies struggle to find the experienced individuals they need. To recruit top talent, companies should direct their attention to the power of personality.”

Scott points to the following traits that recruiters and companies need to look out for:

Modest: Those who tend to excel in cybersecurity typically prefer to avoid the spotlight. A successful cybersecurity candidate is not egotistical or fame-hungry, and instead favours a more low-key lifestyle.

Altruistic: While they are working all day with systems and programming, protecting and helping people is also at the core of this profession. They should work well with others and avoid isolating themselves. Fighting threats will require cooperation and trust between colleagues as they are striving together towards the same security goals.

Composed: The enterprise systems they are protecting from attacks are always under threat. Cybersecurity agents naturally need to have a sense of urgency, but it is crucial that they stay composed handling cyberthreats. Unnecessary outbursts when the pressure is rising can be counterproductive and shift their attention away from what is at stake.

Scientific: The perfect cybersecurity professional wants to solve problems using data and analytic skills. Cybercriminals are increasingly sophisticated in their attacks and this requires individuals who are highly technical and value evidence-based decision making.

Inquisitive: The world of cybersecurity is ever-changing. When threats are prevented, new ones emerge which can require a completely different set of skills than the ones previously needed. A successful cybersecurity candidate is imaginative, curious and creative. They need to figure things out quickly, show motivation to learn and be open to new ideas.

Sceptical: ‘Trust no one’ would be a useful motto for a cybersecurity worker. To get ahead of the game and prevent attacks means sometimes having to think like a hacker. This means maintaining suspicion about what’s going on around you, because in a world of constant threats, naivety can be a dangerous thing.

Responsive: In cybersecurity, things can quickly go wrong, and you might be blamed for breaches that weren’t your fault. If someone in the company opens a phishing email and exposes sensitive information, you might be held accountable. Therefore, it is very important for a cybersecurity worker to be open and responsive to criticisms and avoid being passive-aggressive.

Diligent: In a pressured environment with a firm’s security at stake, a successful candidate needs to be detail-oriented and constantly pushing projects to completion. One small oversight could lead to attacks, so cybersecurity specialists need to scrutinise every detail. They also need to value achievement and making an impact.

Creating a team through leadership

“Teams don’t just form themselves out of the ether”, says Don. And he’s right; you can have all the talent, but with no one to marshal either soft and hard skills, and give them direction, they won’t be as effective as they should be.

“The key driver in formulating a successful team is leadership, consult your staff, listen to what they have to say; not only will they feel valued and important in the process, but you’ll learn a lot more too”.

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