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Janelle Stiehl, Account Manager at Commit and Louisa Smith, Senior Engineer Success Coordinator at Commit

Career Transitions Series: Soft Skills

July 19, 2022 in Career Transitions

Being an expert in the tech stack of a potential employer is an asset, but if you can’t meet deadlines or collaborate meaningfully with your work team, that technical knowledge won’t allow you to meet your full potential.

That’s where soft skills come in!

Have you ever given much thought to the soft skills you possess? If so, have you been able to tap into your talents and hone them?

With soft skills being essential for working with a team and especially important in the remote and startup environment, let’s dig in and investigate:

  • How you can identify the soft skills you have
  • What soft skills Engineering Managers and CTOs are looking for
  • How to couple soft skills with technical skills in an interview
  • What skills you should focus on developing for you next career move

How can I identify the soft skills I have?

You can think of soft skills as characteristics of your personality that lead you to act in a certain manner. For example, your soft skill of problem solving will determine how you approach and resolve a bug that appears in your code.

Soft skills will differ from hard skills which are the technical abilities and knowledge needed to perform tasks. For instance, having 2 years of work experience with Python is a hard skill. 

Soft skills and hard skills go hand in hand and make for a well-rounded employee. We’ll chat later on in this article about coupling them together.

What better way to help figure out your soft skills than a mind map?

Homework: Create a mind map of some of the soft skills you’ve used in the past. Think back to high school, college, and past jobs. Do you notice any overlap with applying a skill you’ve used in multiple instances?

image credit: postshift

Thinking of specific examples can help you reimagine yourself in that past scenario using those soft skills. 

As you reflect back, you may remember that you participated in a Hackathon last month where through careful planning, you successfully led your team to create a functional Data Visualisation App with Python in a 48 hour timeframe. On a separate occasion and in your most recent position as a Senior Fullstack Developer at a startup, you led a team of Junior Developers in creating a desired design for the company landing page which boosted client engagement on the website by 50%.

In the example above, you’ll notice a pattern of using the soft skill of leadership in multiple instances.

If you start to notice these patterns of using the same skills repeatedly in multiple areas of your life, this could be an indicator that it’s a natural soft skill.

Another great resource to help identify and do a deep dive into your top soft skills is the Clifton Strengths Assessment. This holistic assessment helps you deeply understand your skills as they relate to 4 categories: strategic thinking, relationship building, influencing, and executing. 

Once you have identified your soft skills, you can now put them into practice, whether it’s in your next project at work or personal life.

What soft skills are Engineering Managers and CTOs looking for?

In the article, Evaluating the Demand for Soft Skills in Software Development, 3 software and electrical engineering graduates set out to identify what the top soft skills are listed in IT job advertisements. They used North America, Europe, Asia, and Australia as their geographic areas of interest.

What were the results you may ask?

The 9 skills below were the most high and medium priority soft skill requirements that came up most often in 500 Software Developer advertisements.

  • Communication skills—the ability to convey information so that it’s well received and understood;
  • Interpersonal skills—the ability to deal with other people through social communication and interactions under favorable and inauspicious conditions;
  • Analytical and problem-solving skills—the ability to understand, articulate, and solve complex problems and make sensible decisions based on available information;
  • Team player—someone who can work effectively in a team environment and contribute toward the desired goal;
  • Organizational skills—the ability to efficiently manage various tasks and to remain on schedule without wasting resources;
  • Fast learner—the ability to learn new concepts, methodologies, and technologies in a comparatively short timeframe;
  • Ability to work independently—can carry out tasks with minimal supervision;
  • Innovative—the ability to come up with new and creative solutions; and open and
  • Adaptable to change—the ability to accept and adapt to changes when carrying out a task without showing resistance.

The most interesting and surprising outcome is that above all, communication is the highest in demand soft skill for not just Software Developers but also for other IT roles such as Systems Analyst, Software Tester, and Software Designer.

If communication is not a natural skill for you, this would be a skill to start developing and honing.

Quick reflection: Compare this list of skills above with your own set of skills you were able to identify in the mind map exercise. Where is there overlap and where is there difference?

If there are gaps, what are some ways you can cultivate at least 3 of these listed skills in the next 6 months?

Asking yourself these questions is a positive step towards developing sought after soft skills that can support you throughout your career.

How do I couple soft skills with technical skills in an interview?

Combining soft skills with technical skills is a sure way to stand out to a potential employer.

How would you imagine a potential employer would react to the following statement in an interview: “I’m proficient in Python and learned this technology in school through working on X project.

It’s a great starting point! But, they will likely be wanting a little more information from you.

How does this sound instead?

Over the past month, I’ve used my skill of discipline when learning Python each day by setting aside 2 hours of dedicated time after work. During this time, I spent 1 hour learning Python by taking a Udemy course and the other hour applying my Python learnings through building a project for a friend’s company which is now hosted on X website and is live.

The first example expresses that you’re well-versed in Python, a hard skill and that you have experience using it, where the second example incorporates both your technical skill, your Python knowledge and soft skill, discipline, all in one! 

What skills should I focus on developing for my next career move?

There are a few things to consider and ask yourself when determining what skills to develop and hone for your next career transition.

First, picture your next career step. What role do you envision yourself in? What are your non-negotiables and values? Check out Commit’s first Career Transition Series Article on Values which can help you determine your values.

Figuring out your next career move can also take some research and informational interviews.

Consider chatting with other, more experienced engineers who are in roles that you have an interest in. Gathering more information about what you’re looking for will help you make more informed career decisions. Plus, even if you don’t end up being interested in a certain role, you’ve just made a new connection in the developer community.

Interested in collaborating with Commit’s community and learning more? Check us out here and join in the fun!

Bringing it all together

Soft skills are a hidden gem of a superpower we all possess. Figuring out your soft skills and how to showcase them in your professional and personal life will be key in building confidence, self awareness, and satisfaction.

Follow us on LinkedIn to read more of Commit’s blog posts on career transitions.