Top 3 Interpersonal Skills IT Professionals Need

How to spot soft skills in tech professionals and candidates

When hiring an IT professional, interviewers tend to focus on a candidate’s technical abilities – his knowledge of databases, for example, or whether she’s proficient in coding languages like Java and C++. But what about soft skills, those harder-to-measure personal attributes that can make the difference between a bad hire and a great fit for your company culture?

Robert Half Technology surveyed 2,500 chief information officers to identify the interpersonal skills that today’s IT pro could improve upon.

Here are the top three qualities they cited, along with tips for spotting them during the interviewing process.

1. COMMUNICATION

When hiring for your tech department, you want someone who not only knows the difference between truncation and wildcard searches, but can also explain them clearly to non-technical people. In an age of digital transformation, when almost everyone operates some sort of complex machinery, effective communication is one of the most essential soft skills to look for in an IT professional.

Candidates’ verbal communication skills will be apparent throughout the course of the interview, but you should dig deeper. Ask them to explain some IT terms — such as the Internet of Things and machine learning — using non-technical language. You could also simulate a technical support scenario, with you as the caller. And don’t forget about their writing ability. You saw an example of that with the cover letter and resume, but you can also test it with a short on-the-spot writing assignment.

2. PROBLEM-SOLVING

A talented IT pro is not just a coding machine. To be a productive team member, your developers and network engineers need to know how to identify and overcome obstacles.

You can assess interviewees’ problem-solving abilities by asking for specific examples of past work experience:

“Tell me about a time you resolved a client’s technical issue.”

Then probe for specifics, such as how they identified the problem and the underlying cause. These follow-up queries will give you an idea of candidates’ analytical and diagnostic skills. You could also pose a situational question. For example: “Your company’s e-commerce website just crashed. What do you do next?”

3. WORK ETHIC

Your tech department needs staff who are dependable, work diligently, demonstrate integrity and pay attention to detail. Not satisfied with “good enough,” they go the extra mile to get things done – and done well. But it can be a challenge to identify these soft skills in an interview environment, where candidates are doing their best to project an extremely professional image of themselves.

“Describe your philosophy toward work,” “What is the most important trait for an IT pro?” and similar interview questions will give an indication of the candidate’s values and level of professionalism. You can be even more direct: “Describe your work ethic” gets right to the point. A thoughtful candidate will touch on integrity, dedication, accountability or other positive attributes when discussing how he handles job responsibilities and his commitment to colleagues, clients and employer. But it’s critical you do your due diligence by checking the candidate's references yourself. That’s your opportunity to confirm anything the applicant said during the interviewing process — and to get the perspective of those who’ve watched him operate up close.

It’s relatively easy to train someone to code. Much harder to teach are soft skills like curiosity, honesty, reliability, creativity and clear communication. Take the extra time during your hiring process to be sure your job candidates possess these interpersonal skills and other key traits. Extend a job offer when you’re certain your top choice really is the best fit for your IT staff.


Andrew Murtagh is the Colorado regional vice president for Robert Half Technology, the leading provider of information technology (IT) professionals on project and full-time basis. Learn more by visiting www.roberthalf.com/denver.

Categories: Management & Leadership