Tech career? Top 3 attributes wanted

For a tech career, which are the top three attributes which companies look for in a new employee?  From a straw poll of SME employers which I conducted at the 2015 Techpreneur Show at London’s Olympia last week, companies were looking for these key qualities:

1.       Relational/communication skills – will you work well in a team? And with me as your boss? Can you charm potential customers or sponsors? Can you manage difficult stakeholders?  Can you write as well as you speak?  Are you a good networker?

2.       Commercial/business acumen – do you have what it takes to clinch a deal for us? To set up a deal? To woo potential investors? To help us achieve our profit targets?

3.       Resilience/commitment – will you be committed and enthusiastic enough about us to stay the course? To finish the job? To solve complex problems? To make one more sale?

Interesting, but not altogether surprising, that technical skills are not front of mind for these smaller employers.  In some cases, they already possess the technical skills themselves, so are looking for complementary strengths in the people they employ. For others, it’s a straightforward prospect for them to hire in the necessary tech skills when they need them.  No, rather, these SME entrepreneurs are looking for people who can help them build their business over the medium to longer-term.  People who have the necessary soft skills and commercial nous, who can help create their business value proposition and marketing plan.  Maybe someone like you?

CIO Magazine confirms the emphasis on softer skills when tech companies look to recruit. In a recent article, they identify five soft skills – as well as five technical skills – essential for a successful tech career:  teamwork; decision-making; communication; planning and prioritisation; research/critical thinking.  (The technical skills were: data security; data analysis; mobile and web development; project management and database management).  And in a broader context, at the end of 2014, LinkedIn’s survey of hiring managers identified these soft skills as being the top five which would get you hired in 2015: teamworking; decision-making/problem-solving; verbal communication; planning and prioritising; ability to obtain and process information.

Pat yourself on the back if you have some or all of these softer skills, because these are transferable and they will last the distance for you in employability terms.  I’m not downplaying the importance of technical skills, however. They remain hugely attractive and important to a broad range of sectors.  But the obsolescence factor in any technical skillset these days is very high – quite alarmingly so, in fact.  A US government-sponsored careers portal estimates the obsolescence factor in software engineering and computer science skills to be much less than four years.  A few HR directors I know in the videogames industry recently told me about the difficulty they had in recruiting graduates with current skills. By the time graduates reached the end of a three or four-year degree, their technical skills and knowledge risked being out of date.  For this reason, videogames companies were now wooing first-year as well as third and final-year students, to lessen the potential risk of technical skills obsolescence.  Crazy, eh?  But it’s happening.

There is a remedy for this – it’s called CPD or continuing professional development.  “Continuing” is the apt word in this phrase.  All of us in the workforce are going to have to get used to continually investing in our own skills development and knowledge in order to stay relevant.  Whether it’s coaching, formal training, attending conferences or doing webinars. Employers can help this process, but all too often their training budget will be the first to get cut during any cost-savings drive. So the only way to ensure you get the self-investment you need is to self-manage your CPD.  Treat it as a priority.  HR directors up and down the land will thank you for it.

Are you investing in your own CPD currently?  Love to hear your experience of what works for you in staving off skills “obsolescence”.

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