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Interpersonal Skills Are Critical for IT Professionals

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By: Andrew C. Jackson

As the role of IT departments has evolved, the need for IT professionals with strong interpersonal skills has grown. Experts say that customer service and communications skills have a significant impact on IT career success, yet these skills are largely ignored in technical degree and certification programs.

Why the disconnect? As it turns out, the innate personality strengths that lead to proficiency in IT do not necessarily translate into people skills. Take a look at two common personality types found in IT as defined by Truity, a provider of research-based personality tests:

“INTJs are analytical problem-solvers, eager to improve systems and processes with their innovative ideas. INTJs enjoy logical reasoning and complex problem-solving. They approach life by analyzing the theory behind what they see, and are typically focused inward, on their own thoughtful study of the world. INTJs are drawn to logical systems and are much less comfortable with the unpredictable nature of other people and their emotions. They are typically independent and selective about their relationships, preferring to associate with people who they find intellectually stimulating.”

“INTPs are philosophical innovators, fascinated by logical analysis, systems, and design. They are preoccupied with theory, and search for the universal law behind everything they see. They want to understand the unifying themes of life, in all their complexity. INTPs are detached, analytical observers who can seem oblivious to the world around them because they are so deeply absorbed in thought. They spend much of their time focused internally: exploring concepts, making connections, and seeking understanding.”

Granted, the people described above would make great software developers, analysts or engineers, but in today’s environment the IT department is interacting more than ever with marketing, finance and the C-suite. Tact, empathy and an ability to relate to others are also important.

Advice for Hiring Managers

When interviewing candidates, attitude is everything. In addition to the requisite technical skills, new hires should have the ability to collaborate with every department and every level within the organization. Look for an individual’s aptitudes and willingness to further develop in this area as well. As the role of IT evolves, your team may be called upon to engage and collaborate at new levels.

Existing employees may need supplemental coaching to improve their communications and service skills. Picture each one in a conversation with your CEO about how to use a new smartphone. How would it go? Time and money invested in this type of training will improve retention and increase the IT department’s value to the organization.

Advice for IT Pros

Take the Myers Briggs test if you haven’t already to gain insight into your own psychological profile. From there, think about how your natural instincts, abilities and skills align with the interpersonal requirements of your position or the position you seek. What are the communication, customer service, problem-solving and collaboration requirements that you see in job descriptions? What are your relative strengths and weaknesses relative to those requirements?

Once you have candidly assessed yourself, get to work. Ask people you trust for feedback and suggestions, take courses to improve your interpersonal skills, and practice the scenarios that give you the most trouble. In job interviews, demonstrate that you have the experience and the capacity to excel in these areas. Provide examples of how you have provided superior customer service, communicated effectively and worked toward solutions with other business units.

Your technical skills will establish your candidacy for the job you want, but your interpersonal skills will give you a competitive edge – and ensure your next promotion.