Vetting on hard skills is a mistake
So often consultants are vetted based on their hard skills… experiences, education, certifications, and specific technical skills. These are very specific, and factual details about what you’ve done and who you’ve worked for. A picture is attempted to be painted about you as a consultant based on these hard skills. But this is a mistake. I’ve encountered many professionals who are brilliant with technology but are unable to communicate, have a hard time with follow through, or require full time supervision. I’ve also met many who have no hard skills applicable to the project’s needs at hand, but have a willingness to learn and to push themselves and as a result they thrive in the project.
Change is inevitable
We live in a world that is in rapid flux. Change is occurring at a very aggressive pace. If you leave your industry for a year and expect to return you’ll find that many of your skills are no longer applicable. Or possibly you’ve been on a contract for a long period of time focusing on a very narrow scope. Does that mean you no longer have value? Does that mean that you’re time has come and you should just be put out to pasture? Yes, if vetted solely based on hard skills.
Soft skills are the key to avoiding obsolescence
Lately I’ve been growing concerned about my chosen field. Consulting will always be around, but will healthcare IT always be thriving? Maybe, maybe not. The feeling that I have no control over the demand for my hard skill set is a heavy weight to bear. It’s easy to play the devil’s advocate and believe that you’re fighting a losing battle and that eventually you will succumb to the inevitable fate that you’re no longer needed. And if you’re attempting to compete solely on your hard skills you will lose the battle sooner or later. There will always be someone who has more experience or has a more impressive resume or has more applicable experience. I firmly believe that in most situations if you have apparently valuable soft skills you will thrive through the vetting process and in placement. I know I’ve landed several promotions and contracts simply based on my soft skills.
If you have the desire and right outlook you’ll thrive in any situation. Take two people, one who is perfect for the role from a hard skills perspective but lacks motivation or the desire to learn anything new, and the other with a limited background but is hungry for challenge and wants to apply themselves. If the person with the hard skills is selected and the project changes significantly from the original scope they will be hard to utilize and it will be like pulling teeth trying to get them to be useful. Had the other person with their soft skills been selected they would have welcomed change in scope and done whatever necessary to ensure both they and the project were thriving. Because scope and requirements are always in flux, a person who displays a willingness to learn and flexibility will thrive in a project versus one who is difficult and inflexible.
Soft skills are key to building rapport
I’ve never been on a project where mistakes were never made. Projects are staffed, managed, and worked by people, and the nature of people is they make mistakes. People are more likely to give you a chance and forgive you if you’ve established rapport with them. But if you’ve never made that connection with them and haven’t built rapport you will find forgiveness much harder to find.
Leaders are looking for people with strong soft skills
The Tech Republic website has a great write up on these soft skills. You can find that article here. According to the article’s author, many CIOs are looking for soft skills in new hires and managers. The author also explained his experience running his first project and it was only because of his soft skills (leveling with the customer and offering transparency) that he was able to turn around the failing project. Last week I wrote about the importance of connecting on a personal level with your client. It is so important to remember that you are dealing with people. They want to feel respected, they want visibility into what you are doing for them, they want to feel included and valued, and they want to connect with you in a meaningful way.
Let your soft skills guide your career
Don’t let your hard skills build a box around your potential. I’m guilty of this. Too often I find myself thinking very narrowly about what I am able to do for work (it must be with IT in the healthcare field, etc). But this is because I’m letting my hard skills define what value I offer and am able to provide. This is a dangerous and self defeating way of thinking. To combat this, I take a step back and think through all the soft skills I possess naturally (my natural strengths… leadership, communication, connecting people with one another) and others that I would like to develop, and think of all the different opportunities available to me because of my soft skills (working for a business incubator or venture capitalist firm, product manager, marketing VP, etc).
Call to action
The call to action for you as a professional is to develop your soft skills, and build your career off of them. If the topic of your hard skills comes up, discuss them, but also explain what soft skills you will bring to the table. You will set yourself apart from the competition.