Monday, January 18, 2016

Get Hired as an IT Newbie Part 2 - Soft Skills

I participated in a focus group this past week at SAIT where we discussed their 'Web Developer Fast-Track Program' and its relevance to the industry.  The goal behind the meeting was how can we make the course more relevant to the changes and continual evolution of technology that is happening in the industry so students are more prepared for positions when they leave.  The discussion was engaging and took some interesting turns.  Here's what I took away related to Soft Skills:

Soft Skills
Employers like student hires to be reasonably technically adept.  Their technical expectations aren't in the stratosphere.  However, they want their student hires to have more than just technical ability.  Students should be well versed in soft skills.

Soft skills is (to some degree I'm sure) an ambiguous subject for many students.  I can hear you thinking 'What do people mean when they say that??'  In the context of our discussion  yesterday,  it meant prospective IT employers in the focus group yesterday were looking for students to have, in addition to technical skills:

  • An ability to communicate well with a client - verbally, directly in front of them or over the phone.  Also having the discernment to know when to send an email versus when to talk verbally.  Poorly written emails are notorious for communicating the wrong things - particularly negative feelings where there were none.
  • An ability to know what good work is.  Does the design and function of a web site fit the purpose/company it was designed for?  For example, does a sales/marketing website have lots of good calls to action?  Does the site feel right?  Would 'Joe's Mom' know how to navigate and use the site.
  • A can-do attitude.  Students will likely get the soul-crushing repetitive work that senior developers/designers don't want to do (or don't have time to do).  Students should accept this and be prepared to do it with gusto.  If you're in an interview and you don't have a clue about a technology they asked you about, reply: "I don't know about that, but I will know about it tomorrow" and mean it.
  • An ability and desire to collaborate and work in a team setting.  Its a fact of the industry - if you want to work in an agency, you're going to need to be able to work on a team and collaborate with team members. 
Also discussed was: What habits should students have (or start to form if they don't have them)?
  • Students coming out of school should love learning and know how to learn things/solve problems on their own.
  • Students should be able to receive constructive criticism without responding with excuses about bad instructors, poor course material, or the speed at which things were taught.  You don't get much chance for excuses on the job.  Employers are looking to 'break even' economically on their student resource investment within 4 months.  

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