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December 6, 2016

Don’t Neglect Employability Skills in Your IT Job Search

By Jeff Lareau

In my last blog post, I said that my next post would either dive deeper into applicant tracking systems or explain the difference between duties and accomplishments on a resume. As it turns out, I’m doing neither. I’m sorry to deceive you with what must seem like a blatant treacherous double-cross, but I promise this new subject is worth it. And don’t worry, I’ll eventually tackle both of those original subjects in upcoming blog posts. I hope we can put this quarrel behind us swiftly and forge ahead into what’s guaranteed to be a trustworthy symbiotic relationship.

Let’s talk about employability skills. Some of you might know them as “soft skills”, but I don’t like to call them “soft skills” because that sounds weak and unimportant, and as this blog will explore, these skills are everything but unimportant. One thing that I’ve heard over and over from IT recruiters and hiring managers is that the hardest thing to find in a prospective IT employee is someone with excellent employability skills. They can find people with the right certifications and experience (usually), but employability skills are difficult to come by.

Why though? Why is it so hard to find people with solid employability skills in IT? Well, there probably isn’t one simple answer to that, but if you trace IT’s history back a few decades you can easily start to see the personality patterns that are apparent in a typical IT employee. There’s a reason computer textbooks now have chapters on “How Not to Be a Computer Jerk”, and why CompTIA’s Creating IT Futures Foundation has created the PrepareU lesson series. Whether it’s Revenge of the Nerds or it’s Jimmy Fallon’s SNL skit, IT people have a reputation for being socially awkward, snarky, and abrasive.

The thing is this trope totally isn’t true anymore. The two IT guys in my office are way cooler than I am and they get along with everyone. They have to. The typical IT guy in 2016 is no longer the vampire that sits in the basement and never talks to anyone, and it’s been that way for a while. In order to flourish in the field these days, IT people need to have some solid basic communication skills, but for some reason though, the “IT nerd” trope has a death grip on our culture and won’t let go. Check out Todd Thibodeaux’s keynote speech from this year’s ChannelCon, where he mentions that high school kids today still correlate “IT” directly with the image of Lewis from Revenge of the Nerds. Equally baffling to me is how such a mediocre movie is still part of pop culture’s current lexicon, but I guess that’s a topic for another time.

How do you apply this information to your job search? As an IT job seeker, you need to make sure that your employability skills are well-represented on your job search materials. I guarantee that prospective employers are checking your LinkedIn page, so get endorsements from current and former co-workers to show that you had a great rapport with them. Keywords like ‘communication’, ‘enthusiasm’ and ‘teamwork’ should be on your resume and your LinkedIn profile. Employers are looking for them, and not just for the entry-level IT roles that involve heavy customer service aspects; they’re required for all IT roles up the ladder too. Most IT job leads ask for these types of skills, which means they will absolutely be keywords on an applicant tracking system. Without putting them on your resume, you’re probably not going to get called for an interview.

When you do get called for the interview, make sure you prepare a couple of solid behavioral interviewing answers that demonstrate these employability skills. Don’t only speak about your IT certifications and hardware/software experience, because this will fail to differentiate you against all the other interviewees.

The essential takeaway here is that employability skills aren’t “soft”. Talk to 20 random people and count how many of them lack even basic communication skills. It will quickly become clear how difficult it is to find a good employee, so if you have these skills, make sure the world knows about them when you’re looking for an IT job.

Stay tuned for next month’s blog where I’m going to talk about…well, something. I’m sorry that’s not more specific, as I’ve proven myself to be unreliable in predicting what I want to talk about month to month, but rest assured it’s going to be a subject that will blow your mind and make you reevaluate your entire job search from the ground up. Cheers!