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Using A “Soft Skills” Mindset In The “Hard Skills” Tech World

17 September 2018 , by Luke Cadden

"Soft skills people don't fit into hard skills tech environments, do they?" Fortunately for me, the answer to this is a definite: "Yes, they do!" I'm a History and Organisational Psychology graduate and I work at OfferZen, a tech startup. Here's how my skillset benefits me.

"Soft skills" help me to build relationships

As a tech startup, we were tempted to automate everything. Our business, however, is to help software makers find jobs, which involves a lot of interpersonal communication. That's where I come in as a so-called Talent Advisor. My job is to:

  • Welcome software makers such as software developers and data scientists to the platform,
  • Advise them on how to present themselves in their profiles,
  • Prepare them for interviews and
  • Help them weigh up their job offers.

These are things you can't automate. Finding a new job is a big step for anyone. If I want to be able to advise someone in sensitive moments, such as when they're juggling multiple offers or even dealing with a family crisis at a time that is already stressful, they need to trust me completely. Here, my so-called "soft skills" are absolutely essential to build good rapport. I need solid communication skills to ensure that our job seekers and I are always on the same page and that they know they can come to me for advice. Having empathy helps me understand the context in which they are going through the sometimes challenging job search. Without these, I wouldn't be able to maintain personal relationships with the large, diverse group of software makers who are looking for jobs through our platform.

Understanding social and societal dynamics is useful, too. For example, many young graduates feel insecure and anxious about their first job offers and negotiations. Knowing this, I can proactively reach out to them to boost their confidence. This requires a different approach from, say, the one I would use for people with more experience. Being sensitive to these nuances — of differing levels of experience, location, interests, background, and other factors — allows me to help a wide range of makers reach their goal of landing a new job.

Abstract thinking helps me design systems

A humanities and social sciences background equips you to see everyday events as instances of something deeper. That turns out to be very handy in our context! Because OfferZen is growing rapidly, we regularly learn new things that force us to rethink our ways. This means a significant part of my job is to constantly redesign the Talent Advisor role itself. I have to spot patterns in our user research and my daily conversations with people to be able to make useful changes to the way we work.

Take, for example, the emails we send out to all of our job seekers. I had to speak to our users to try understand what information would be useful to them at what stage in their job search. Based on my notes from these conversations, I was able to decide what info we could send out automatically and what type of communication would require our personal touch going forward. This abstract view also helped me spot opportunities for our internal communication tools and processes.

Taking a step back is also critical when I'm advising software makers through tricky but common situations like counter-offers: A person's current employer offers them a raise or other benefits to convince them to stay, just as they are about to accept a new job. We noticed that many people are quite likely to accept these offers, even if it's not in their interest in the medium run. This is often simply because they haven't taken the time to take a step back and assess why they really want to leave in the first place.

That's why we've started talking about these reasons earlier in the job search. When a person considers how a counter-offer would change their sentiments, it helps them realise what really matters to them. Sometimes software makers will even decide to hold off from using OfferZen altogether, simply because they figured out new ways to make it work in their current roles.

Soft skills in the world

I've only spoken from my experience, but tech firms in general are hiring more and more humanities and social sciences grads — "soft skills" people. Marc Andreessen, the famous tech investor, said that "software is eating the world" and how a business delivers a product to its users is key. As much as good software engineers are necessary to build products, good "soft skills" people are needed to deliver the product to the user. For example, Slack's founder Stewart Butterfield, who holds a degree in Philosophy and History, hired theatre-trained artists to handle some of their UI/UX design. Closer to home, here at OfferZen, we have more people from psychology, legal, teaching, writing, and photography backgrounds than from software engineering.

I'd like to think that, for tech to reach new heights, these interdisciplinary teams are key. Recent hiring patterns in Silicon Valley seem to reflect this paradigm shift as well. And if our experience at OfferZen is anything to go by, then "soft skills" will continue to pack a punch long into the future.

Luke is a Talent Advisor at OfferZen.


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