5 soft skills employers want in tech candidates (and how to show them off)

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When you think of skills as a tech professional, there’s a good chance your mind heads straight to the hard skills: programming languages, data analysis, testing and so on. And while it’s natural to spotlight your technical skills, showcasing your soft skills to employers can be just as valuable.

What’s the difference between soft skills and hard skills? According to the Indeed Career Guide, “hard skills could be defined as your technical knowledge whereas soft skills are your overall habits in the workplace.”

In other words, soft skills refer to how you perform and interact with others on the job. For example, communication, emotional intelligence, creativity and performance under pressure would all fall under your list of soft skills.

And hard data tells us that soft skills do matter for employers, and some more than others. So if you feel like soft skills are lightweight and aren’t worth highlighting, you should know that they might affect whether recruiters find you or not. 

We pulled the soft skill keywords employers on the Seen platform use most often when searching for tech candidates. Brush up on these top five—and know how to show them off—to boost your chances of landing in more search results on (or off) Seen.

1. Management

Management experience generally means you’ve directed teams as well as projects or programs to move forward with business goals. That said, certain skills naturally fall under management, including communication, delegation, conflict resolution and decision-making.

And while management sounds a lot like leadership, they’re actually two different skill sets, which means it’s possible to have both (or have one without the other).

How to highlight your management skills: Having a management title (e.g., product manager, lead software engineer) on your resume is one thing, but you’ll have to provide examples of how you’ve successfully guided and executed initiatives to prove your management soft skills strengths.

Whether on your resume or during an interview, describe your achievements using action verbs (e.g., implemented, executed, spearheaded) to maximize your impact, and back them up with data and figures. Instead of saying you managed a QA team to adopt early testing, for example, detail how you championed the process of early testing for a team of five QA engineers, which decreased bug reports 35% in three months and contributed to releasing the product two weeks early.

2. Communication

The cost of poor communication is high, from sinking morale to low productivity to losing money because of vague product specs or misaligned goals. And whether you’re an individual contributor or the VP of engineering, the ability to effectively communicate will take you (and your team) far.

On top of speaking skills, which is what you might think of first when you hear the word communication, communication also includes listening and writing skills, plus non-verbal cues (e.g., body language, eye contact).

How to highlight your communication skills: Solving conflicts before they escalate, building an environment of trust that encourages others to contribute, providing constructive feedback and defining iffy product requirements are just a few ways you can show recruiters and hiring managers how you communicate well for successful outcomes.

First steps include writing a resume that stands out, but your communication skills will really shine in phone screens and interviews as you speak to your experience and accomplishments. You’ll also want to give specific examples that demonstrate how you’re an effective communicator, such as keeping communication lines open with stakeholders, asking clarifying questions and providing routine product updates. 

3. Leadership

Good leadership requires a set of soft skills similar to what’s needed for effective management (e.g., communication, empathy, integrity, problem-solving), but unlike management, leadership requires no official title or promotion. This means that you can develop leadership qualities no matter your role or level within an organization.

A strong leader will be able to lead through influence and trust (not authority or fear), take initiatives from vision to execution and delegate appropriately, plus motivate and empower others to do their best work.

How to highlight your leadership skills: Back up your leadership experience (e.g., directing projects, promoting quality standards) with real numbers that prove your impact. For example, say you led the charge in migrating data from an outdated system to a new database. Expand on how you not only completed the migration successfully, but go a step further and detail how you guided a small team to do it $5,000 under budget.

Keep in mind, if you want to step into a management role but haven’t managed a team formally, highlight qualities that make you a strong leader to show hiring managers you have what it takes to excel in a management role anyway. Talk about how you took a team of developers from ideation to execution for a new in-app feature, for instance, or that you mentor junior members to help guide their career path.

4. Problem-solving

From software development to QA to product management, it’s not a stretch to say that tech pros are troubleshooting and solving problems daily. Beyond finding a final solution, however, effective problem-solving can reduce time to production, cut costs and, in the end, maintain a loyal user base.

Just as important as your ability to find solutions? Your approach to problem-solving. Do you throw a couple of solutions at the problem and hope one sticks? Or do you take time to first understand the issue, then break it down into sub-problems and plan out next steps?

How to highlight your problem-solving skills: For your interview, prepare a few examples of problems you’ve solved. Explain the original problem, specific steps you took to solve it and the resolution. Did you consider the pros and cons to several solutions before implementing the one that made the most sense? What tools and technologies did you use?

For software developers, whiteboarding and pair programming interviews will give you a chance to work through coding problems, too. Be prepared to talk through your processes out loud to help the interviewer understand your thought process and how you work in a coding environment.

5. Teamwork

Not many teams are immune to communication errors or disagreements, and because there are usually multiple (and sometimes opposing) personality types on any given team, chances are you’ve experienced tension or conflict at some point or another.

There’s a good reason why teamwork lands high on the soft skills list of what recruiters and hiring managers want in tech talent: Successful teams can navigate these differences, respect each other’s contributions and bounce back from setbacks—without derailing their goals.

How to highlight your teamwork skills: On your resume and in interviews, describe a time your team faced a challenge (e.g., changing requirements, improper documentation, different viewpoints) by explaining the issue and what you did to solve for it. Focus on how you helped the team reach its goals rather than on your individual success.

If you’re a developer, the pair programming interview is another way to show off your teamwork skills because it’s designed to mirror a regular workday. Use this time to demonstrate your ability to communicate and collaborate productively.

Develop the soft skills employers want to stand out

Your experience leading a team of new grads or solving for a critical error that saved thousands can speak volumes about your workstyle and future success at the company. So though technical expertise is key to professional growth in the tech industry, don’t downplay your soft skills list, which can be just as important—and what you need to set yourself apart.


*Methodology: Seen by Indeed’s analysis for the most in-demand soft skills was calculated based on the most searched for skills by employers on Seen over a five-month period from May 2019 to October 2019.

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