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What You Don't Know Won't Hurt You. The Things I Wish I Knew When I Started in IT (Part Two)

Level 10

Starting out in IT there are many things that I wish I had known about, but one of them is the value of the soft skills required.  Organizations want people who are willing to learn with the proper drive, but the ability to communicate, support, empathize, and the ability to help other people in the business will go a long way for your success within any enterprise.

Finding a Job

Over the years I have spent in the field I have been on both the interviewing side and the interviewee side of the table.  I have found that it always starts with how you related to others and whether or not you can have a real conversation with the person you are talking to. I have met people during the interviewing process that have been proud to be the guy/gal from Office Space with the red stapler: hiding out without any social skills.  I have not ever once seen them be hired into the organizations I have worked in.  So, what are the key skills that a person must have to succeed in IT?  Let’s break it down here.

  • Communication – The ability to have a conversation with a person will go a long way for your IT career.  In most IT roles staff interacts with the business daily.  From the ability to just have a conversation to the ability to listen, and then assist by articulating clearly is necessary. I read something somewhere that said you should be able to explain complex technology in a simple form, so simple that even a child can understand. That is not always an easy task, but I compare it to when I go to the doctor. They have a lot of complex terms like we do, but at the end of the day, they need to remove that from the conversation and explain what they are doing so that a non-medical professional can understand. That is the same level of communication required to be successful in your IT career.

  • Negotiation – The art of negotiation is so important to anyone in life as a whole, but here is how it applies to your IT career. As you are looking at third-party products to support your organization, are you going to pay retail price? No way! Negotiation is necessary. How about when you are talking to a future employer about salary. Do you ever take the first offer? No way! Lastly, we even get to negotiate with our users/management/team in IT.  They may ask for the most complex and crazy technology to do their jobs. You may be inclined to say no, but this is not how it works. Figure out what it takes, price it out, and odds are they won’t do it. This is the art of negotiation.

  • Empathy – Always empathize with the frustrated user. They are likely consuming the technology you implement. While the issue may not even be your fault, it is important to share that you understand they are having a hard day. More importantly, you will do what you can to resolve their issue as quickly as possible.

Soft skills go further than even the key ones that I have highlighted, but my hope is that this did get you thinking. IT is no longer full of people that don’t communicate well with others. That is a stereotype that needs to go away.

Long-term success

The only way to be successful in IT is to communicate well and play nice with others.  Use those soft skills that you have.  Any other approach, no matter how well you know your job, will find you looking for a new one sooner rather than later.


Good information. So often people go into a job search looking for "what do I get." Your comments reflect a whole person approach that makes thinking of the other person or people involved an important matter.


Sometimes it is good to start at the bottom of IT and work your way up. You get a better feel for how things work and interconnect.

This gives you a good experience platform to build on both environment and people wise.  You get the people networking going that can help you down the road.


Makes sense

To your list of traits, habits, and characterizations of successful job hunters, I'll add:

  • Smiling
  • Listening more than talking
  • Taking turns during conversation
  • Avoiding one-upsmanship and boasting
  • Keeping trust sacred
  • Always being truthful
  • Saying what's necessary, but no more ("Just the facts, Ma'am!")
  • Researching the employer and their needs (There's nothing like interviewing someone who knows how big your company is, where it's located, what it does to generate income, and who can offer ideas and solutions that are pertinent and immediate--all based on their research of the company before coming to the interview).
  • Paying attention to details.  (Clean shaven, hair combed, eye brows trimmed, nasal hair tamed, shoes well-maintained and cleaned and freshly shined, clothing all in perfect repair, avoiding body odors and avoiding scented products like hair spray, deodorant/anti-perspirant, perfume/cologne, detergents for their clothing, hand sanitizers, scented body gels in the shower, etc.).  If someone shows they do not pay attention to such personal details, they may show a similar lack of detail for your network.  Those applicants don't have a clear shot to the hiring contract.
Level 12

I agree with everything you said here. I have to make a comment based on communication though from my personal experience.

By nature I am a more introverted person. I also dislike chit chat while I am working and small talk and all that other stuff. I generally keep a neutral look on my face, never really smiling or frowning. A lot of people think I am anti-social and a poor communicator because of this. Anyone that actually works on a problem with me knows that is not true at all. I communicate very well when working with other people on work related issues. I don't over explain things nor do I under explain them. I keep things short and to the point without wasting time.

I feel far to many people view "good" communication skills as someone who is always friendly and chit chatty and always making small talk. They may not be able to communicate their way out of a paper bag when it comes push to shove, but because they are always friendly a chatty they are viewed as a good communicator.

Maybe it should be quantified as effective communication instead of good communication. Can you effectively communicate things to people in a clear and concise manner? Sometimes saying less is actually saying more.

Level 21

One of the components I started doing when interviewing people for my organization is testing their "whiteboading" skills which is essentially a form of communication but one that is very important in our industry.  It's important that folks be able to participate and and communicate different ideas and architectures on a white board and yet I am always surprised by how many people can't do this in an interview.

I hired one guy for his networking skills and was very pleasantly surprised to discover he had amazing art / whiteboarding talents.  He could draw square boxes freehand that were just about perfect, and his hand-drawn network designs were a pleasure to behold.

On the other hand, the drawing process was slow & meticulous--not so great for in a meeting . . .

Level 21

Sounds like a regular Rob Boss!

But with MUCH smaller hair.

Level 12

Right on point 24x7itconnect​ A lot of things i really wish i knew. I just jumped right in.

Level 13

Nice information.  To the point.

Level 12

Nice perspective.


Happy little switches and routers. I like it.