Demonstrating People Skills in an IT Resume

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One of my favorite Dilbert cartoons shows Dilbert interviewing a recently graduated engineer. The candidate, leans back cockily in his chair, tells Dilbert, "It's funny that you're judging me. My engineering knowledge is current and yours is ancient." Dilbert stares blankly, and then the candidate slaps his forehead and says, "Ooh! People skills! I forgot!"

Dilbert.com

I like this cartoon because it demonstrates a very important point about job hunting. You could be a technical guru, but that won't matter all that much if your coworkers find you intolerable. In fact, you might find that your career has a ceiling.

Think of it this way: most technical jobs aren't done in isolation. You'll be solving other people's computer problems, answering their questions, manipulating and harnessing technology to meet their needs and objectives. Managers need to motivate and guide employees. Trainers need to approach novices on their level of expertise. Administrators need to communicate the strengths and values of what they're, well, administrating. Many modern corporations are a shifting network of projects, goals, and meetings, where employees are expected to work and make decisions as a team, in addition to as individuals.

Put another way: since the function of technology is to enhance people's lives, you better make sure that (as an expert in technology) people don't find you too frustrating.

Here are some ways to make sure your resume shows that you are professional and pleasant, in addition to technically skilled.

Identify Your Most Appropriate People Skills

People skills, also known as soft skills, come in many varieties. Some involve problem solving, leading meetings, maintaining a friendly attitude towards coworkers, and working well with others. To the extent that it's possible, try to identify the most appropriate people skills that are a match for your target company and position. Often, a well-developed ad will state the skills, soft or otherwise, a company seeks in an ideal candidate. If not, you can usually make educated assumptions based on duties described in the ad, or typically assigned to someone with that position title.

It might help to know some of the following major categories of soft skills:

  • Interacting with coworkers
  • Collaborating as a member of a team
  • Self-motivation and improvement
  • Communication and presentation skills
  • Problem solving and creativity
  • Integrity and morality

The more you can show off those traits on your resume, the stronger your position.

Emphasize Results and Deliverables

It isn't usually very effective to rattle off a series of adjectives or traits on a resume. A bulleted list that reads "good communicator; strong leader; skillful problem solver" might help with the search engine results, but isn't going to communicate much concrete data. Part of the problem here is that soft skills are inherently intangible, and therefore unquantifiable. Take Integrity, for example. Everyone would agree that it's important, but how do you measure it? Can you have an integrity quotient of 83%? If so, is that sufficient? Tough to say. Many other soft skills present similar challenges.

The solution, usually, is to try and emphasize the results and deliverables that your soft skills produced. When teaching fiction, I talk about how the right physical and specific detail can reveal more about a person than pages of abstract description, and I think the same things apply to resumes. Consider the following examples:

Soft skill: Good communicator

Soft skill with result: Trained all office support staff and end users during transition to new company wide operating system, helping employees take full advantage of information resources.

Soft skill: Strong Leader

Soft skill with result: Guided team of twelve people tasked with setting up network infrastructure for new corporate headquarters.

Soft skill: Skillful Problem Solver

Soft skill with result: Identified and resolved numerous potential security breaches and reconfigured network topology to consist of two separate collision domains with a class 4-high end firewall.

Each of the above examples demonstrates the soft skill in question, but does so in a way that emphasizes the results of that attribute, which both makes the skill itself more vivid and provides evidence to support the assertion.

Recognize That People Skills are Optional

As discussed above, people skills and likeability are nifty bonuses in a candidate. They can set you apart in the interview process, and demonstrate good culture fit. To be fair, however, a description of people skills isn't an essential trait for a resume, and certainly won't compensate for a deficiency of technical background or experience. With that in mind, it's an applicant category that's not required to be fully demonstrated on a resume.

Partly, this is just a question of what can be verified on paper. There's no way for a hiring manager to know whether the persona you're creating for yourself holds true or not unless they meet you, so some applicants choose to just leave soft skills off entirely, and focus on quantifiable hard skills like technical expertise and accomplishments.

That's a perfectly fine strategy in the end, but not considering how you demonstrate people skills at all feels like a missed opportunity to me.

Here's a final thought about how this concept impacts job hunting: there are lots of people who can master a technology; far fewer can master working with people.

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Contributor

Alan Ackmann

teaches professional and technical writing at DePaul University in Chicago. His work has appeared in a variety of journals, and he is the author of the following Pluralsight Courses: Fundamentals of Written Proposals; Writing Process Instructions and Directions; and Resumes, Research, and Writing on the Job Hunt.