Many IT professionals spend a substantial part of their working day talking to people outside of their department. Contacts range from the most junior person in an organisation to the managing director. This means that technical expertise on its own is no longer enough. Employers want ITers to have good communication and business skills.
"Communication skills are probably the single most important skill in a person's working life, irrespective of their level," says Paul Smith, CEO at career management site Firstpersonglobal.com. "They really do assist a person's career immensely."
Having good communication skills does not just mean getting on with people socially. It also means being able to communicate information and ideas to others. Meetings, presentations, seminars, videoconferencing - these are all activities that demand good social skills.
As IT professionals increasingly have to talk about technology in a business context, good interpersonal skills have become more important. Paul Blackmore, information and ICT manager at Lancaster University, says the ability to convey information is now so essential that the department is introducing a module to its IT courses to help ITers develop their communication skills.
"Many people do have these skills, but don't know how to market them and transfer them to the workplace," he says.
Explaining the function and value of IT is crucial and has to be communicated in clear, concise terms. ITers have to be careful not to confuse people or lose their attention through using lots of technical jargon.
Someone who wants to know how a particular technology will benefit their business wants to hear about it in business terms, which is why ITers need to understand commercial issues.
"People need to understand the whole business and not just their part of it," explains Smith. He advises ITers to invest time and effort in understanding all facets of business, particularly anything to do with marketing and finance.
Take advantage of any courses available - and not just the technical ones. Many companies offer courses on management skills, presentation skills, interviewing and so on.
Smith also recommends that ITers who want to move into senior management or board-level positions should consider getting a commercial qualification. "It doesn't hurt for people to think about gaining some commercial qualifications, like a business degree, because as you move up the ladder, commercial experience becomes much more important," he says.
Training for business
To find out about business courses, try contacting your local education authority, training enterprise council or library to find out what is on offer. Other useful contacts include:
This was first published in March 2001