Top 10 soft skills IT contractors need to succeed

Successful IT contractors have more than programming prowess. Your knowledge of Python or SQL might be great but ‘soft’ skills are the secret sauce that transforms top techies into absolute IT heroes, writes Adrian Smith, senior director of operations at Randstad.  

However when it comes to selling services on a contract basis, too often computer professionals can get caught up in the technical wizardry. But in tech contracting in 2023, the right soft skill can represent a superpower; and a trump card over a rival with similar technical nous.

So without further ado, here are the top 10 soft skills IT contractors need to succeed.

1. Adaptability

In today's rapidly changing work environment, adaptability is crucial. Employers value flexibility and willingness to embrace new situations, technologies, and challenges — someone who is happy to embrace change. 

Adaptable IT contractors are those who can adjust their mindset, learn quickly, and thrive in dynamic work environments, contributing to organisational resilience and growth. Employers don’t like hiring contractors who are resistant to change; they want someone who can easily fit into a team.

2. Emotional smarts

Our clients are often on the look-out for contractors with strong emotional intelligence — something that AI still isn't smart enough to detect yet! 

This encompasses the ability to recognise, understand, and manage one's own emotions, as well as effectively navigate and respond to the emotions of others. Emotional intelligence enables individuals to build strong relationships; it promotes self-awareness and self-regulation, leading to improved productivity.

3. Communication

Related to emotional smarts, is communication.

Clients increasingly value IT people who can cut out the jargon and communicate effectively. They want technology-savvy people who can convey ideas, share information, and build strong relationships with colleagues, clients, and stakeholders. Good communication promotes clarity, understanding, and alignment within teams, preventing misunderstandings and conflicts. Moreover, effective communication enables senior contractors to inspire and motivate their teams, drive change, and provide constructive feedback. 

In today's interconnected and fast-paced work environment, mastering communication is essential for achieving your own and your organisation's goals. Being a clear communicator (if mastering communication is still a step away) is essential to demonstrate at interview.

4. Creativity

Creativity can be really important for IT contractors. Given they are not entrenched in an organisation, contractors are expected to take advantage of their unique position of being able to approach challenges with fresh perspectives. Creative contractors contribute to process improvement and the development of new products or services.

5. Time management

Time management perhaps is the most in demand soft skill in the IT contacting sector right now. It directly impacts productivity, efficiency, and a team’s success. Effective time management — prioritising tasks, setting realistic goals, and allocating appropriate time to activities — helps individuals meet deadlines and avoid unnecessary stress. 

With proper time management, both in-house and off-payroll workers can optimise their workflow, make better decisions, and maintain a healthy work-life balance. By mastering this skill, the best contractors will not only maximise their output, they will improve their professional reputations.

6. Team-playing

It might make the toes of some diehard contractors curl, but teamwork is still second to none at promoting collaboration, synergy, and collective achievement such as on a project or programme.

A cohesive team can often accomplish more than individuals working in isolation. At its most basic, good teamwork leads to the best division of tasks to achieve common goals; at its most effective, it involves respect for diverse perspectives, encouraging the sharing of ideas, and the pooling of strengths.

Teamwork enhances problem-solving, creativity, and decision-making by harnessing the collective intelligence of the group.  Moreover, it fosters a supportive and inclusive work environment, boosting morale, motivation, and work satisfaction.

7. Problem-solving

Clients value effective problem-solving in their IT contractors. People working freelance who can identify, analyse, and find solutions to complex issues via critical thinking and a methodical approach, are never really out of demand. If anything, organisations are perhaps even hungrier to hire computer contractors who regularly overcome obstacles, make informed decisions, and contribute to continuous improvement within their roles.  

8. Listening, generatively

Listening is an important key soft skill. It’s one that doesn’t get enough air-time in the world of IT.  The “five levels of listening” were first introduced by Otto Scharmer, a senior lecturer at MIT. Scharmer suggested you can listen with preconceived notions, judgments, and assumptions — a superficial form of listening where the listener pays minimal attention and mainly hears what aligns with their existing beliefs. 

You can gather factual information and pay attention to data, facts, and details while filtering out subjective interpretations and emotional aspects.  Better still, you can listen empathically, listening with the intention of understanding the speaker's emotions and feelings and seeking to connect with the speaker's experience and perspective, suspending judgement and offering support.

Generative listening goes beyond empathic listening: it involves listening with an open mind and heart, creating a space for new ideas and insights to emerge. The listener is attuned to the deeper meanings and underlying patterns in the speaker's words. The highest form of listening transcends individual perspectives and involves listening from a place of deep presence and awareness, tapping into the collective intelligence and wisdom of a group. 

The best IT contractors — the A-players — will listen to understand, rather than listen to respond. You need to deeply hear what people say — not just formulate a response. The higher you rise and the more responsibility you have, the more you need to comprehensively listen because you’re not doing the work as much. At a certain level of seniority, you’re there to help remove barriers for other people – for them to do a lot of the work.

9. Project management

The last two soft-skills I want to highlight are, perhaps, less lyrical. The first of the two is project management.

Good project management ensures the successful execution of complex tasks. It involves planning, organising, and coordinating resources, timelines, and deliverables.

The best contractors will set clear goals and define a project’s scope. Skilled project managers can navigate through challenges, allocate resources efficiently, and adapt to changing circumstances. Project management promotes efficiency, productivity, and cost-effectiveness, enabling teams to achieve their strategic objectives on time — and within budget. Being adept with managing a project is definitely one to highlight on your CV — a golden skill for all types and levels of tech contractor. 

10. Reliability

Last but by no means least, clients more and more value reliability. This is an essential quality end-clients consider when hiring new IT contractors — they know reliability forms the bedrock of successful, efficient teams. 

Reliable contractors can be counted on to consistently fulfil their obligations, meet deadlines, and deliver high-quality work. They demonstrate a strong work ethic, a sense of responsibility, and a commitment to their project, deliverables or team — clients know the right contractor is going to minimise disruptions and maximise productivity.

Wednesday 24th May 2023
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Written by Adrian Smith

Adrian Smith is the senior director of operations for recruiter Randstad UK. He has worked for Randstad since 2002 when he joined as a consultant. Educated at Loughborough and the Sorbonne, he enjoys rugby, sailing, and winter sports.


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