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Sharahn McClung
Sharahn McClung
TripleTen
Career Coach
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You have the coding skillsWhat Skills Do You Need to Become a Software Engineer. But how good are you at communicating and working on a team? Can you effectively decide between competing work priorities? In TripleTen’s latest survey of 1,000+ hiring managers, 65% of respondents said that software engineers’ soft skills – like time management, problem solving skills, and adaptability – were among the most important qualities for successful candidates.

Software engineers need soft skillsWhy are soft skills important? to land a job, succeed in a role, and get promoted. So how can you develop soft skills and showcase them to employers? TripleTen career coach Sharahn McClung works one-on-one with students in the Career Acceleration Program to help them answer this question. She helps students identify top skills, create stellar job applications, and prep for interviews. Here is her expert advice.

What soft skills are valued in tech?

While hard skills refer to your specific tech stack, soft skills are about how you work with others and on your own. Sharahn doesn’t mince words: “There’s almost no company that says, ‘We don't care how this person behaves. We'll hire them because they're so good.’ Unless you’re the only person on the planet who knows a specific language, you have to work on your soft skills!” 

Based on our industry experience, here are some of the most sought-after soft skills for a software engineer.

Communication

“Communication skills” come down to knowing your audience, and speaking to that audience clearly.

In a team setting, communication skills might center on problem solving together, delegating tasks, and giving constructive feedbackHow to Give and Receive Feedback That Makes a Difference with kindness. When presenting information to your boss or client, communication is about knowing what details to include, how to adjust your communication style (such as when to use technical jargon, and when to simplify), and articulating your ideas logically.

Being an attentive listener is also part of communication. Not all project requirements will be thoroughly explained from the beginning, and you’ll have to ask questions, listen carefully, and clarify things along the way to make sure you’re delivering the right product. 

Teamwork

While it’s possible to find roles that minimize interaction, Sharahn reminds students that they have to be realistic: they’ll have to work with others in one way or another. A better approach is to hone your ability to work on a team: “When you interact with people in a way that energizes you and the other person, it's a gift that keeps on giving.”

More likely than not, you’ll have to work within a team to solve problems, whether that team is fellow engineers, marketers, or product. This means actively listening, speaking respectfully, knowing how to work with different personality types, being proactive about sharing information and updates, and solving conflicts. 

Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence (EQ) is the ability to recognize, interpret, and use emotions to communicate with others effectively. Often, it just means paying attention to mood and tone of voice: does your colleague look particularly sad and distracted today? Maybe it’s time to ask how they are feeling, and leave your code critique for another day.

Just as important: managing your own emotions is a major part of EQ. Take a pause before acting when you feel angry, stressed, or impatient. Sharahn offers one example of recovering from an angry outburst with grace: a client responded with an angry tirade when she paid for a product that disappointed her. Embarrassed, she followed up with an apology that thanked the company for eventually resolving her issue, showed her appreciation, and made a few thoughtful suggestions to improve the customer experience. In a twist, this follow-up landed her a job offer at that very company!

Prioritization and time management

Hiring managers value not only candidates who complete their work on time, but who can juggle multiple projects and switch priorities if needed. A bootcamp offers great practice for managing your time effectively. TripleTen’s bootcamps are built around 2- to 3-week sprints. Each sprint has an assignment deadline, but you’re in control of how and when you work. 

Initiative and self-motivation

Self-motivation is an important soft skill for a software developer. Many job descriptions talk about wanting candidates who are “self-starters'' and “show initiative.” Tech moves quickly, and many companies (especially startupsChoosing A Start-Up Over an IT Giant? Here’s Why We Think It’s Worth it!) want employees who don’t wait around to be told what to do.

Good self-discipline means being able to stick to a routine, knowing when you need to recharge, and making steady progress towards goals.

But it also means looking out for problems you can solve proactively, and being motivated to tackle them.

How to show your soft skills in your job application

The best way to show off your soft skills on a resume is by “showing, not telling.” Sharahn recommends doing your research before you apply to a role: read the job description carefully, but also check the company’s website and social media, read reviews, and see what the company page and execs post on LinkedIn. This will help you gain a sense of workplace culture and choose what skills to play up in your resume, cover letter, and interview.

For example, if the company values teamwork, don’t just list “team player” as a skill. Try incorporating it into your bullet points:

“Guided and mentored a team of four fellow students to create a website for a neighborhood cupcake shop. Used project management software to delegate tasks and keep the team accountable.”

Your LinkedIn summary is another great place to tell your story and show off soft skills. Sharahn recommends structuring your summary to tell the story in the “Present, Past, Future” format: “here's what you need to know about my current skills, here's how I got here, and here's what you’re going to get from me as an employee.” Try to illustrate it with vivid language, and don’t be afraid to include stories beyond your work (“I learned agility from being a trapeze artist for two summers with a traveling circus” will definitely catch a recruiter’s attention).

Show soft skills in your interactions with recruiters

Sharahn emphasizes that your soft skills aren’t just words on a resume: they are the actions you take during the job hunt. “Know your audience,” Sharahn says.

Put yourself in the seat of the recruiter. There might be 200 applicants in their inbox, and they have six to seven seconds to look through a resume. Sharahn McClung, TripleTen career coach

Every impression counts: showing up on time, having a professional backdrop during virtual interviews, asking thoughtful questions, and following up.

For example, Sharahn strongly encourages job seekers to send thank you notes after every interview to show that you appreciate the interviewer’s time, and that you’re truly interested in the role. A good thank you note can show off both soft and hard skills: “The very contents of that thank you note should be coming from your understanding of the job description and the hard skills required, as well your confidence in your ability to do those skills.”

How to show your soft skills in an interview

Most interviewers will ask behavioral questionsNo Prior Tech Experience? Here’s How to Pass a Behavioral Interview during an interview to assess your soft skills. Here are some common behavioral questions:

  • “Tell me about a time when you disagreed with a colleague. What happened, and how did you resolve it?”
  • “What would you do if you made a mistake at work?” 
  • “Tell me about a time when you had to decide between two priorities.”
  • “Describe a project you’re especially proud of.”

In all cases, it’s best to prepare concrete examples from your past experience (here are some of the most common behavioral questions to help you prep).

(Check out this blog postPrepare Yourself to Answer “Why Should We Hire You?” with Confidence for a great example of the STAR method in action).

Showing off your soft skills in a technical interview

Believe it or not, a technical interview is also a critical place to show off soft skills. It’s a test not only of your knowledge, but how you solve a problem. A technical interview gives you a chance to show off your communication, problem-solving and reasoning skills.

When students don’t do well in a technical interview, it’s not always due to gaps in hard skills. Sharahn gives a common example: “Students have often reported that when they get stuck in a technical interview, they freeze and don't speak to the interviewer. They get stuck in their heads, trying to think of a solution, and don't speak until they come up with an answer. The interviewer is left in silence.”

If you find yourself stumped in a technical interview, try to talk out loud as you figure out next steps. As Sharahn puts it, “by communicating in a moment of ambiguity, stress, or confusion,” you can demonstrate self-awareness and impress the hiring manager even if you didn’t solve the technical problem.

How to hone your software engineer soft skills

With practice and feedback, you can improve your soft skills. The most important part of developing your soft skills is being open-minded and open to feedback. Choose trusted people -- colleagues, mentors, or career coaches – that know you well and can give encouragement, but also point out areas for improvement.

Check your strengths

Start with evaluating your soft skills. Try asking colleagues, teachers or even bosses to give feedback on working with you. (It doesn’t matter if that experience comes from the tech field or not!) You can also try an online strengths assessment tool like the High5Test

Questions to ask yourself and others can include:
  • What work do I handle naturally and enjoy the most?
  • Can you remember a situation when our collaboration was most fruitful?
  • What did you like the most about working with me?What are areas of growth for me?
  • Where can I challenge myself to improve?

Sharahn often uses self-reflection with students to get them to think deeply about who they are and what drives them: “What did you spend the most amount of time doing when you were a child? What do you spend time doing when you’re not working or studying? That's going to speak to what you are passionate about. Those are going to be where your patterns of success and strengths are, because usually, when we follow our passions we actively hone a skill or build our strengths.” 

Conduct info interviews

Info interviews are an underrated networking tool to connect with people who are working in a role or industry you’re interested in. The idea is simple: you ask to speak to someone for 20-30 minutes to ask them about their role, how they landed it, and what skills they use day to day. You can reach out via LinkedIn, talk to friends of friends, or try connecting to people at networking events or local software engineering meetups. You can also ask to be connected to TripleTen alumni. Just be sure to send a thank you note afterward!

Engage in externships and volunteer

Working with others will give you the best opportunity to hone your soft skills. ExternshipsWhy Externships Are Great for Your Portfolio and volunteer opportunities can help you build these skills (and get references!).

TripleTen students have the opportunity to do an externship as part of their studies. Externships are similar to internships: you work on real-life assignments that have an impact on the business. If you’re looking for volunteer opportunities, try a site like Catchafire, which connects software engineers with nonprofits that need help. 

Find a mentor to guide you

A mentor is anyone who can offer you advice and encouragement. It can be a senior student, a teacher, a career coach, a former boss, or a colleague. The main thing is to find someone who knows you, and whose judgment you trust.

If there isn’t one person who can mentor you, try joining online communities, like r/Learnprogramming, /r/CSCareerQuestions, or the Beginner.Codes Discord server.

At TripleTen, you will also have access to career advisors who will also guide you through the process of identifying your skills, uncovering overlooked strengths, and encouraging you. Anastasia Cherepanova, a TripleTen Career Product Lead, recalls this story: “One of our graduates, Rebecca, was anxious about applying for a job, thinking she was underqualified. But when we reviewed her profile during the Career Acceleration program, we discovered interesting, relevant experiences. These “aha!” moments come when the coach helps the students to assemble a CV, and they understand that they have much more experience than they thought.”

See if a bootcamp is right for you

Feeling intimidated by the job search? TripleTen not only teaches you the hard skills to switch careers, we also provide personalized career coaching to help you land the job. Take our self-assessment quiz today to see if a bootcamp is right for you.

IT career tips

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Is a bootcamp right for you?

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