What CIOs want: five standout skills

More than just IT proficiency is required

It's a good market out there for IT job seekers, but that doesn't mean your technical abilities will automatically land you a rewarding position. CIOs seek professionals who can contribute immediately to their companies' success. Faced with multiple candidates who are similarly qualified and technically proficient, how do they make tough hiring decisions?

The choice often comes down to skills that are hard to quantify but essential to any successful IT career. Here are five non-technical abilities that will help separate you from the crowd.

1. Communication skills

Verbal and written communication abilities continue to grow in importance as IT establishes itself at the forefront of business. Technology professionals must be able to interact not only with their immediate teammates, but also with colleagues throughout the company. The ability and willingness to explain a complex technology in terms the listener will understand — and care about — is as important as it is rare.

One key is to always keep your audience in mind. Tailor your message to their needs and preferences. For example, if you are speaking to a team of senior managers with little time to spare, highlight only the most important aspects of your project and save the details for a different conversation. And don't forget to keep your written communication skills sharp too, especially given the prevalence of email in the office.

2. Interpersonal skills

While technically impressive solutions are sometimes produced in isolation, the innovations that benefit a business the most are almost always the product of a joint effort, often involving people who don't share the same abilities or experience. Productive collaboration requires a willingness to see things from a different point of view.

One way to build these skills is to begin cultivating your internal network. Reach out to others, both inside and outside your department, and talk to them about what they do and how you might be able to partner. Gradually, you'll build a network of people you can interact with and turn to for ideas, suggestions and questions.

3. Customer service mind-set

Those with a customer service mind-set measure their work not by how much effort it took or how brilliantly it was executed but by how well the project served customers. Such an attitude puts you in sync with the company's overarching goals and steers you away from work that will have little business impact.

Familiarising yourself with the company's customers (be they internal or external) is a first step towards developing this kind of results-oriented disposition. Always have an idea of the person who will be using the product, program or service you are developing. If it is the sales team, for instance, consider meeting with the group and watching them interact with technology to determine whether the software you've designed has a user-friendly interface as well as the features they seek.

4. Ability to apply technical skills to business challenges

The most sought-after job candidates don't just know how the technology works — they also know how it will be used and by whom. IT professionals need to constantly learn new proficiencies to keep pace with industry advances, but today's hottest skills may not be the ones a particular company needs the most.

For example, while a hot programming language might be interesting to you, a given project may call for a more routine solution. When you keep in mind the business reasons underlying an IT project, you're more likely to find the best solutions, rather than trying to force a favourite technology into a situation where it doesn't quite fit.

5. Initiative

CIOs want staff members who consider their job description a starting point, not a checklist. The best employees don't wait for others to come to them with assignments, and they're often the first to volunteer for difficult challenges. Initiative also applies to your own skills — have you demonstrated an ongoing commitment to training and education, especially in areas that may not be core strengths?

Don't confuse initiative with a willingness to take on mountains of work, however.

Katherine Spencer Lee is executive director of recruitment firm Robert Half Technology

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