The surge in remote working and the rapid expansion of digital-business tools driven by the coronavirus pandemic are prompting employers to add a new qualification to enterprise-technology job postings: people skills.
On top of tech chops, chief information officers and enterprise information-technology recruiters are on the lookout for IT employees who are adept at communicating with co-workers over Zoom or Webex calls, rather than in person.
The hiring trend—also referred to as soft skills—predates the pandemic, but has become more pressing as companies cope with added challenges brought on by virtual meetings and socially distant collaboration, CIOs, recruiters and analysts say.
Covid-19, they say, has made employees in nearly every corporate role more reliant than ever on technology, forcing IT departments to interact more frequently with the rest of the company.
“The brilliant, introverted developer continues to be in high demand, but we are also seeing an uptick in requirements for relationship building, business acumen and communications in our searches,” said Martha Heller, chief executive of tech recruiting firm Heller Search Associates.
According to global staffing firm Robert Half International, soft skills include proficiency in peer-to-peer communications, collaboration and leadership—qualities that have not always been associated with siloed tech teams.
“We’ve been surveying technology leaders about their desire and necessity for soft skills and emotional intelligence within their teams for years,” said Ryan Sutton, a district president in the firm’s technology division. But the pandemic has accelerated the shift, he said, by making digital upgrades, e-commerce, cybersecurity and cloud computing a higher priority at businesses across the U.S.
In a survey of 2,800 senior managers at U.S. businesses, conducted by the firm in July and August, just under 40% said strategic changes prompted by Covid-19 required more frequent communications from leadership and improved collaboration within and across teams. Roughly 30% said they were ramping up innovation and seeking faster turnaround times.
Carolyn April, senior director for industry analysis at enterprise tech trade group CompTIA, said as a result IT departments are becoming far more than back-of-the-house support centers or pods of software developers working in isolation.
“Information technology in the era of cloud computing and digitization is strategic to the overall business, both in terms of innovation and revenue generation,” Ms. April said. The shift calls for tech professionals who can work across various internal departments, as well as with customers, she said.
That requires an ability to collaborate, write and communicate, speak in front of a group, and lead and manage inter-division relationships, Ms. April said.
“I think I am more keenly focused on people’s attention to communications,” said Colleen Berube, CIO and senior vice president of operations at customer-service software maker Zendesk Inc. “Are they effective communicators with me over Zoom? Are they effective written communicators? How high is their emotional quotient?”
Ms. Berube said she recently finished staffing a leadership team, including several who were hired after the pandemic began.
Even without the added qualifications, employers face fierce competition to fill advanced tech positions.
The unemployment rate for IT occupations at U.S. firms dropped to 2.8% in October, down from 3.5% the previous month, according to an analysis of U.S. Labor Department data by CompTIA. The number of tech job postings rose by more than 14,000, reaching nearly 239,000 open positions, the group reported earlier this month.
“In the past, many IT leaders focused disproportionately on acquiring technical skills,” said Lily Mok, a research vice president at IT research and consulting firm Gartner Inc. “While these are important, technical skills alone are no longer sufficient,” she said.
Craig Stephenson, who oversees CIO and chief technology officer recruiting in the U.S. and Canada at executive-search firm Korn Ferry, said a key component for survival in post-pandemic markets will be the ability of large-scale technology teams to work together on strategic goals across the enterprise.
“The pace of change is frenetic,” Mr. Stephenson said. “Efforts driving digital transformation are now more prevalent than any time in recent memory,” he said.