30 Jan 3 soft skills you need for a STEM job
It’s no surprise that soft skills — like your ability to connect with colleagues on an interpersonal level — are important in nearly every industry.
In the STEM field, these skills are often an afterthought for highly-technical jobs. Still, they are crucial to getting hired in the first place and are valuable to finding success on the job.
After all, how can you get hired if a potential employer doesn’t understand what you bring to the table?
Bobby Davis, co-founder and chief technology officer of a North Carolina-based coding bootcamp, Coder Foundry, knows this all to well. Davis is a serial entrepreneur whose career includes launching the Microsoft Gold Partner custom software development firm Core Techs, which he has run for the past 12 years.
Davis uses his business experience and hiring expertise to train Coder Foundry students with not only coding skills, but also — just as importantly — the soft skills necessary for successful STEM job placement. Here are his thoughts:
1. Communication goes beyond the computer
People with highly-technical backgrounds often speak in acronyms, idioms, slang, or other field-specific terms. However, when communicating with senior management or a decision – maker, using jargon can come off as demeaning rather than impressive.
You can be a mastermind, but if you can’t explain what you’re doing behind the computer screen to anyone but other coders, you’ll only go so far.
Being able to speak in layman’s terms is one of the hardest skills to develop. Opportunities to do so, however, are nearly endless.
Find trusted family or friends outside of the industry, explain a project to them without using any technical buzzwords and have them stop you whenever you say a word they don’t understand. Also look for STEM-specific networking groups where you can present in front of your peers in a low-pressure situation and ask for feedback.
Build up your skills until you can speak conversationally about your technical abilities to anyone, in any field. As someone who makes hiring decisions, I almost always choose the candidate with great verbal communication, even if someone else displays more technical skills. Strong communicators typically work well with others and those are the people who will ultimately help grow my business.
2. Paint the picture
Communication doesn’t stop at the technical or verbal levels. To really set yourself apart from competition, learn how to explain your ideas visually.
“Whiteboarding” is becoming exceedingly prevalent in STEM interviews, especially with coding. Knowing the correct diagrams and standard symbols is essential. Practice using large and legible handwriting, and memorizing industry spelling — these things all play into being able to whiteboard successfully.
You can easily find sample whiteboarding questions online. Practice drawing out the concepts, and look at finished whiteboarding examples to learn what parts of the diagram are industry standards — like using a specific shape or symbol. It’s also a good idea to search “whiteboarding questions for technical interviews .” You could very well get those exact questions in an interview.
3. Don’t let your first impression be your last
One of the easiest, but often overlooked, soft skills is personal presentation. When you sit at a computer all day, jeans and flip-flops are likely a staple in your wardrobe. However, when it comes to an interview, you need to dress the part of a professional.
Go to a dress clothes retailer and tell them you have an interview; they’ll have you suited up in no time. Also, one easy rule of thumb for this is to always get another professional industry employee’s honest feedback on your attire before an interview.
Nonverbal communication is equally important when creating a first impression. Practice making intentional eye contact in your everyday life. As someone who stares into computer screens a large percentage of the day, it’s easy to overlook such an important and easily-achieved direct connection.
You can also record yourself doing a mock interview to look for body language and other quirks you might not know exist. Do your eyes roll to the top of your head while you’re thinking? Do you go in for a handshake right away? Did you smile? Did your cellphone audibly vibrate? Train yourself out of negative and into positive habits.
There are many great resources online to develop even more soft skills, such as building a portfolio, getting a professional headshot, crafting a dynamic resume , and more. Finding a specialty program that includes these elements can provide a one-stop shop for job candidates to learn both technical and soft skills specific to their field.
STEM job candidates can give themselves an edge just by being aware of the necessary soft skills. For employers, the importance of these skills is a growing trend that isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
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