by Bill Rosenthal

Career checkup, Part 2: How to overcome IT’s top 4 communication challenges

Jan 22, 2016

In the race for a new job, it may be communication skills that set you apart from the rest of the pack.

2016 has officially arrived along with two welcome events for our long-suffering economy: ongoing strength in the labor market and continued expansion of the GDP.  Let’s resume our information technology career checkup, so you’ll prosper like never before.

The rest of my series aims to accomplish two things. The first goal, and the subject of this post, is to give you a full rundown of the top four communication challenges I believe IT specialists have to an extent much greater than that found in other professions. 

That will lay the groundwork for providing you with practical ideas of how to overcome these challenges as you move through each interview milestone in landing a terrific new job: the qualifying phone call, the conversation via Skype (or a similar live video exchange) and finally the face-to-face negotiations.

1. Spill your guts, precisely

IT specialists live, breathe and rely constantly on facts and data. For you, progress and results are cut and dried, and transmitting them is an inescapably objective and straightforward process.

There’s almost never any call to tap your emotions to make a point, to rely on your imagination to inspire others’ attention or to consider how listeners might misinterpret the message.

During the hunt for new employment opportunities, different rules apply. You must think and translate your thoughts subjectively. You’re dealing with people who want more than proof you’re really smart and capable. They want assurance of your strong commitment to their well-being in a landscape where overwhelming change can come out of nowhere and is only a matter of time.

They want to see what drives you to go beyond expectations and reliable service.  Pride, enthusiasm, determination and even compassion figure in this mix, in the context of the work you’ll be doing. Think of it like a controlled burn of an overgrown forest: You want heat, light and power, but in a confined space.

2. IT confidential

Hacking, privacy concerns and the intense pressures brought on by a global economy have led to a much larger presence for IT in every aspect of decision making, right up to the C-suite. As a consequence, there’s an extremely high standard for confidentiality that governs all the solutions you develop and implement. 

You’ll need to demonstrate your adroitness and creativity without revealing detail your current employer will regard as proprietary. Your potential future employer will watch how you manage this task very carefully from an intensely self-interested perspective.  There’s a huge premium on your trustworthiness with the organization’s crown jewels — its databases.

3. Real leaders don’t pull rank

Another balancing act to perfect is how to showcase your initiative in a field where most function in teams. Data pros are rarely lone wolves (unlike salespeople, for example), but you don’t want to undersell any leadership roles you’ve had.

If you’ve yet to take charge of a project or motivating others around a deadline, you might reflect on past instances where your insights helped save time or avert a spending disaster. Leadership encompasses a constant re-evaluation of internal procedures and market conditions. In a successful organization, everyone does this in one way or another.

4. When high IQ, like high altitude, befuddles the brain

For those blessed with the formidable cognition IT demands, maintaining a vast knowledge base and acute observational and deductive powers is all in a day’s work. When under pressure, it’s logical to shorten terminology and have those catchy new words and phrases become habitual.

Reasonable and seasoned recruiters and managers appreciate this fact. Still, be careful about relying too much on industry (or company) jargon and assumptions about IT operations when presenting yourself to any outside audiences. They don’t share your entire background or expert focus.

Practice a heightened awareness about how well people understand and are interested in what you’re saying. Watch for responses that indicate genuine engagement.

When in doubt, have a friendly, low-key question or statement on hand such as, “Was I clear enough here?” or “Maybe I should confirm my description of our group’s methodology makes sense.”

This is a sign of an outstanding communicator and might be what elevates you above all the other talented and resourceful candidates.

Up next: the phone interview, the first qualifying heat in the race for the job.