5 Essential IT skills employers want to see in candidates

With the rapid evolution of information technology (IT), jobs that were once unimaginable are emerging as in-demand occupations. It’s no wonder you’re interested in this field. Before you can begin applying for jobs, though, you’ll need to make sure you have the necessary qualifications that employers are looking for.

Thankfully, you don’t have to guess which competencies you need. There are some core skills nearly every employer considers essential in this space. But you might be surprised to know that you need to master more than just technical proficiencies to be successful. 

“Overall, most IT professionals have excellent quantitative and analytical skills,” explains Dr. Monica Shukla-Belmontes, assistant professor of business administration and associate dean of corporate pathways and competency-based education at University of Massachusetts Global. “But they need to have soft skills to give credibility to their recommendations.”

Using real-time job analysis software, we examined more than 3,345,000 information technology job postings from the past year to determine exactly which competencies employers value most in candidates.* It’s a good idea to take stock of where you are based on this list. Regardless of the role you’re pursuing, mastering these competencies can help you land a job and continue to move up in your field.

Top technical IT skills employers value

As you’ll soon see, it’s necessary to have a solid foundation in various programming languages to be a successful IT professional. While you won’t need to use each of them in your day-to-day work, it’s a good idea to be well-versed in at least a handful.

As you decide which programming languages to learn, make sure to investigate how each of them are used. SQL, for example, is a database management language while JavaScript is geared more toward front-end web development. Once you have some programming languages under your belt, you can leverage them when doing everything from developing software to providing technical support.

Here are some of the top programming languages for IT professionals:

  • SQL
  • Java
  • JavaScript
  • Python
  • Linux
  • Oracle
  • C#

Top soft IT skills employers value

Though technical skills define what IT professionals do, they are not the only important competencies. To round out your resume, consider these top five soft skills for IT professionals:

1. Communication

Communication is likely the most important soft skill in any industry, and that remains true in the world of information technology. Written and verbal communication skills are critical for ensuring projects run smoothly. Also consider that you’ll often find yourself having to explain technical terms in a digestible way to colleagues within your organization, customers and possibly other stakeholders.

Bear in mind that not every communication style works in every setting. You’ll need to gain a sense of both your tone and your audience. If you’re on the phone with a customer who needs technical support, for example, you’ll need to be able to help them address the problem and navigate their way out of it without getting too far into the weeds. The goal is to help them feel empowered as you provide them the support they need.

2. Teamwork

Gone are the days of the lone coder. There are so many specialized roles in IT, and projects often require that a variety of these professionals work together. You’ll need to be able to clearly articulate your role on the team, listen to others’ feedback and make sure everyone is on the same page.

Another important aspect of teamwork is knowing when to take the lead and when to play more of a supporting role. It can vary based on which part of the project you’re completing. It’s particularly useful to have an understanding that different leadership styles can help you regardless of which role you’re playing. Each leadership style has its own strengths and weaknesses, so you’ll want to take those into consideration when working with a group. 

3. Problem-solving

The ability to solve problems may seem more relevant to roles in technical support, but every IT position involves working through issues in some capacity. For instance, a programmer isn’t just writing code to write code — they’re creating a solution that can improve a process. They’re asking themselves questions like, “How can we make this better?” and, “How can we use this to meet larger organizational needs?”

Problem-solving for an IT professional may involve highly detailed work, but it starts with big-picture thinking. You must be able to understand how your tasks relate to the overarching challenges and goals your team is facing. 

4. Planning

Given how quickly technology evolves, it’s important to be aware of upcoming changes in the industry. Planning for continued evolution can help protect you and your colleagues from finding yourselves stuck with outdated or unreliable tools.

“The best way to be ready for these future changes is to plan and assess how the organization will need to adapt,” Dr. Shukla-Belmontes adds.

That said, this level of preparedness does not simply happen. It requires a lot of forward-thinking and research. You’ll need to identify possible roadblocks and determine how to mobilize resources to ensure smooth transitions.

5. Creativity

Professionals in the IT industry really get to explore unknown avenues. There’s never just one solution to an issue. You can also be sure that new problems will continue to arise even ones that seem to come out of nowhere.

“For this reason, it's necessary for an IT professional to have a creative mindset to explore resolutions in an innovative way,” Dr. Shukla-Belmontes offers.

Being creative can involve some level of risk – when you try a new approach, there’s always a possibility that it won’t work out the way you imagined. But being able to take that chance and learn from your failures is an important part of the process. It’s what ultimately sparks innovation.

So, whether you’re patching a network or assembling a database, remind yourself to think creatively. Over time, you’ll gain a better sense of when to play it safe and when to reach for more.

Gain the IT skills you need to succeed

While it may be overwhelming to think of all the IT skills that can help you on your career journey, it’s clear that you’ll never get bored in this field. As long as you have an inherent curiosity to learn new things and a desire to achieve the best possible result, you have every reason to believe you can be successful as an IT professional.

But before you start looking into job opportunities, it’s important to make sure that you have the foundational skills you need. For many aspiring IT professionals, obtaining quality education is the first step. Learn about how you can master the essentials and start working toward your career goals at your own pace by checking out University of Massachusetts Global’s Bachelor of Science in Information Technology. And if you already have a bachelor’s degree, consider how you could further develop your skills by obtaining an IT certification – or even an MBA in e-Business Strategic Management.


*Source: (analysis of 3,345,770 information technology jobs, March 01, 2019 - February 29, 2020)


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