Talent Development Centre

Category Archives: Soft Skills

Tips for independent contractors to improve in-demand soft skills that IT hiring managers across Canada are seeking for all tech roles.

Increase Your Punctuality with These 6 Tools You Already Have

Increase Your Punctuality with These 6 Tools You Already Have

Early is on time, on time is late, and late is unacceptable.

That saying has been referenced for years in various circumstances, being quoted in a number of books and commonly heard inside fast-paced business environments and military organizations. Punctuality is a trait valued by many and to lack it can have a negative impact in your job search and contracting business.

Recruiters commonly tell us that one of their biggest pet peeves is when IT contractors show up late to an interview or client meeting. If you’re a talented technology professional with in-demand skills, being a couple minutes late isn’t likely going to cost you a job (unless there is an equally talented, in-demand professional also in the running), but it will erode your reputation. People will be less inclined to want to work with you, you won’t get top priority on future contract opportunities, and your perceived value will be lower when it comes time to negotiate rate.

If you’re looking to improve this aspect of your life, before you invest in the latest apps and tools, or take on some off-the-wall technique you saw in a trending article, consider these six tools that are already in front of you and available every day.

You

Use all the fancy apps and podcast-recommended tips you can find, but until you internalize punctuality, you’ll never change anything. Truly understand why you want to be more punctual and how it will improve your life. Also recognize how being late affects others and how it makes them feel. Finally, determine the root cause about why you’re always late, and then start fixing that problem rather than wasting time in the wrong areas.

Clocks and Watches

The next tools to master are your various clocks and watches — in your bedroom, car, kitchen and on your phone and wrist. Have clocks everywhere and ensure they’re working. This will help you keep track of time and make it easy to see when it’s time to leave for appointments. A common technique is to set your clocks a few minutes ahead and “trick” yourself into being early. Critics of that say it just leads to self-correcting because you know it’s ahead, but others have researched it further to perfect the art of “tinkering with your understanding of time”. If that still seems like too much effort, then invest in a procrastinator’s clock, which runs up to fifteen minutes late, but never the same amount of time. This will force you to follow it because you’ll never know the actual time!

Calendars

Every smartphone has a calendar app installed and if it doesn’t, there are plenty of free ones available. Research your app and learn about the features it offers, for example, the Google Calendar has number of handy tools within it. Also make sure that calendar is smartly and efficiently organized — enter all information about a meeting inside the event, including location, directions and special instructions. Set reminders a few hours and a day before to ensure you don’t forget. Finally, consider scheduling the event to start a few minutes earlier than the actual time. This will force you to pay attention a little earlier.

Alarms and Reminders

It’s easy to get lost in tasks like coding, resume-writing… Facebook. Use alarms to set gentle and not-so-gentle reminders so time doesn’t slip away so easily. The most-used alarm most of us capitalize on is the one that wakes us up in the morning. That alarm comes with one of the most abused tools — the snooze button! Studies have proven that the snooze button is NOT your friend. Not only will it make you late, but it forces you out of a deep sleep over and over, which is a terrible way to start your day. If you know that habit is not going to go away, though, be sure to set your alarm earlier to give yourself a snooze window.

Maps

Popular map apps are so much more than navigation with a mouthy computerized voice telling you where to go. For example, Google Maps uses satellite to know traffic flows and will connect with your calendar to let you know what time you have to leave in order to arrive at the destination you entered. Maps are also great to help you plan ahead for parking, smartest routes, and back-up routes. As soon as you have an appointment, flag or star the location in your maps app so it’s easy to find and get directions to when you need it.

The Shelf by Your Door

This one is more metaphorical but can also be literal. The premise is to be prepared the night before a big appointment. Have everything ready to go at the door, or even already loaded in the car (which has plenty of gas in it). When it’s time to go, there will be no stress, even if you are running a couple minutes late.

There are factors beyond your control and in those situations, give a heads up to the people who will be waiting for you. If you’re not concerned about your reputation or missing out on work because you have a habit of always being a few minutes late, then let the fact that it’s disrespectful motivate you to improve your behavior. Remember, being punctual does not have to require massive change and tools, simply taking advantage of what you already have can have a great impact.

How Emotional Intelligence Makes You a Better IT Contractor

How Emotional Intelligence Makes You a Better IT Contractor

Emotional Intelligence (often referred to as EI or EQ) can be a fluffy term and not always simple to grasp. It refers to a person’s capacity to both identify and regulate emotions in themselves or others. Those with high EI are able to recognize, understand, manage and reason with emotions, which they can then leverage to manage their own behaviour and relationships. As Dr. Travis Bradberry has put it “Emotional intelligence is the ‘something’ in each of us that is a bit intangible. It affects how we manage behavior, navigate social complexities, and make personal decisions to achieve positive results.”

There is no shortage of documentation and articles advocating the importance of emotional intelligence in all areas of life, so we thought we’d investigate the benefits an IT contractor can reap with enhanced EI, specifically in the job search and while working.

How Emotional Intelligence Will Improve Your Job Search

Emotional intelligence becomes truly important for the IT contractor during the interview stage of your job search. Your skills and experience will help you sail through the technical evaluation, but EI is the piece that will help you build a connection with recruiters and non-technical hiring managers. These are the folks who, as much as they understand the value of your ability to do the job, are also ensuring you will fit into the team and work well with others.

Here are a few ways you can answer questions and describe past experiences in a job interview to highlight your emotional intelligence:

  • Show your ability to manage negative emotions by moving past bad experiences on past contracts. That means refraining from talking badly about previous clients or situations and focusing on the positive aspects.
  • Truly understand your strengths and weaknesses. Know how to communicate the areas you where excel and humbly accept the skills where you fall short.
  • Provide examples of times you accepted feedback and criticism and used it as a challenge to improve yourself.
  • Accept responsibility for areas that went wrong on a previous project without placing blame on other team members. Explain how you learned from your mistakes.
  • Take time to learn more about your interviewer and the position. Share their enthusiasm in what they do so you can build a connection with them.

How Emotional Intelligence Will Make You a Better IT Contractor

In 2012, a CareerBuilder survey showed that 71% of employers value emotional intelligence over IQ. Employers would rather hire people who have high EI than who are smart. Specifically, emotional intelligence is increasingly important for technology professionals for a myriad of reasons, some of them being:

  • It helps you get along with others. Tech workers regularly interact with non-technical people. The need to connect on a level where you can explain various concepts is crucial and emotional intelligence makes it happen.
  • It gives you job security. More and more we hear about how artificial intelligence and automation will steal our jobs. For the time being, these technologies still lack the human connection, including emotional intelligence.
  • It improves your decision making. By understanding others, and more importantly, yourself, you can push past biases and understand the emotions driving a situation to make decisions that are subjective and will be accepted by others.
  • It gets you through conflict. Your job as an IT contractor is to be the expert in an area. Naturally, with that turn comes conflict within your team and with your client’s employees. Emotional intelligence forms a sought-after leadership trait to work through conflict calmly and find solutions that work for everyone.
  • It means you can work well under pressure. The ability to control your emotions, listen and cooperate with others, all while understanding their emotions means you will be a prime candidate to lead a team through crisis and short timelines.

The great thing about EQ versus IQ is that emotional intelligence can be developed purposefully. There are a number of books and resources available that are worth researching if you’re seriously interested in improving yours. To get started, experts recommend reducing your stress levels as stress is known to mask your ability to tap into your emotions. From there, take some time to recognize your own emotions and learn more about your strengths and weaknesses, as well as read social cues to read into others’ nonverbal communications.

IT Managers Want to Hire Critical Thinkers. Here’s How You Can Improve.

Critical thinking is a person’s ability to carefully and objectively think through a subject and eliminate personal feelings or opinions to arrive at a final decision. A great critical thinker not only systematically processes information to make rational, logical decisions, but they also fully understand a situation. It is an art of making logical connections between ideas and approaching a situation to get the best possible conclusion.

Many studies have been done about critical thinkers to determine what kind of people are most likely to excel in the area and there are a number of characteristics some argue which are shared among the best. We would argue that anybody can take their critical thinking to the next level and, for IT contractors, it is an absolute must if you want to remain competitive and best serve your clients.

Why Critical Thinking is Important for IT Contractors

Obviously, the ability to make tough decisions based on fact is a valuable skill for any leader. If you don’t plan on leading and are happy working as a team member, you still can’t overlook developing this ability. Critical thinking will help you evaluate situations, get your point across during a discussion (or argument), and develop the most effective solutions for clients. A strong critical thinker is also less likely to get manipulated, whether it be by a colleague, client or unethical recruiter (unfortunately, they are out there).

Most importantly, leading organizations are continually re-evaluating their job requirements and many soft skills — including critical thinking — are topping the list. In Deloitte’s 2019 Industry 4.0 readiness report, they surveyed 612 Technology, Media and Telecom (TMT) organizations, with a close look at a subset of the respondents who were considered “high innovators”. Those companies said that the number one skill they’re trying to develop isn’t technical skills, but instead Critical Thinking skills. They believe that human skills like judgement and critical thinking are unique to humans, can’t be replaced by robots, and are essential for interpretation and final decision making.

IT Managers Want to Hire Critical Thinkers. Here's How You Can Improve.

How You Can Improve Your Critical Thinking

Critical thinking is a hot topic that has been flooding the internet for years. We’d be absolutely shocked if this is the first post you’ve read about it and can guarantee it will not be your last. When looking for resources to improve, start with the low-hanging fruit. Explore the thousands of online articles, TED Talks, and books that  already exist to find something that works for you.

Here are just a few simple tips to get you started today:

  • Ask yourself the basic questions you may not have specifically answered yet. What are you trying to accomplish? What do you already know? Why is this an issue? In other words, make sure you truly understand the situation.
  • Know yourself and, more importantly, your cognitive biases that will affect your decisions (this is much more difficult than it sounds)
  • Understand any assumptions that are being made, and then question them. Are they still true or relevant?
  • Approach situations from different angles and with different mediums. For example, if you’ve only been discussing it, try writing it down or drawing a diagram.
  • Get other people’s point of view. Whether it’s talking to somebody you know or reading up on the topic (amateurs on online forums or published authors will all do).

As an IT contractor, improving your critical thinking will go beyond just serving your clients. It will also help you formalize your entire contracting plan and know which technology contracts to go after and staffing agencies to work with. You are also more likely to excel at tough job interview questions and impress recruiters. How are you improving your critical thinking?

Quick Poll Results: What Soft Skills Will IT Contractors Improve?

Personal and professional development should be on everybody’s mind. Self-improvement is the best way to fast-track your career, gain fantastic references, and start applying to high-paying contracts without having to build as many years of experience. According to an article published by LinkedIn earlier this year, listing the most in-demand skills, there are over 50,000 professional skills in the world. It’s impossible to know where to start!

That same article summarized the top 5 soft skills that companies look for. In last month’s contractor quick poll, we asked our readers, of those top skills, which ones do they plan to improve over the course of the next year. It’s promising to see that 80% plan to work on some sort of skill and, given the tech world’s fast-pace environment, no surprise that adapability is the top goal.

Quick Poll Results: Which of the following in-demand soft skills do you plan on improving in the next year?

5 Different Strategies to Be More Productive

Last week we shared an infographic outlining 12 bad habits you should break if you want to be more productive. Productivity is a massive asset for an independent contractor. The faster you deliver quality work to clients, the more likely they are to want to hire you again or, at the minimum, give you a glowing reference. As an added bonus when you’re productive, you have more time for yourself to either make more money or accomplish other personal goals!

Everybody is unique and different approaches to productivity work better for different people. This infographic created by NFIB summarizes five options:

  1. Eat That Frog
  2. The Seinfeld Approach
  3. Getting Things Done
  4. The Pomodoro Technique
  5. The Action Method

Do any of these work for you?

5 Different Strategies to Be More Productive

What a Road Trip Can Teach Us About Leadership

When you set off to find an adventure in your car, you develop a plan (your map route), find your team (your co-riders), create an agenda (set mini-goals), and prepare for breakdowns (unexpected outcomes). Road trips can teach us many lessons on how to lead a project and become a better leader, even if we do not recognize this right away. 

Enduring on a road trip takes leadership skills, including adapting to unforeseen circumstances, communication, and collaboration, learning from your mistakes, mapping out a goal to your destination and more. Those who celebrate the successes of a road trip will soon notice they have acquired leadership skills they can use in other aspects of their lives. Whether it is leading a meeting or leading your family, these skills from a road trip will come in handy.

CarRentals has created a guide to 8 leadership lessons that we can take away from road trips to apply to our daily life and work life. Learn each skill in detail and become a better leader by recognizing your successes when you have road tripped.

Leadership Lessons Learned From Road Trips

Break These Bad Habits if You Want to be More Productive

We are often told that we are our own worst enemies. Often we get in the way of our goals without even noticing. We continue to perpetuate these bad habits into our lives until they are harder to spot out.

As independent contractors it is important to address possible bad habits that may be holding back your productivity and frustrating your clients. Check out these 12 bad habits you should break, compiled in this infographic from Business Insider! If you address even some of these habits that you could benefit with more personal time, happy clients (better references), better time management skills and have the potential for a heavier coin purse. If you can’t identify the bad habits in your life, send this to a friend!

Break These Bad Habits if You Want to be More Productive

Invest in Building These Hard-to-Learn Skills

To invest in yourself is just as important as any financial investment for your future. For both personal growth and career success, there is no telling how far you can go if you take the time to invest in yourself. Check out this video by The Art of Improvement where they explain important skills that are hard to learn but will pay off in the long run, including:

  • Mental Toughness
  • Adaptability
  • Silencing your inner critic
  • Learning to say “NO”
  • Critical Thinking
  • Emotional Intelligence

This doesn’t just apply to IT contractors! Send this to anyone you think needs that push to invest in themselves and help them see the potential that you see in them.

Contractor Quick Poll: Which soft skills will you improve?

At the start of the year, LinkedIn released a list of the most high-demand skills for 2019, based on data they collected on their social platform. The list includes both soft and technical skills. Given the range of IT contractors who follow the Talent Development Centre, the technical skills they list may or may not be relevant to you. The soft skills, however, are relevant to anybody who works with people (that’s you).

Nobody is great at everything and we can always improve ourselves. LinkedIn lists five soft skills that companies look for most: Creativity, persuasion, collaboration, adaptability, and time management. In this month’s contractor quick poll, we want to know where you fall short and intend to build. As we start the second half of 2019, which skill do you plan on improving?

9 Steps to Better Business Meetings

Meetings. Never really touched upon in our educations but quickly become a driving force in our lives once we reach the work force. Independent contractors host a number of types of meetings for clients but if you lack the proper guidance and instruction, no attendee will get the most out of the interaction.

If you want to improve your meetings, check out the infographic below with 9 tips to a better business meeting from Teamweek and see how it can apply to your business whether it’s meeting with colleagues or your next big interview. If you like what you see, check out the original post for more in-depth details.

Better Business Meetings
Infographic by Teamweek