What non-tech skills do senior engineers need to successfully lead teams and finalize projects? That might be one of the most puzzling questions in tech recruitment, especially considering the fact that many people miss just how important soft skills are in tech experts. Being able to bring a group of people together and help them synchronize their efforts is always a challenge on its own, more so if it is an innovative tech product you need to develop in order to meet the expectations and demands of your client or user.
So what are the top non-tech skills to focus on in tech candidates and how do you spot them? In this article, I'm going to answer those questions and give you tips to get started based on my years of experience as Head of Recruitment.
1. Client-oriented approach
Being able to foster a healthy relationship not only with and between team members, but also with the company’s clients is paramount for anyone thinking about a senior role in tech. At the end of the day, having an immaculate understanding of what end product the client wishes to receive is the key to a successful project. Naturally, such a win-win doesn’t come easy: it asks for a considerable time investment, genuine interest in the success of the project, as well as continuous communication with the client.
What skills do engineers then need to be client-oriented? The list includes but is not limited to maintaining frequent and high-quality communication, following a morals-driven standard of conduct, double-checking the client’s expectations and juxtaposing them with the actual project progress, and always being willing to make that extra step and develop a solution for the client’s business to thrive.
Easier said than done, you might think. But there is actually a relatively easy way to check if an engineer prioritizes this client-first approach. For one thing, you can ask them to tell you about their last project and the client they worked with (without disclosing any sensitive information, of course). If the engineer gives you a narrative that in no way mentions the values and high-level needs of the client — red flag. That could mean they never actually bothered to dig deep and understand why the client is launching a specific project and what value it carries for their business.
2. Decision-making skill set
The skill set stands for the ability and readiness to make decisions and, most importantly, take responsibility for them. More often than not, projects run into problems, those annoying flies in the ointment that can cause delays in delivery. Decision-making is one of the most essential skills engineers need in order to properly analyze the situation, evaluate risks, make predictions and take the needed measures to prevent the unwanted outcomes.
Instead of dramatizing the situation and spreading panic even if a major error occurs, a trained engineer will be able to activate their plan B protocol and take a decision, whether individually or with their team, to make amends. In other words, the very essence of the role of a senior engineer is about being able to find balance and harmony, accomodate the needs of the client while also accounting for the needs of their team, even in times of trouble.
As for the decisions themselves, they need to show reason and logic, rather than emotional impulses and a chaotic nature. Facing a situation where a key decision is in place is, after all, an opportunity for a positive change, not a problem to be running away from.
How do you spot a good decision-maker? When asked about a recent project challenge or even a failure, an engineer with good soft skills will never start looking for a scapegoat. Instead, they will take responsibility for the decisions made, even if those decisions did not lead to the desired results. It also makes sense to ask them what measures were taken to improve the state of the project, what decisions were made and who made them. If the person starts trying to justify their mistakes or throws the blame on some other stakeholder, chances are high they are not very good at taking ownership.
3. Effective communication and feedback delivery
One of the top skills senior engineers need is the ability to always communicate their ideas well, follow solid communication standards, know how to listen and understand what other people say, and make regular follow-ups to check if everyone is on the same page regarding project plans and expectations. What’s more, it’s crucial for them to treat the project for what it is: a work setting where no gossip or unreliable information can be spread. This is why engineers need to know how to leave no stone unturned: communicate both positive and corrective feedback, answer questions, avoid conflicts, and always spot the best time, way, and place to deliver specific information.
In order to see whether an engineer can do a good job at communicating with people, you can ask them what experience they have when it comes to having face-to-face conversations with their teams and clients. Contrary to popular belief, many people are not as good at communication as they think or hope they are.
But seeing is believing, right? Don’t miss your chance to ask them, for example, how they respond to an email, how often they think one needs to communicate with their team and give project updates. Or even more than that, when was the last time they themselves received corrective feedback from the team. If you see them hesitate or try to change the subject — consider it a red flag. Additionally, when your talk is almost finished, ask them to summarize everything that was discussed during the interview — are they having a hard time doing it? If yes, it means they listen but not always hear what’s being said.
4. Teamwork and collective focus on results
Senior professionals are generally ambitious and confident about who they are and what they can achieve. However, when it comes to a managerial role in engineering, being focused on one’s own success instead of that of the whole team is not exactly the best thing. Teamwork is actually one of those skills all engineers need, not only seniors. But when one has a team to lead and take care of, they need to slightly shift their focus from their own needs and wants to those of their team.
A senior engineer needs to understand that they are the very person people look up to, they set a standard of behavior everyone will be looking at when making certain decisions. Being able to practically juggle the tasks and skills on your project is a must — but that is only possible if the senior engineer knows the strengths and weaknesses of everyone in their team as well as their own. What stands as a non-breakable goal for them is reaching the end goal while keeping everyone happy, with little regard for their own ambitions, limited resources, team constraints, and other factors that could hinder success. After all, if there is a will, there’s a way.
Now, in order to spot a teamwork-savvy engineer, you need to ask them what teams they have worked with and what communication problems, if any, they stumbled upon along the process. You could check their ability to build and manage a team by asking what their ideal team member would be — what we’re looking to hear in this case is that the engineer has respect for their colleagues, as they have a crucial part to play in the project too.
5. Team management and development
If you want something done well, do it yourself — that is the attitude that has hand-held many team leads right into burnout. This is why knowing how to properly delegate tasks is one of the most important skills senior engineers need to succeed at work. On top of that, they need to know how to manage project time and help their team members perform to their best ability and talent.
But team management alone can get static at some point. For it to be dynamic and progressive, continuous evolution and development of the whole team should always be part of the picture. That is to say that a senior needs to always focus on developing themselves and their team. They need to provide all the necessary means for their team to continuously go up and live in an environment that encourages learning and growth.
In order to create such an environment, many senior engineers hold regular performance reviews and give their team members feedback on what could be improved and how they can improve it. But saying the words is not enough — the lead needs to guide and mentor their people towards greater goals. Luckily enough, you can easily check that by asking an engineer if they have any experience of the kind, where they actually took some time to help their team grow.
With all that information in mind, we have always put extra focus on soft skills in engineers when expanding our Lemberg Solutions team. One way or another, people work with people, not just with technology. And considering the amount of cooperation each successful project requires, looking for the techies that are good at it should be one of the top priorities for every ambitious company. But if you need tech reinforcements fast and don’t have the time or the resources to go out there and search for your perfect candidates, you’re welcome to explore our team extension services and get in touch regarding any details.