I often talk about the importance of commercial value for IT people. Particularly at the moment. It’s the one key skill almost all companies want to hire.

And people regularly come back to me and say – “Fine. But how do I do that?”

And that seems like a fair question. So below I’ve listed out three basic steps that IT people can take to start to quantify and highlight their commercial acumen.

Before I get to the three steps though, let me make a couple of provisos: firstly, these are aimed squarely at technical IT people, because that’s the market I work in. I would imagine people want to hire commercially aware accountants and lawyers too – but I don’t know anything about recruiting accountants or lawyers. Secondly, I’m not suggesting you make this up for your CV. I’m suggesting you actually do it – so if you can’t already do what I’m suggesting in these steps, start trying to do it before you start trying to claim you can do it.

So those steps:

  1. Think about technology from the other side.Perhaps you are a Java developer working with Spring MVC and PostgreSQL at the back end and HTML5/jquery/javascript at the front on a web application. Outside of your team, no-one within the company cares one iota about anything in that whole sentence. They see an application they use to help them track where stock is, or where the stock market is, or find stock images (I’m running out of themed analogies here): and they either think it’s great or are sick of it being so buggy. Talk to them. Work out what they like and don’t like. Try and understand their job and how your application or system helps or hinders them. You might not be the business analyst but if you can suggest one correction or improvement that makes the system more effective, you’re adding commercial value. If you only see it as code, you’ll never be able to do that.
  2. Understand what your company does.You would be absolutely amazed at the number of people I talk to who really cannot articulate what the company they work for actually does. Many have no idea how the company makes money or what the business issues it faces are. I find that astonishing. How can you hope to add value if you don’t even know how the company makes money? Why would you want to work in that way? If you can’t understand what the company does and summarise it quickly, then bad news – you will forever be a disposable cog in the wheel. They’re as likely to get rid of you as they are the servers you support. But if you can contribute something that actually takes the business towards its goals, however small – you become vastly more important within the organisation.
  3. Break out of the IT department. Mercifully the days of the IT team being locked in the basement with the mainframe are long gone. But still, many IT people live in the bubble. Unless you build relationships across the organisation, how will anyone ever know how brilliantly you’ve mastered tips 1 & 2? You need to be able to cut across the lines to users, other corporate teams, sales and management. So build relationships. Go to company dos, take your courage in both hands and talk to people. When your work brings you into contact with other areas of the business, don’t make it perfunctory, talk to them – find out what they like and dislike about what you are doing, find out what they are worried about and working on. And make use of the information and relationships you get.

Again, these are basic tips. Hopefully lots of you will read this and say “well – yeah”. But if not they will have a significant impact on your career. You’ll go further and faster in your current role. You’ll have a better CV, be a better interviewee – and more than any of that, your life will be more interesting while you’re working. You spend half your life thinking about it, you might as well take an interest!

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