The Future of Work: The Hybrid Role—Fusing Technical and Soft Skills, Part 1

UC Berkeley Extension
23 min readJul 1, 2022

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Jill Finlayson: Welcome to The Future of Work podcast with UC Berkeley Extension and the EDGE in Tech Initiative at the University of California. Focused on expanding diversity and gender equity in tech, EDGE in Tech is part of Citrus the, Center for IT Research, in the interest of society and the Banatao Institute.

In this episode, we look at those essential leadership skills commonly and perhaps misrepresented as soft skills that are necessary for today and future proofing your career. When we look at the landscape of today’s work environment, specialized digital skills are becoming increasingly important, and yet job skills are not becoming hyper technical. Instead, they are becoming increasingly hybrid. Mixing human and technical skills and employers and workers alike are struggling to keep up.

For example, job postings are cropping up with qualifications in data analytics, project management, and business analysis, but those same postings are also requiring excellent communication skills, problem solving, time management. So how do you balance the hard with the soft?

To help us go boldly into the future of work today, we talked to Vaneese Johnson, the boldness coach and a brand strategist. Boldness coaching helps existing and emerging leaders to bring authenticity, intrinsic values, and new levels of engagement as they break through with enhanced focus and strategic thinking to businesses that are facing 21st-century challenges.

Vaneese is a lead instructor for the professional development program at UC Berkeley Extension. She’s also a founder of Girl Get Your Business Straight and Girl Get Your Career Straight. Previously she was founder of On the Move Staffing Services, which assisted temporary employees who are transitioning in their careers.

She has numerous certifications in leadership, diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace, entrepreneurship, and small business training. She’s written a book on boldisms to help folks disrupt their pattern of negative self-talk. She believes that we can all be bold, big, and bad if we have the audacity to pursue our ambitions. And if we treat our career like a business, you can update your skills and products and services so that you don’t become outdated in the marketplace.

Welcome, Vaneese. I’m looking forward to unpacking these boldisms, but perhaps we can start by learning a little bit more about you. Have you always been bold, and what led you down this career path of helping others?

Vaneese Johnson: Well, Jill, I am really excited to be here with you. It’s been like Christmas. I’ve been waiting to be the guest on this podcast [Laughs]

So the day is here. The day is here. And to your question have I always been bold and what led me down to this path, I do feel like I’ve always been bold. I’ve had an edge on me since I was a little girl. I’ve always stepped outside the box to do things that I wanted to do.

And I think that’s the beauty when we’re young is that we don’t have that level of fear. Laughs And we also don’t have that level of conditioning yet.

Jill Finlayson: Love it.

Vaneese Johnson: And what led me to where I am now in my career was wanting greater satisfaction out of my career but wanting satisfaction that is in alignment with who I truly am — my personality, my talents, my skills, my character traits. And that has led me to where I am today.

Jill Finlayson: So what does it mean to be bold, big, bad? What does that mean to you?

Vaneese Johnson: What that means is they’re actually acronyms. So BOLD stands for becoming out loud daily. That has to do with you really stepping into and owning your authentic self in every day in every way. Listen, the reality is who I used to be in my 20s and my 30s is not who I am now today in my life. So there’s an evolution that takes place in us, and bold is about becoming and stepping into that every day in every way. And besides people love it when you are authentically you.

And BIG stands for building in your genius. All of us, Jill, have been born with at least one genius that we can build upon. And I believe that, and after working literally with thousands of clients that when you identify what your individual genius is, tap into that and start to leverage that in your career or in your business. Then you are going to see the opportunity for you to really flourish because you are building in your genius.

And BAD stands for branded and distinctive. That has to do with your professional brand. All of us have a reputation. Either people like to see us coming or they don’t like to see us coming. So that is what bold, big, and bad stands for.

Jill Finlayson: So when you talk about being out loud, what’s the opposite of being out loud?

Vaneese Johnson: Being out loud is when you shrink. When you shrink, you’re quiet. You’re hoping that someone will recognize you. You’re hoping that someone will give you an opportunity or present an opportunity to you. So it’s really relying for others to give you an invitation or permission to be yourself. That is the opposite of being bold.

Jill Finlayson: So requiring permission, do you think people expect to be given permission?

Vaneese Johnson: I think that we — all in my experience — that we all have been conditioned to seek permission. And I think that sometimes people do think that if I ask I’ll be given permission. And boldness isn’t necessarily about you asking, but boldness is about you owning what to be true for you and really presenting your request in a way where you’re looking for agreement and/or acknowledgment to move forward with that process and/or looking at trust to be able to say we trust you, we know you know who you are, we know that you know what you’re presenting, so here’s an opportunity for you or the floor is yours.

Jill Finlayson: I love that. And the other thing that you said, recognizing your genius, that seems like a lot to unpack because it’s assuming that you can be objective about yourself, that you know what you’re good at. A lot of the times the things that are easy for you may not be easy for other people, but you may not be aware of that. So can you tell us a little bit more about how can you recognize your genius or where your strengths are really strong?

Vaneese Johnson: This is really a good question, especially in this day of Instagram where it’s easy to look at other people and think, oh, can I do that. Can I be that?

So one of the things that you can do to tap into your own genius — and I’ll give you several tips on this — one way is to really recognize what is it that you do with ease and that you love doing it. So what is it that you do with ease and you actually love doing it?

Another component to add to that is the ease of what you love to do. How does it help to solve a problem for you and/or solve a problem for the people around you? Because oftentimes because it is our own innate genius and we do it with such ease to we do it effortlessly and we don’t recognize it and it gets overlooked.

Another way that you could be able to tap into your genius is really ask the people around you that you trust. And some examples — here’s ways that it shows up in the workplace especially. Let’s say that for me — and I’m going to use myself as an example — for me, people come to me a lot to listen to them because I can give objective opinion about what they’re asking me. And people would say to me you’re always so great to bounce ideas off.

And I say, well, why do you say that I’m great to bounce ideas off. Because you know how to give an opinion and you can be objective about it and not tied to it. And I said, oh, that’s interesting. Thank you for that. So getting that feedback from a skill that I do effortlessly then now I use that to open up opportunities for me to have deeper discussions or to participate in projects or to participate in conversations in a different way. So ask people that you trust about what do they see that is a natural ability and a natural genius of you that you then can consider how to leverage that to the next level in your career.

Jill Finlayson: Yeah. I think it’s really interesting to think about people who are at transition points where they’re trying to figure out their next thing, your prior company where you looked at people who were in temporary jobs and looking for their next career direction. So when you think about collecting that feedback and — how can that help inform the question of what is next for you in the workplace, and what does that have to do with the future of work and figuring out your path in this changing environment?

Vaneese Johnson I think the great resignation is — that’s one of the caveats in the great resignation is that individuals are really starting to self audit. Where does my genius lie? What am I really happiest doing? What gives me joy? Where do I see my skills having a major impact or giving the greatest contribution?

And that is prompting them to ask deeper questions. And those deeper questions then lead you to possibility questions. What could my career look like if I pursued a career in communications where I have the opportunity to not only talk, speak, but the opportunity to write and communicate ideas and information? What could my work environment possibly be like, the people that I’m working with, the projects I work on? So that kind of audit and discovery leads you to having even broader conversations that ultimately may narrow down to what’s possibly next for you that will give you the joy that you seek from your career.

Jill Finlayson: I like that term, possibility questions. It really puts a positive spin on not focusing on where you may be feeling stuck but opening up the doors to what is possible and where are different directions that you may want to go to. In order to be bold, as you see it, to demonstrate these kind of personal leadership skills, what are those skills, and how do you acquire them or do you have to practice them?

Vaneese Johnson: Yeah. There’s something to be said for experiential experiences. And I think it’s important to know that they’re valid. They have a place in our lives in our work and how we interact with each other. So just keep that in mind that as a student and as you are going through just discovering the next level in your career journey that your experiences matter.

And ways that you can develop those skills, one of the things that we hear a lot talked about are soft skills, and I think there’s an opportunity now in the market to go from soft skills to really coining them as human skills because they’re really about people skills. That’s all they are. They’re people skills. And it gives us the opportunity to really bring in a mix of social and professional attributes and character traits.

So that connects with the boldness, which is about the authenticity of who you are. So that will be helpful in ways that an individual can tap into and perhaps why you mentioned about the innovation, the opportunity where innovation shows up because a lot of international students sometimes and/or transfer students, they don’t come with that conditioning. And so they’re like, oh, I’m just going to be myself, add it to what it is academically that I’m bringing to this opportunity, and they’re just melding it together.

Jill Finlayson: I think that’s great, and internationally people have different understandings of what different skills are, what different behaviors are expected in the workplace. Let’s take a moment and unpack soft skills a little bit more. First, soft skills as compared to hard skills, hard skills often being seen as technical skills but also technical skills have sort of perishable-ness to them. You learn something and then a new technology comes along, so the technology’s changing.

There’s the issue of soft being seen as not important, as being seen as squishy, but, in fact, these are really core and essential leadership skills. So when we look at breaking down this terminology, what do you see soft skills are, and why are they called that — you mentioned calling them human skills. What are the different competencies that people need?

Vaneese Johnson: Sure. Absolutely. And I’m really glad that we’re having the discussion in ways to re-identify soft skills and hard skills because I think that terminology definitely is outdated given the fluidity that we’re experiencing now and you mentioned one area is technology. So the language needs to change with the times and where we are in the world of work.

And I want to just, again, add a little more about the soft skills. As I mentioned, these are human skills, and soft skills have to do with really ability to teamwork, patience, communications. So soft skills are really the skills that we look at developing when we want to go out and interact with others and when we want to really identify and finetune certain character traits about ourselves that will be important in that interaction.

And when we look at hard skills, I’m going to vote to say hard skills really should be considered essential skills because you mentioned about the fluidity of how we need to continue to adapt to continuous learning in the application of it, then hard skills goes out the window. So essential skills are those skills that you need in life but you also need them in the workplace and communities. We are now at the point where essential skills are important just in how we operate our own technology in our house — in our homes. You need to know how to operate these smart TVs.

Who knew TVs would be so complicated other than just pressing the button? But when we look at essential skills and their importance in the workplace, we’re looking at the skill set of working with others, developing our — our communication styles — also investing in continuous learning. So now is the time that we get to replace the new terminology to human skills and essential skills.

Jill Finlayson: Amazing. And when we think about those human skills, I like the way you’ve termed that as it’s really around interaction, interaction with others. So how do you communicate? How do you build consensus? How do you have a shared vision? These type of questions are really important, and to that point communication and language does matter. How you talk about these things does matter. So how do you show that you have those skills in your resume or in an interview?

Vaneese Johnson: Well, one of the things that you can do and add to that is emotional intelligence. So that is a phrase that you can add to your resume as well as you can bring that into conversations in your interview. And emotional intelligence really is the capacity to be aware of and control and express your emotions.

It’s a way that you can handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and also empathetically. So being able to really have that awareness about yourself and to tell a story around it. And you might say, well, how will that come up as a story.

That is what we would consider a behavioral based type of response. Tell me about a time when you were working on a project and other people on the project maybe were lagging with meeting the deadline. Tell me how that unfolded for you.

And so that’s a perfect opportunity to be able to talk about patience and understanding. So developing emotional intelligence is really important on the human skill side, and it’s also important on the essential skills side because you’re going to be applying that skill at different opportunities on work projects. So it’s going to come up in an interview, and it may not come out where they might say tell me if emotional intelligence. But they’re certainly going to be looking for how you respond to the question and if in your response they can be able to identify that emotional intelligence skills were really at play.

Jill Finlayson: I like that idea. People relate to stories. People follow those stories. It’s also specific, and it gives people an understanding of what you have done in the past in different circumstances. So being able to observe not only your own behaviors but the impact that behavior has on others and then being able to meet them where they are and then translate that to the work environment and say this is how your words can impact your employees.

Vaneese Johnson: Absolutely. Absolutely. And it’s also a way that helps the individual to develop leadership skills, self leadership first but also leadership skills when you are leading others. And we’re all doing that in the work environment, Jill. Whether we have the formal title or not, we are all leading on some level.

Jill Finlayson: Yeah, say more about that because I think people often think, well, I’m not a leader. I don’t need to pay attention to that.

Vaneese Johnson: Yeah, leadership skills are — and this is another area that a lot of employers are looking for now in the workplace is the ability to lead yourself. Leadership really is about your strength, your skills, and your abilities that you demonstrate in overseeing processes or guiding initiatives or steering people or employees towards success or achievement. So when you look at yourself and leading yourself that has to do with you really setting goals for yourself, having a vision, career vision for yourself, having a career mission for yourself, and executing the components of your career vision or your career mission and being able to adjust, interact with, where you’re getting resources, tools, individuals, and adjust meaning as you find out certain information maybe you steer this way versus that way and ultimately leading you to having an achievement towards a specific task that you may be focused on and/or having success with others.

So when you can self lead, then you recognize those different character traits. And you recognize a different level of boldness. You’re incorporating the human skills. You’re incorporating the essential skills. You’re incorporating leadership skills from a place of self, and you then have experiences — here we are with the experiential — of how that is connecting with other individuals around you.

Jill Finlayson: And I think this ties back to what you said earlier about finding your own genius. You’re leading in your own way. If you’re an introvert but you’re very good at analysis and you’re pointing out problems in a report, that’s leading in a different way. So, again, connecting with your genius and then being able to say based on that, here’s the way I lead. Here’s what I bring to this problem and solution.

I also that idea of defining success for yourself, defining what your vision and mission is for your job your current role and then also looking ahead to what is that next role or career that you want to pursue. And when I think about that, a lot of times getting into the next job like if you wanted to create your next job or you want to get a promotion or you apply for another job, how do these soft skills help you in getting that next job?

Vaneese Johnson: They’re a culmination. So it’s a culmination of all of your experiences and extracting out from those experiences those areas that you have identified and also qualified that this is you. This is the authentic you at this point in your career journey. And as you extract them out that’s through reflection, introspection, then you can connect them with an actual experience.

So maybe that’s a project that you were working on. Perhaps that was a team, a role on the team that you were playing. So you have a way to actually connect the dots and then to bring that forward into the vision of where you see yourself going and the type of work that you want to continue to see yourself do or the new work that you see yourself pursuing.

So don’t negate your career journey up until this point and think that I don’t have to move forward. I don’t know how I could — or if any of this matters. Some of it does matter. It depends on what that vision that you have as to what of that will matter.

Jill Finlayson: And so many jobs today are based on relationships. You get an introduction or a referral. I think you mentioned earlier the importance of networking. So how can you improve your networking and relationship building skills?

Vaneese Johnson: Networking, it’s so interesting about networking because the topic of it — networking has proven in my career — and I also really stress this with the students a lot — that networking has opened up so many doors for me in my career. I don’t know where my career would be without networking. And, Jill, I wouldn’t be here talking to you if it wasn’t for networking. [Laughs]

So networking is really powerful, and I just really encourage everyone to be strategic with your networking. And here’s what I mean. What I mean is depending on what your career vision looks like, depending on what level you are in your career, depending on the people that you want to connect with that will support you in your career or are influences in your career. So you really want to think about the vision first so that you then can be able to identify how would any or all of those different components fit into your networking strategy.

I tell my clients and my students to identify a professional organization that’s for your profession. There’s always a national association of. And when you’re in that profession, you get to connect with like-minded professionals.

They are in your profession. They understand the technical aspects of your profession as well as the human skills that are important in that profession — human skills, leadership skills, essential skills. So networking there is going to be really important.

Another area of networking is is in your industry. So you’ve got your profession, and then you’ve got your industry. So when your networking in your industry, again, these are like-minded professionals that can be able to have those really strategic and focused conversations with you. They are apt to share with you about the future. It’s a place where you can nerd out if you like in asking those questions.

And then the other part of networking are other people that may be in your circle that may be directly or indirectly connected to that next opportunity. You have other classmates. Maybe they have worked in that industry before, that profession before, or at that company before. You’ve got the instructors at UC that you can network with. You also might have parents, friends, neighbors, but the key to really leveraging those relationships into good networking opportunities is that you want to have a vision or have some sense of direction of where you want to go so that you can leverage their knowledge to help you to move forward.

I’m asking for something. What do I have to offer? I get this a lot from professionals where they’re like I don’t know what I have to offer. Actually you have a lot to offer, and it may not be as specific as you think because sometimes we think in specificities when we want to offer someone something.

So what I learned to do was to ask the question, Jill, how may I help you in your career. Tell me what you’re working on. Tell me if there’s based on my background that I’ve shared with you, based on where I’ve worked before are there any connections I can make for you. So I really had to be open and learn how to offer up something.

And a lot of times, people would say to me, oh, thank you so much for offering. I don’t need anything right now, but I appreciate the offer. And I think people just really like the fact that I wasn’t there taking.

Jill Finlayson: You’ve been on the receiving end for a lot of requests for introductions or help. What’s the right way and the wrong way for someone to ask you for help?

Vaneese Johnson: I’m laughing because I get this on LinkedIn, too. It’s like — people say, well, can you introduce me to so-and-so, Vaneese, and I’m like first of all who are you.

So the wrong way, the absolute wrong way, is to go and ask a person to help you without developing a connection with that person. It’s important. So please don’t do that because it sets a tone in that person’s mind about you’re a taker, and they’re going to absolutely say no. And then you may run into them at some point at a networking event, and that’s what they’re going to remember about you is that oh, yeah, you’re the one that emailed me or through LinkedIn and asked me to introduce you to someone and I didn’t even know you.

So that’s the absolute wrong way. And you may be thinking, well, what if that’s a person I really don’t know them but I do want to network with them because I do see they are connected to someone. Do some research about that person. Google their name or follow them on LinkedIn. If they’re posting articles, whatever post they’re doing start to interact on the post — compliments, ask questions, acknowledge them, read their works.

And then when you reach out to connect with them, give them a quote. Share a quote from the work that they’ve done that you’ve read and/or how it resonated with you. Maybe you took some of their advice, and you actually applied it and you got some results. So look at ways to develop a rapport and a connection. That is the best way, especially if you are reaching out for someone that you do not know.

Jill Finlayson: If you think about taking that into the real world and you started a new job, how do you take advantage of networking to get to know people at your new company, and how do you deal with maybe fear of hierarchy and not wanting to make a mistake?

Vaneese Johnson: One of the things about a new anything is that it’s new. So new anything is that it’s new, so that’s great. And what I would say even prior — and I’m so glad we’re talking about this — even prior to you starting the opportunity — so let’s say that you went through the interview process, you got offered this amazing opportunity, you accept it, and you’re ready to work. One of the things is to start to look — go to the company page of the company that you just got hired and start to learn more about the people that are in the environment.

You also — and some companies do this. They will introduce you to your colleagues. They’ll do a soft introduction where it might be a Zoom call or a Team calls and you get to meet people face to face. And sometimes that may not happen but try and really ask pointed questions.

Other steps that you can do is when you start your first day, ask for the opportunity of a coffee meeting greet so that you can connect with everyone. So start with your immediate circle around you. Those are the first people that you want to network with. And build connection, build rapport with them. Don’t network with them first and then say now who else should I meet because that’s still a taker. Network with them first and then extend to them it’s nice to meet you, I look forward to working with you, and I’m really supporting you on your career success.

And then as you get into that job, then you start to meet other people on coffee breaks, on retreats. So there’s an opportunity to continue to network up in the organization.

Jill Finlayson: Yeah, I think that that’s so important is to be making those relationships, getting to know people because you never know where the serendipity is going to happen. There’s that story of you never know who you’re going to step on the rungs up because they may pass you up and they may suddenly be your boss. So all of these relationships really matter, and it’s that opportunity to create serendipity, create the space for unexpected collaborations.

It gives you a better understanding of how the organization is working, and there’s also something to be said for your novice mindset. You can’t tell other people how to do their business, but you can say, hey, from an outsider looking in, I have some questions. And that can be really helpful to the person on the receiving end of those questions as well.

Vaneese Johnson: Yeah. It’s a good way to — also like you said serendipity — it’s a good way to build your professional brand. It’s a good way for people to keep you front of mind for opportunities because of their interaction with you. And it’s a good way for you to continually learn about the profession, about the organization, about people in the environment. So it really can be a really great magic, a area of magic in your career.

Jill Finlayson: Yes. And if you’ve been in a job for a long time and you haven’t been getting that shoulder tap, you feel like you’re sort of plateauing, what are your opportunities there to change people’s perception of you and to increase your advancement opportunities?

Vaneese Johnson: So here’s the reality. You’re going to plateau.

That’s life. We all plateau. You become so great at what you do that you end up that’s all you’re doing.

So be mindful because when people only know you for the thing that you produce, that is how they see you. And so you say, well, I want to be seen outside of this so how can that happen. Well, again, it’s important for you to go back and do an audit to really look at the genius that you have in you and/or the genius that you’ve developed.

So let’s say that you’ve identified another genius and/or you’ve developed that one genius a little bit deeper, then what I would really encourage you to do is to look for opportunities that you can participate, collaborate on projects that will allow you the chance to showcase that genius. And you might be saying, well, Vaneese, what if my workload is already full. So then look for the fun thing that you can do in the organization. A lot of companies have social responsible components of how they serve the community. That could be an opportunity, volunteerism, and using that genius to volunteer with the organization because there may be people on that volunteer team that are from different departments that can see your talent.

So do not sit there hoping that somebody will see your genius and they’re going to come knock on your door and say, listen, Jill, we see you. We want you to use it over here. People are busy sometimes working in their own genius and their head’s down. They don’t always see you. But it’s your responsibility to step into your boldness to make sure that people see about you what’s important to see about you.

Jill Finlayson: I think that’s a great place to leave our conversation for the moment. I want to go — come back and talk with you again though about more building personal brand and this opportunity for what leaders need. But do you have any final words or tips for people on what we’re renaming from soft skills to human skills? What are the key things that people need to do to go out and make sure that they have these really transferable skills and competencies so that they can get the next job that they want?

Vaneese Johnson: Yeah. So the top three things I would say first is a self audit. Do a self audit. You know you better than anyone so do a self audit on your skills because that’s important. And tell the truth. The things that you don’t like to do that don’t bring you joy, then you’ve really got to be clear about what those things are and to make sure you’re not communicating them on your resume. Because if you put them on your resume, you’re communicating them, you’re talking about them in an interview, that’s how people are going to see you that way.

The second thing that I will say, it’s important to build a supportive network of like-minded professionals whether that’s a mentor, whether that’s colleagues that you know and trust. Could be previous bosses. It could be people from your alumni. So build a really rich and deep network because you can feed off of the energy in your network.

And the third thing that I would say is really get engaged in continuous learning. There’s upskilling that’s important in the marketplace, taking the skill that you have, especially if it’s your genius skill, taking it up to the next level. Reskilling is learning a new skill, so perhaps that may be an important area in your career under continuous learning is to really get into reskilling because perhaps you really thought about something that you wanted to do and you discovered that you really like it but you don’t have the skills for it, so get into continuous learning for upskilling and/or reskilling.

Jill Finlayson: Thank you so much, Vaneese. I really love that idea of doing a self audit, finding your genius, building your networks is so important, and leveling up your skills. So thank you so much there’s more to talk about in terms of building leaderships and your personal brand, which is why we’ll be talking to you next month to continue this conversation about the importance of core skills no matter where you are in your academic or professional career.

And now that you’re identifying the essential leadership skills that you need to develop, please head over to extension.berkeley.edu and search for Vaneese Johnson’s August career bootcamp on getting your next job. And of course, we encourage you to visit edge.berkeley.edu to see what’s coming up at EDGE in Tech. So stay tuned for part 2 with Vaneese coming out next month. Until then.

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UC Berkeley Extension

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