There's one trait tech companies are after — and it has nothing to do with IT, says PayPal's global head of people

Source: CNBC

In an industry that's constantly changing, it can be difficult to pin down exactly what it takes to succeed.

Yet, being able to embrace that uncertainty and use it to your advantage could be half the battle won, according to tech experts.

Doniel Sutton, global head of people at digital payments company PayPal, says that while specific technical expertise will always be central to her business, one of the things tech giants are increasingly looking for in employees has less to do with IT and more to do with one behavioral characteristic.

That's agility.

"I wouldn't say it's unique to PayPal, but it's certainly prevalent regardless of where you work in our company, and that's agility," Sutton told CNBC Make It, when asked about the most important quality for a successful career in tech.

Hero Images | Getty

Embracing change

"We're an industry that keeps changing," she said, referencing shifts in consumer demand, regulation and competition. "One's ability to embrace working in such a fast-paced environment and all that implies is probably one of the most important — perhaps even the most important — characteristic of someone joining the company."

It's a view shared by other industry leaders, according to technology research and advisory firm Ecosystm. In its feedback from top tech companies, the "ability to transition and learn on the job" ranked among the most sought-after skills, principal adviser Claus Mortensen told CNBC Make It.

People who are intentional around being continuous learners ... will do well
Doniel Sutton
PayPal's global head of people

Change, by its very nature, is unsettling, though, and learning to embrace it can be easier said than done. Sutton said that in her two decades' experience she has found that learning to be more agile can be "almost impossible."

But, that is where those who are closer to the start of their careers, and are therefore more adaptable, may have the upper hand, she added.

Continuous learning

To build on that, Sutton and Mortensen both recommended focusing on "continuous learning" and taking on new challenges in order to cope better with unpredictability in the future.

That could include switching roles and running new projects, as well as seeing how tech is used on the ground to gain what Mortensen called a "helicopter view" of the industry.

Yuri Arcurs | Getty

We're looking for "individuals who have experience across a variety of different platforms as opposed to just having depth in one," Sutton said. "Again it speaks to this agility and being able to move people around with more experience and variety and diversity in their background."

"People who are intentional around being continuous learners and demonstrating that they are capable of being flexible and agile and picking things up along the way and putting that into real action will do well," she added.

An evolving workforce

PayPal's strategy is reflective of a trend in the tech industry and the wider jobs market.

In its 2018 Global Talent Trends study, global HR consulting firm Mercer noted a shift away from traditional, siloed roles that require deep expertise in specific areas toward ones where staff have more wide-reaching skills that enable them to switch between different job functions.

Employees need to find ways to build portable skills through diverse experiences.
Vidisha Mehta
career solutions leader at Mercer

"Narrow expertise in a super specialized areas is giving way to having more 'portable' skills that need to be applied towards more innovative or broader applications," Vidisha Mehta, career solutions leader at Mercer, told CNBC Make It via email.

"The pace of change that we see today means that both organizations and individuals need to be able to adapt themselves rapidly and on an ongoing basis," Mehta continued.

"Prospective employees need to find ways to build portable skills through diverse experiences, as well as through ongoing learning which has become more important than ever before."

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