How to Assess Soft Skills During a Job Interview

Identifying the right candidate can be a frustrating and overwhelming process. You need to pinpoint an applicant who possesses the right technical skills, experience and knowledge. You’ll also want to find someone with the right soft skills—the personal attributes and innate skills that can’t be taught, such as communication or leadership. Assessing each applicant’s soft skills during the interview process can help you find the person you’re looking for.

soft skills

What Soft Skills Do You Want?

Before scheduling your interviews, ascertain the soft skills you prefer in a candidate, this way you can aim to zero-in on these during the conversation. Common attributes employers tend to seek are ones that enable a person to do the job and be able to work well with others, such as:

  • Strong communication and interpersonal skills
  • Ability to be a team player and collaborate
  • Flexible and adaptable to change
  • Able to manage conflict and find resolutions
  • Show initiative and strategic thinking

Identifying desired soft skills is the easy part, the problem many interviewers struggle with is how to actually quantify them during an interview. If you’re wondering how to assess soft skills, you're not alone. According to one LinkedIn survey, over 60 percent of hiring managers agree it's difficult.

Reread Your Applicant's Packet

Start your assessment before the interview. Take a second look at the candidate's cover letter, resume, and application. Scan for any soft skills listed, then try to read between the lines. Is there anything standing out you'll want to focus on or, conversely, sets off warning bells? What applicants say (or don't say) often gives you a good starting point. Keep in mind though, some studies have found up to 88 percent of candidates tell fibs on their resumes. The skills you’re reading about on paper might not actually transfer to the workplace.

Ask Behavioral Questions

Asking behavioral questions is an excellent way to gauge a person's soft skills. It's important to avoid generalized questions that solicit yes or no answers, such as, "Are you a team player?" Go for specifics.

  • Ask about different types of workplace conflicts faced and how they resolved the problems.
  • Present a situation where help was needed with a task or project and ask what they'd do. Is a realistic answer given? And, more importantly, do the candidates admit to needing help at times? (Everyone does!)
  • Describe a scenario that could realistically happen in your company or industry, i.e. "What would you do if…" Not only does this tell you which candidates can think on their feet, you also discover who understands the solutions you'd need.
  • Ask candidates to describe the best leader they've worked for, what they learned and why these lessons are of value.

Whatever questions you decide to ask, be sure they directly relate to the soft skills you seek (i.e. leadership, ethics, teamwork). Remember, don't just listen to a person's answers, pay attention to other factors such as tone and body language—these can often tell you a lot.

Assign a Task

An innovative approach some organizations take is to offer a task or project for the candidate to complete either inside or outside of the office. Through the actual work process, hiring managers and colleagues see if the person has the hard skills to do the job as well as the desired soft skills.

Include Other Staff in the Assessment

Some companies ask people who aren’t involved in the interview, such as the receptionist, to provide input. Asking other staff members their opinions of the candidate is a great measure for hiring managers to use to assess how a person demonstrates desired soft skills outside of the interview room. If the candidate was punctual, courteous, and pleasant, this is a great sign. On the other hand, if the person was late, dismissive, or rude, you'll know this is probably the person who will actually be working in your organization—not the one you interviewed.

Other Evaluation Methods

Doing a soft-skills assessment is often tricky because people tend to practice for interviews so you can't ever be truly sure what you see is what you get. Other methods you can use include:

  • Asking employees referring candidates to do their own soft skills assessment on the applicant.
  • Having candidates list the top skills they think they need for the job (if they don't know or are way off base, you've got your answer).
  • Ask applicants to rank their own soft skills from strongest to weakest. See what makes the list.

According to research, there is a huge disconnect between soft skills and success, meaning many organizations are too focused on hard skills which can lead to costly high turnover. A person might have the know-how you're looking for, but if he or she has a lone ranger mentality or possesses poor communication skills, this may not be the right hire. Find the candidate who naturally possesses the attributes you want, and you'll increase the chances you'll make the right hire—the first time.

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