Interviewing for in-demand soft skills
92% of talent professionals say soft skills matter more than hard skills and yet only 41% of companies have a formal process to assess soft skills. It’s important, therefore, to understand how the interview process can uncover them.
In contrast to hard skills—the ones more easily taught and measured—soft skills are the personal attributes that show how well a candidate will interact with your team and other stakeholders. They are less about what they can do, and more about the way they work.
This makes correctly assessing soft skills essential for deciding how a candidate will add to your culture.
Why soft skills are important, and which ones to look out for
Possessing soft skills such as active listening, being able to clearly present ideas, and communicating well with colleagues, ensures a productive, collaborative and healthy work environment. These are all vital attributes for organisations in an increasingly competitive world.
Many recruiters and hiring managers prioritise candidates possessing hard skills because they are more tangible and easier to assess. But in a world where in-demand roles are becoming more tech focused, complementary roles, such as customer service specialists, require soft skills to help businesses grow.
Discover the soft skills companies need most, and why
According to data from LinkedIn’s 690+ million members, the most in-demand soft skills in 2020 are:
Creativity matters because, as technology replaces more day-to-day tasks, there is an increasing need for people to provide new approaches to problem solving. Employees who demonstrate new ways of thinking can also help organisations find new ways to grow.
Having a great idea is one thing, having people who can persuade customers or stakeholders to buy into that idea is another. Having talent who can shift people’s understanding, and get them to commit to an action, can prove essential to the success of a business.
97% of employees and executives believe that a lack of team alignment directly impacts the outcome of a task or project, so finding candidates who can work well with others is key.
Finding candidates who embrace challenges and look to find new ways to get things done is a great indicator of how they might grow in a role and adapt to changes in a company.
Emotional intelligence is the ability to perceive, evaluate, and respond to not just your own emotions, but also the emotions of other people. A high emotional intelligence is a good indicator a candidate can interact well with their entire team.
Using behavioural questions to assess for soft skills
Behavioural interview questions focus on how candidates handled various work situations in the past to understand if they have the skills required for a new role. Behavioural questions are also used by interviewers to uncover a candidate’s personal qualities in a way that avoids scripted answers, and can establish if a candidate can add to the culture of a company.
We know that soft skills are important, but what questions are best to uncover creativity, persuasion, collaboration, adaptability, and emotional intelligence.
Tell me about a business problem that you’ve had to solve in a unique or innovative way. What was the outcome?
As well as establishing what a candidate perceives as a business problem, this is a great question for uncovering creativity skills and emotional intelligence. Interviewers should listen to how a candidate speaks about working as part of a team as this gives a good indication of their abilities to work with others.
Describe a situation where you had a solution to a problem, but it was not aligned with your team’s solution.
The question allows a candidate to demonstrate their powers of persuasion. It also gives the interviewer a chance to gauge each candidate’s ability to communicate insights in an engaging way. A great answer will outline all the steps a candidate took to resolve the situation in a collaborative way.
Tell me about one of your favourite experiences working with a team and your contribution.
This question is asked to understand how a candidate has interacted with colleagues in the past as a way to predict their ability to collaborate as part of your team. Listen for what they describe success as—was it that they enjoyed working with a team, or hitting a revenue target—as this gives a good indication of what motivates the candidate.
Tell me about a time in a previous role when you were asked to do something you had never done before.
As a business needs to demonstrate adaptability, so too does its employees. Listen out for a reply that mentions if a candidate used this as an opportunity to learn something new or sought help from a colleague. This can not only highlight a candidate’s problem-solving skills, but their emotional intelligence and ability to work as part of a team.
Can you tell me about a time when you, or a team you were on, made a mistake and how you handled it?
Being able to identify mistakes and learn from them is essential for professional growth. A candidate who takes responsibility for their mistakes, rather than blaming other members of their team, and explains how they worked with others to turn the situation around, shows both collaboration skills and a high level of emotional intelligence.
Alternatives to behavioural questions
While behavioural questions are one way to establish a candidate’s soft skills, they are by no means the only technique employed by recruiters and hiring managers.
Situational interview questions
While behavioural questions look at a candidate’s past actions, situational questions require them to tell you what they would do if presented with certain scenarios. For example, you could ask a candidate how they would handle a manager who was upset with them over something that wasn’t their fault.
Another way to assess soft skills is to give candidates an opportunity to work with your team either in a job trial or on a remote project. This approach is sometimes called an “Appliject” (for applicant project). As well as allowing you to gauge their soft skills, it gives the candidate a realistic job preview.
Online soft skills tests
There are a number of companies, such as MindTools, that provide online soft skills assessments that you can build into your hiring process, especially at the pre-interview stage. Using tools like these can reduce unconscious bias and works well for companies hiring at scale.
Ensuring soft skills complement hard skills
Hard and soft skills should go hand in hand. While being technically able to do a job is one thing, being the right fit for your company is another. And there is a way of ensuring soft and hard skills complement each other.
For example, you could ask a candidate to solve a problem using their hard skills. This should be based on creating a realistic challenge reflecting the work they will actually do in the role.
Once the candidate has outlined their solution, introduce a change similar to what they might encounter in the role, such as a shorter time frame to complete the task. This is useful for seeing how adaptable and creative a candidate can be.
Finally, ask questions about their work, providing feedback and suggesting new solutions. This can give you an insight into the candidate’s ability to collaborate and innovate.
There’s no one correct way to assess soft skills
Soft skills have always been crucial. And though the vast majority of talent professionals believe them to be more important than hard skills, only 41% of companies have a formal process to assess soft skills.
To know which approach to soft skills assessment works best for your open roles, you first need to determine the soft skills your company most values.
Once you’ve established those, you can trial the various methods outlined above—from behavioural and situational questions, to online tests and project assessments—to establish which works best for your hiring needs.