February 08, 2018 8:49 AM

5 Ways to Accurately Assess Soft Skills

Soft skills, or as we like to call them, non-technical skills, are just as important as qualifications and experience. But why do we often consider them an afterthought? In fact, unless we’re hiring with workplace culture in mind, assessing a candidate’s soft skills usually amounts to a few questions at the end of an interview. This can come from the fact that these skills often seem intangible and hard to assess. But you know what? We need to do more to recognize and properly assess these essential skills and here’s how you go about doing so.


What are soft skills?

First up let’s take a quick look at what these non-technical skills are.  

Have you ever heard of the term interpersonal collaborations? It’s just a fancy way to say ‘people skills,’ and more often than not, these are the most important of soft skills to a hiring manager.

How a candidate communicates and works with others could mean the difference between success and a toxic working environment, so it pays to know how to recognize the telltale personality traits.

But it’s not just how a candidate works with other people. Soft skills also include attributes such as intuition, creative thinking, decision making, and time management among many others.

Unlike hard skills that you learn at school or on the job, soft skills are usually part of a person’s personality. They are not skills that we typically learn, but some people can adjust to incorporate them into their working life.


Why it’s so hard to assess them accurately

Any candidate worth their salt knows how to craft a suitable resume that highlights both their qualifications and their qualities as a team player or their go-getter attitude. So assessing soft skills in the initial sourcing or application stages can be tough and requires more from recruiters than the traditional interviewing techniques.

The same can be said for interviews when a candidate has their ‘game face’ on and can ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ with the best of them.

And on top of all that, questions such as ‘How do you work with others?’ will always get the right response.

But there are ways to get around the ‘game face’ and self-affirmation to find out what a candidate is really like.

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The 5 steps for assessing soft skills

There are many interview questions that hiring managers use to assess soft skills, but as we said earlier, questions in an interview don’t tell the whole picture and form only a small part of a complete assessment. Building out tangible assessments for these skills will make you a better recruiter – and ultimately be better for the company.

Here’s our take on the five steps required for an accurate assessment.


1. Look for social and physical cues

Now we’re not suggesting for a moment that you spy on your candidate as they do their shopping but you can watch how they interact with other people prior to the interview. Do they greet the receptionist with a smile, say hi to other candidates, or take an interest in the company material you so cleverly left on the waiting room coffee table?

You can ask members of your staff such as the receptionist or even the security guards to keep an eye on this for you.

Non-verbal cues such as these can give you an insight into the candidate’s personality and how they might interact with others while on the job. Physical cues such as the way they slouch with their legs crossed during the interview may suggest that they’re not really bothered about the job.

Of course, you should remember that these cues only give clues as to the person’s compatibility with the team, but it’s a great place to start.


2. Ask the candidate what soft skills they think are important

Instead of telling the candidate what you think are the important skills for success in a given role, ask for their input. At the very least this will let you know how well they understand the role and if you’re lucky, their list of the most important soft skills for success will match yours.


3. Ask for specific examples of these skills in action

Now that they have given you their list of soft skills, ask if they have ever seen these skills in action. Get them talking about their previous colleagues who they worked on a project with and that they were most impressed by.

At some point, they will touch on their own role, but it will be from a more modest standpoint. After all, they are talking about their colleague and not themselves.


4. Test them in a ‘real’ situation

Ask a candidate if they are a team player or a good leader and nine times out of ten you’ll get a ‘yes.’

So put them to the test.

If possible, arrange a test scenario with other candidates or a job audition to see if they take the lead, respect the opinions of others, and generally work well on their feet.

Be careful though not to focus too much on those that take the lead. Some candidates will assume that this is what you’re looking for and will try to push themselves to the front of the line by trying too hard to control the team.


5. Then test them is a real situation

This is by far and away the best way to test a candidate’s soft skills.

See if you can come up with a small project that they can work on with your current employees. They can work on the project remotely or by coming to the office for an hour or two over a couple of days.

Not only will this allow you to assess their ability to work as part of a team but said team can also give you their input on the candidate’s soft skills. When working on a real project, a candidate will tend to forget that they are under assessment and you’ll get a much more accurate idea of their suitability to the role. 


Of course, you may have more steps that you want to add to your process such as online personality tests, or taking a closer look at a candidate’s references. However, if you want a complete assessment (of course you do) then try your best to include our last step in the process. There’s no better way to measure a candidate’s suitability for a role than by giving them an on-the-job task. The feedback you’ll get from your team is in itself worth the extra effort.


Are soft skills a priority for you when hiring? Or does your company tend to focus more on qualifications and other hard skills? Either way, there’s no doubt that at some point you’ll need a candidate with stellar soft skills to bring your team to the next level. So if you’re having trouble finding that soft skills superstar, then drop us a line. We’ll assign one of our experienced sourcing consultants to your team, and before you know it, you’ll have a candidate pipeline brimming with team player candidates that know how to work on their feet.

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