9 leaders share their best advice

Artificial intelligence. Automation. Digital transformation. Technology is rapidly redefining business processes in every industry. But that does not mean that human work disappears. As technology advances, it actually leads to greater demand for people with exceptional soft skills. That’s why forward-looking employers want to assess soft skills during the recruitment process.

To help you improve your hiring results, we asked business leaders and recruiting experts to share one technique they find most effective when evaluating applicants’ soft skills.

From including behavioral interview questions to assessing politeness during a post-interview meal, we think you’ll agree that these suggestions are useful and within the reach of any employer:

  1. Look for soft skills indicators in resumes and interviews
  2. Observe initiative and communication at the peer level
  3. Include behavioral questions during job interviews
  4. Gain insight by discussing real-life situations
  5. Use non-work references for a holistic view
  6. Escalate interview questions for resilience
  7. Simulate work situations with role-playing games
  8. Ask candidates to work through a scenario
  9. Evaluate civility at lunch after the interview

For more details on these ideas and why they improve hiring results, read on…

9 Ways to Assess Soft Skills in Job Applicants

1. Look for soft skills indicators in resumes and interviews

I begin by reviewing a candidate’s resume for indications of attention to detail and effective communication. The way a resume is tailored and presented can provide early insight into a candidate’s professionalism and dedication. During interviews, punctuality, professionalism and technical proficiency – especially in virtual environments – are key indicators of soft skills such as adaptability and respect for the process.

To assess specific skills such as teamwork, problem solving and leadership, I use targeted questions that draw out relevant examples from their experiences. The speed and thoroughness in providing references further reveals their professional network and readiness for the role. This ensures that we not only assess a candidate’s qualifications, but also align their soft skills with our organizational culture.

Letticia PierrezTalent Acquisition Manager, Affinity Dental Management

2. Observe peer-level initiatives and communications

When I speak to a candidate, I always want to see his or her soft skills in action. Far too many candidates think their role in the hiring process is largely passive. This may feel polite, but it usually backfires.

It’s one thing to just tell me you’re a good leader. But taking the initiative and proposing a follow-up meeting shows initiative and trust. This makes me much more likely to believe that you can bring these skills to the workplace.

Another example: don’t be afraid to talk to me as a colleague. Doing this allows me to see skills like empathy and communication in action. Keep in mind that assessing soft skills is an instinctive process. I can’t rely on your resume. I have to judge you as a person. Give me something to work with, otherwise I’ll assume these hard-to-quantify properties are missing.

Linn AtiyehDIRECTOR, Bemana

3. Include behavioral questions during job interviews

It is essential that employees not only meet technical qualifications, but also have interpersonal skills that will help them thrive in a collaborative work environment. That’s why you’ll want to assess soft skills during the hiring process with behavioral interview questions and scenarios.

For each open role in your organization, start by identifying the soft skills that are critical to success. Examples include communication, teamwork, adaptability, problem solving and leadership. Then, develop behavioral interview questions that require candidates to share past experiences and provide concrete examples of how they have demonstrated those skills in previous positions or situations.

For example, to assess teamwork skills, you might ask candidates to share an example of a project where they had to work with a diverse team to achieve a common goal. Make sure they define their role and explain how they contributed to the team’s success.

Also encourage candidates to structure their answers using the STAR method (Situation, Task, Action, Result). This provides a comprehensive response with specific details that help you understand how candidates approach challenges and interact with others.

For a well-rounded perspective, you should also ensure that interviewers are assessing the same skills. Work with your team to create a goal list and define what to look for in a response. Coach interviewers so they know how to effectively assess soft skills. This includes guidelines for recognizing important behaviors, seeking out additional details, and avoiding biases.

Finally, consistently document and compare interview responses. Use a standard form or centralized system to ensure fairness and objectivity. Then conduct feedback sessions with interviewers to discuss and determine results.

Sumit PrajapatiRecruitment Manager, Infotech Global Inc.

4. Gain insight by discussing real-life situations

To assess soft skills in the recruitment process, it is very effective to present candidates with real-world situations that you or your team have encountered before. Instead of relying on general situational questions, give specific examples with enough context.

Encourage candidates to share their problem-solving strategies and insights into how they would handle similar challenges. Delving into concrete scenarios provides valuable insights into a candidate’s ability to deal with practical challenges and assess their compatibility with the organization’s culture.

Also encourage candidates to share similar previous experiences, if applicable. This gives them the opportunity to explore their learning curve, revealing their ability to adapt and grow. This comprehensive method not only evaluates soft skills, but also reveals a candidate’s creativity, cultural fit, and proficiency in tackling real-world problems within a professional context.

Nicholas ClarkeManager recruitment, Find Kepler

5. Use non-work references for a holistic view

As a recruiter, I know that soft skills are more important than ever. But as team members continue to work remotely, communication issues can plague even the most carefully designed workforce. At the same time, the popularity of remote working means that the recruitment process often takes place largely on a screen. This makes it more difficult to assess things like personality.

Non-work reference checks are one technique I use to fill this gap. In the past, it felt invasive to ask candidates to include colleagues’ contact information outside of office hours. Now it’s a common request.

By connecting me with someone on your baseball team or in your knitting group, I can more holistically understand your strengths and weaknesses as a person. Things like leadership and communication style can be more easily evaluated by talking to a friend than to a colleague. It helps me to find the perfect match for both the candidate and the company.

Rob ReevesCEO and Chairman, Redfish Technology

6. Escalate interview questions for resilience

Interviews are inherently stressful. It is not easy to respond to intense questions. But that’s why I repeatedly escalate the difficulty of an interview question. It’s a test. And candidates who pass that test continue in the recruitment process.

As an interviewer, I start by assessing a candidate’s hard skills. I ask how they would solve a relevant technical problem. Then, for soft skills assessment, I keep adding “but what if…” scenarios to the question.

For example, I expand a question by asking people what they would do if their manager interfered with the process and made a problem worse. Or I ask how they would react if a colleague made it more difficult to solve the technical problem. Adding people to the equation gives you valuable insight into how a candidate would realistically handle difficult situations.

Several candidates have become frustrated and accused me of trying to sabotage their interview. This only reinforces my confidence in this technique as a way to assess candidate resilience. As long as an applicant patiently gives reasonable answers to admittedly unreasonable questions, or even ends with a polite “I don’t know,” they win soft skills points.

Ben LamarcheGeneral manager, Lock search group

7. Simulate work situations with role-playing games

Role-playing is an effective best practice in assessing soft skills during hiring. This technique simulates work-related situations in which candidates must execute their reactions or strategies. It is especially constructive for roles that require a lot of stakeholder interaction, conflict resolution, or team collaboration.

This approach allows us to observe firsthand how candidates handle conflict, show empathy and use their communication skills in real-time situations. It is a practical, dynamic assessment method that provides deeper insight into a candidate’s interpersonal skills, adaptability and problem-solving skills than traditional interview questions alone.

Nuria RequenaTalent Acquisition Manager, Space elevator

8. Ask candidates to work through a scenario

I like to talk to candidates about a real problem our company or hiring team has faced. I then ask them to walk through how they would approach this challenge, including what soft skills they would use, and why.

I also find it helpful for candidates to discuss their three strongest soft skills and share an example that illustrates when they recently applied one of those skills.

Shelly BoydstonRecruitment Manager, United Flow Technologies

9. Evaluate civility at lunch after the interview

Law firms are pioneers of the post-interview lunch. This is a classic way to continue testing a candidate’s soft skills.

You can learn a lot about a candidate’s politeness in a quiet lunch environment. You can also learn more about their conversation style. It is often at these moments that you become aware of a qualified candidate’s level of self-awareness and social skills.

Trevor EwenCOO, QBench

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