Human Resources Blog - Spark Hire

How to Hire for Soft Skills

When trying to fill a particularly difficult position, the right candidate can seem mythical. Sure, it’s easy enough to sort out people who have the right qualifications on paper, but finding candidates with “that special something” can leave you feeling like Cinderella’s prince, running around with a glass slipper. Luckily, we at Spark Hire like to take some of the guesswork out of the hiring process. “That special something” is often code for “soft skills.” Soft skills are candidate qualities like conversation skills, tactfulness, cooperation, and self-awareness. These subjective traits can be difficult for hiring managers to evaluate, so we’ve put together a list of helpful interview strategies. Here are four things to ask about in order to evaluate a candidate’s soft skills.

Relationships with past co-workers

Most candidates know that speaking ill of former employers is a job interview faux pas. However, it is important to ask good questions about co-workers as well. Try questions like: “Tell me about a time you had a conflict with a co-worker” or, “Tell me about a time when you went out of your way to help a co-worker.” Watch for thorough and honest answers. It is okay if the candidate admits to causing a conflict, as long as they explain what they learned from the experience!

Past mistakes at work

Admitting to culpability in a conflict or mistake shows self-awareness. This is an invaluable quality in an employee, as self-awareness allows a greater potential for growth. You are looking for a candidate who readily admits fault, but has a good explanation of what he/she learned from the experience. Asking about past mistakes at work is also a nice, more concrete, variation on “what is your greatest weakness?”

A time when they were on a team

A good answer to this topic would show leadership skills from the candidate, and an appreciation for the hard work of others. This would be a great segue topic between the technical part of the interview and the soft skill portion.

A time when they had to adapt to change

This is also a good question to start with, because many job seekers are currently experiencing change in their lives. Most candidates will have no problem explaining their challenges or hardships. You are looking for answers that are upbeat, optimistic, and gracious in spite of the challenges. Clever methods of adapting to a change are just icing on the cake.

While asking these questions, you are looking for signs of confidence as well as optimism. These are two more soft skills. You won’t necessarily ask questions about them specifically, but they are easy to watch for as a candidate answers other questions. By asking these anecdotal questions, you will also be able to evaluate a candidate’s conversation skills and communication skills.

How do you interview for soft skills? What terrible metaphor do you have for a difficult job search? Leave a comment below, or send me a tweet: @ithinkther4iamb #softskills

IMAGE: Courtesy of Flickr by tsheko

Kristin Anderson

Kristin has a B.A. in English from the University of Iowa, with an emphasis in creative writing. In her free time she enjoys long walks, kitchen adventures, and making puns.