It is undeniable, there has been a hard shift in focus to soft skills when screening candidates for role requirements. There is a greater understanding of the best soft skills for new hire success, like adaptability, work ethic, and emotional intelligence.
Spoiler alert: those soft skills are key traits you should have always been looking for!
Hard skills are absolutely necessary to get the job done. But when it comes to the best way to predict success in employees, soft skills beat out hard skills almost every time. Unfortunately, they can be more challenging to accurately assess in the interview process. A skills test is a straightforward assessment of hard skills and a personality test gives some insight into culture fit but can be flawed compared to human interaction.
Early screening interviews are the most critical time to uncover which candidates possess the top soft skills essential for your open positions. Accuracy early in the hiring process ensures no time or resources are wasted on ill-fitting talent. But it is reasonable and necessary to look for evidence of those coveted skills throughout the entire screening process to make certain your final offer is made to the true top candidate.
Here is how to identify the top soft skills in each step of the hiring process:
You’re aware of the importance of defining the required hard and soft skills for each position. This information gives potential candidates an understanding of what they need to prove right from the application stage. But simply throwing together a list of boxes for them to check doesn’t ensure they understand your expectations.
Your required skills section should not look like this:
Looking for candidates who are:
- Great communicators
First of all, unfortunately, everyone does that. So that leaves little distinction between the skills required for your open role and any other job. Worse yet, it gives candidates zero framework for what you’re asking them to do with those skills. For instance, being organized enough to maintain a tidy workspace is very different from organizing an event or managing a team and delegating tasks.
Therefore, you should include specific descriptions as to why they’ll need to apply those top soft skills. For example:
- The role requires strong organizational skills to coordinate production schedules between three department leads.
This approach casts a spotlight on the function of sought-after soft skills rather than casting out keywords candidates can plug into their application materials. Even better, it provides applicants with clear expectations.
You’re likely used to seeing candidates throw a few soft skills keywords into the “skill” section. While it does help get a few qualified candidates through your ATS, that’s nothing to swoon over.
If you’re truly going to commit yourself to hire for soft skills, you must look for those top soft skills appropriately paired with each job experience.
The work experience section isn’t meant to prove candidates are employable. It exists for talent to highlight what contributed to their achievements in past positions.
Yes, that means there will be a number of technical tasks included. But there’s something wrong if you don’t see mentions of soft skills they attribute to their success. Every achievement is made possible through some soft skill or another, and candidates should want to bring attention to that.
And don’t let keyword stuffing distract you. Candidates who rattle off what they did rather than share what they learned or contributed to, like the description below, do nothing to prove they gained something from their experience.
- Practiced leadership skills, communication, organization, and agility by working with a team.
It is OK if a bullet point includes more than one skill, but make sure it makes sense. In the example above, you should find yourself wondering “how.” How did this candidate take on a leadership role in the team? How did agility come into play?
That’s why you need to find evidence of specific examples that make it clear how the candidate used each skill in each situation.
Ask yourself: Are they telling me they have this skill or are they showing me how they applied and strengthened it?
Resumes that highlight genuine soft skills will have descriptions like this:
- Selected to lead a five-person team for a several-week project because of my excellent communication and strong planning skills.
With this example, you may still find yourself with questions. But it is evident planning and organization were necessary to manage the team and ensure that they hit the necessary checkpoints. And it is clear the previous employer would not have selected them to lead the project unless they recognized the candidate’s ability to motivate and communicate well with co-workers.
Screening strategies are a must because they reduce how much bias interferes with your assessment of each candidate. You still get some insight, but your judgment isn’t affected by how well a candidate engages with you individually.
Structured one-way video interviews are one of the best approaches to screening, as they are the perfect way to fairly assess how each candidate responds to the same question.
Some general questions you could include:
- How would you describe your organizational style?
- What is something in your current role that you don’t excel at?
- Share a time that you disagreed with your manager’s decision. How did you handle it?
Be sure to also ask some role-specific questions in the screening process to weed out candidates who are bluffing about their skillset:
- Avoid questions that can be answered with a simple “yes” or “no.”
- Use behavioral and situational questions.
- Ask questions based on the position’s hard and soft skills.
Screening has everything to do with identifying soft skills. Granted, they aren’t as personal as interviews and won’t offer clear-cut answers like skills tests. But they give you your first glimpse at what your candidates are really like.
This is your chance to find proof that the skills candidates claimed on paper are valid (or not). Some you’ll immediately reject. Candidates with promising resumes full of well-explained examples of soft skills may disappoint you. Don’t hesitate to move on from those whose responses don’t match the application and resume.
For more guidance on the one-way screening process, read all about creating a structured interview process HERE.
Another great, non-biased way to measure a candidate’s soft skills capacity is using a skills test. There are many tests available to measure technical skills, personality, and cultural fit.
Pro tip: The latter two are your best friends to uncover values and soft skills.
Once candidates complete the test, you’ll get a detailed report breaking down the results. Analyzing data on candidates gives you a clear image of how well they demonstrate the necessary top soft skills. Additionally, you can piece together how well they’ll complement others on the team and if their mindset matches the company’s goals.
It’s true candidates can sometimes deliberately skew results, but most well-worded questions avoid this outcome. And many people have an innate curiosity to know their true results.
However, if you’re afraid determined candidates could slant the results, don’t fret. There are plenty of other steps during the hiring process you can (and should) cross-reference to confirm the truth.
And don’t be afraid to construct your own skills test! It can be challenging and time-consuming if you haven’t done it before, but it’s worth it. This is an opportunity to craft a test that assesses the position’s most unique needs.
The interview is the most obvious step in the hiring process to dig deeper into a candidate’s true soft skills. Before this stage, you’ve had to rely on words on paper, pre-recorded responses, and digital test results.
None of that matches interviews, which are more candid and personal. Candidates are a more relaxed version of themselves when they meet with you one-on-one compared to the video recording. After all, live interviews have the chance to become more conversational while screening interviews are limited to a structured list of questions.
You should still have a prepared list of questions to go in with. Some of the best questions for assessing soft skills in the interview help evaluate a candidate’s autonomy, trouble-shooting skills, and discipline in real-time. And some of the best strategies include crafting the questions to which soft skills are needed and gauging candidates’ self-awareness.
But try to include some questions specific to the candidate as well as what you’ve learned about them thus far. Asking for clarification from something they wrote about their experience, said during the structured screening interview, or answered during a skills test can ease your concerns and offer a better understanding of their thought process.
This strategy allows the conversation to be more personalized to the candidate. At this point, you know whether you like what you’ve seen from them. Deviating from the script a bit to see how they communicate naturally can lead to brilliant results.
Questions are merely a tool to dig in for more insight. But remember, when it comes down to it, it’s how candidates communicate their responses that reveal the most about their soft skills.
Recommended Reading: First-Round Questions to Ask Candidates for Virtual Jobs.
After each interview round, you should keep an eye on your favorite candidates. Just because the structured assessments on your end have concluded doesn’t mean you have to stop evaluating candidates’ character or skills.
For example, the common courtesy of a thank-you note after the interview demonstrates social awareness and communication skills.
Some candidates might see those notes as just something they’re supposed to do. They’re the ones who put the bare minimum energy into it, and it’s not impressive. But not all candidates are like that.
Effort and personalization are evident when candidates’ appreciation is genuine. That communication shows in how they reflect on the interview experience.
Even if thank you notes mean nothing to you personally, you must recognize that candidates who care about it exhibit soft skills worth hiring.
In addition, you can take note of candidates’ social networking and engagement.
You may prefer to engage with them directly to note their responsiveness and manners of communication. This route is more traditional and professional, but doing this alone ignores a key source of information.
It can be wildly beneficial to sleuth around on candidates’ social media profiles. There, you get a more complete picture of who they are as a person. You see how they present themselves, which influencers they follow, and how well they interact with others.
All of this contributes to your understanding of the soft skills they bring to the table. The value of soft skills isn’t going anywhere. It’s worthwhile to explore all your options along every step of the hiring process to learn which candidates possess the top soft skills you need.