Insight

Soft Skills and How to Assess Them in Candidates: Part 1

by Sami Barry
Interviewing

In recent years, soft skills have garnered much attention in the realm of recruitment. Organizations have realized that these attributes play a significant role in an individual’s abilities to perform and excel in a position. As executive search consultants, we understand that technical expertise and capabilities come first when evaluating a candidate. After those qualifications are confirmed, it is a candidate’s soft skills that need deep consideration.

LinkedIn's Global Recruiting Trends report says that 58% of hiring managers agree that the lack of soft skills among candidates is limiting their organization's productivity. 

Top soft skills and how to assess them

Understanding and assessing a candidate’s soft skills are inherent to what Helbling consultants do during an executive search. While desired soft skills can vary from one client and role to another, there are common soft traits that translate to various types of positions. Knowing how to uncover them through open-ended behavioral questions is a skill. When doing so, it is best to pose questions as to how the candidate handled similar situations in prior roles. Following are examples of the questions we ask to gather insight of a candidate’s soft skills.

Leadership

  • What do you feel is the most effective way to lead a team? 
  • How would others describe your management style? 
  • Describe a challenge you and your team faced and how it was resolved. 
  • How do you build rapport among a team? How do you motivate them? 
  • How do you create a culture of accountability within your team? 
  • Describe a time when you and your team were at your highest performance. 
  • What do you think are the keys to building a high-performing team?

Adaptability

  • Describe how you and your team adapt to changing business and market conditions.
  • Describe how you leverage new advancements, systems, and technologies. 
  • Tell me about a significant challenge you’ve had to deal with in your current or prior roles and how you addressed it. 
  • Describe a time when you had to change your perspective and approach to an initiative or project.
  • Describe a time when you had to learn a new task and how you handled it.

Collaboration

  • Do you prefer to work autonomously or with a team, and why? 
  • What do you think are the qualities of a strong team?
  • Describe a positive team experience you have had.

Initiative

  • Describe a time when you went above and beyond your job responsibilities.
  • What are the soft skills that are important in your current role? How would you apply those skills to the potential role with our organization?

You can also assess a candidate’s soft skills by asking probing questions of their professional references. These questions can include:

  • Can you describe the candidate’s relationships with his/her co-workers, superiors, and direct reports? 
  • What has he/she done in his/her position that was unique or highly valuable to the organization and/or department?
  • How is he/she different from others with whom you have worked?
  • How would you describe his/her management style? 
  • What sets him/her apart from others in the same capacity? 
  • How effective is the candidate in building a team? 
  • What are the candidate’s strengths and weaknesses? 
  • How would you describe the candidate’s work ethic?  
  • Do certain accomplishments of the candidate stand out in your mind? 
  • How well does the candidate handle pressure or criticism? Can you recall specific examples?
  • How would you describe the candidate’s communication skills?

Many soft skills also tie into traits of emotional intelligence, which include self-awareness, self-regulation, self-motivation, empathy, and social skills. There are specific questions to address these traits as well. 

While soft skills can be assessed in a variety of ways, we have found that directly asking candidates open-ended behavioral questions, such as the ones listed, and speaking to their professional references provide the most accurate information. The main thing to remember is soft skills are inherent to a candidate’s true ability to perform in a role, and these traits need to be assessed just as diligently as technical qualifications.

Read more of our consultants' insight on soft skills in part 2 of this series.