How to Hire for Soft Skills

Hire a candidate with soft skills.

Whether you’re a busy recruiter or a hiring manager, bringing on the right people takes creativity, resourcefulness and (sometimes) a little luck. Candidates may have their hard skills locked, but what about things like team spirit, or conflict resolution?

Work, at its core, is a social endeavor. Most of us have to interact with colleagues, clients or customers. And all the AI in the world isn’t going to change that: a recent Deloitte 2018 Global Human Capital Trends study shows there’s still high demand for complex problem solving, cognitive abilities and social skills.

Trouble is, while it’s relatively straightforward to screen for hard skills, how do you assess for things like empathy? This can pose a challenge to even the most experienced interviewers, although it’s the soft skills that can be most crucial to a candidate’s post-hire performance. Let’s take a look at some ways to tackle this.

What are they?

Everyone has some idea of what soft skills are. Some call them interpersonal or people skills.  

Soft skills are attitudes and behaviors that translate into how we are at work and how easily we interact with others.

They can help improve productivity and strengthen communication. Vetting for soft skills helps crystallize an employee’s fit into company culture. And a unique mix of these traits among employees can help diversify and enrich the organization.

Here are just a few of those elusive soft skills you might want look for:  

  1. Communication
  2. Conflict resolution
  3. Creativity
  4. Critical thinking
  5. Dependability
  6. Empathy
  7. Flexibility
  8. Problem solving

Communication, conflict resolution and problem solving help staffers address issues. Creativity and critical thinking help you find new solutions to challenges. Empathy and flexibility mean workers are easy to get along with. There are dozens more — from accountability to leadership to work ethic. So take some time to think about the soft skills needed for the jobs you’re looking to fill (our screening tool Indeed Assessments also has some modules related to soft skills that you may want to check out).

Asking for soft skills

It’s easy to ask for certain skills when advertising an open role, but how do you make sure people actually have them?  When responding to job postings, candidates should address the soft skills you’re seeking by including examples in their cover letters and resumes.

Do they highlight instances of collaboration, or do they present themselves as unique super geniuses? If they highlight team spirit, that’s a good sign. If you ask for learning agility, do they highlight recent classes or certifications?

Here’s where cover letters can be especially interesting. Not everybody includes them these days, but they can still be useful as applicants have to describe what it is about the job that aligns with them as a person.

Of course, nobody is going to reply to your job ad stating that they hate people and are totally unreliable. To really drill into soft skills, you have to wait for the interview.

Interview for soft skills

Here’s the good news: You can assess soft skills without directly addressing them. For instance …

  • Arriving on time shows punctuality and dependability.
  • Maintaining eye contact and asking good questions show active listening.
  • Telling stories that correlate to job requirements shows effective communication.
  • Giving due credit to team members shows integrity.

To dive deeper, you can conduct behavior-based interviews. Using the STAR method (Situation, Task, Action and Result), ask candidates to tell you stories to elicit how they handled various scenarios. Listen for whether they weave soft skills into the Situation, Task, Action and Result. Did they include the skills you need? Did you hope to hear something they left out?

Here are some questions you can tweak for the roles you’re trying to fill.

Conflict resolution: Describe a major issue with others at work and how you helped resolve it.
Answers reveal work habits and how they approach issues.

Creativity: How might creativity be important to this role?
Most jobs require creativity. If the candidate dismisses it, they are missing the point.

Critical thinking: Think of an assignment you were given that was unclear or off-base. Why did you think this, and how did you handle it?

Answers reveal logical reasoning and analysis skills, plus how they handle delicate matters.

Empathy: Why did you leave (or are you leaving) your previous employer?
You’re looking for answers that position their former employer in a positive light.

Problem solving: Tell me about a time you averted disaster in a work crisis.

Savvy candidates will tell a story about how they averted disaster before the crisis occurred.

Beyond the interview

Of course, you should always check references — and don’t just ask for references from managers. Former coworkers may be more likely to focus on their colleagues’ soft skills. So ask candidates for both types of references.

Managers can share valuable information about an employee’s technical skills, their industry knowledge, and their performance and coachability. Former peers may share information about how a colleague handled stress, their collaboration style and whether the candidate was dependable.

Collecting insights into both sides will help you paint a fuller picture of the candidate.

Conclusion

Hiring for the right blend of soft skills takes a measured approach. It also requires an investment of time, which is a precious resource for all of us. But since soft skills are so crucial to success in any role, it’s unquestionably worth taking the time to get it right.

So make sure to think carefully about how you can learn more about your candidates as people interacting with other people, and to put into practice some of these tips. It will pay off in the long term.

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