Soft skills in an interview - here's how to assess them

The interview stage is the perfect opportunity to see what makes your applicants tick. Armed with their impressive qualifications and professional experience, the candidates arrive all shiny and smartly attired. But, businesses want more than this. 👩💼

Today, there has been an increased emphasis on finding a candidate with the right soft skills. These are pivotal to the success of a role. In addition, they are critical for job performance and culture fit. As a result, 93% of employers consider soft skills an 'essential' or 'significant' factor in hiring decisions.

However, unlike qualifications and skills accumulated through study and training, soft skills are harder to learn, measure and evaluate. You can't get a grade for dependability at school or college, unfortunately. Over 60% of hiring managers concur that screening for soft skills is a challenge. So, businesses need to come up with innovative approaches to identifying their candidate's soft skills. 🤔

So, this article will help you better evaluate an applicant's soft skills. And how you can do that during the interview stage of your recruitment process. To see whether the candidate has the requisite soft skills to succeed in this position and bring value to your organization. Some ways you can do that include:

  • How does the candidate act when they think no one is watching
  • The social and physical signs recruiters should be aware of 
  • How to question the candidate effectively to understand their soft skill capabilities
  • How does the candidate engage with others when brought outside of the meeting room?
  • And putting the candidate through their paces in a work situation, how well do they fare in the working environment alongside their prospective colleagues.

With that being said, let's investigate how to find the candidates with the tremendous soft skills to go with their working experiences. 📝

But first…

Why are soft skills so necessary?

🙋 Are hard skills enough in today's competitive job market? 

Businesses would argue no. Without the soft skill set to back up task-related knowledge, you might as well hire a robot. And with automation steadily growing within business processes, what sets humans apart from our robotic friends, is our soft skills capabilities.

And for some employers, 67% of HR managers would even hire a candidate with solid soft skills even if their technical abilities were lacking! 😮

Boris Darth GIF

Examples of soft skills

Soft skills that businesses look for in their potential candidates:

  • Non-technical skills relating to how the candidate works
  • How they interact with others, interpersonal skills, teamwork
  •  Problem-solving abilities
  • Time management, they manage their working day effectively
  • Adaptability
  • Dependable, self-motivated
  •  Outstanding communication abilities, individuals able to interact effectively and work harmoniously with others
  • An individual who knows there is no 'i' in 'team'.

The perfect candidate needs to have both excellent job-specific capabilities and a soft skill set. It is not an either/or situation. For example, an IT Technician who can write code, great. But if they can't manage their workload, adhere to deadlines or work well as part of a team on a project. You might have a problem there. ⚖️

So, it is important to understand your candidate’s soft skills. An emotionally intelligent workforce that cares about one another and customers can increase productivity and revenue. In addition, having employees with more soft skills has increased a company's revenue by $90,000! Therefore, it is in your interest to find candidates with the soft skills to set you apart.

Confused Wile E Coyote GIF by Looney Tunes

What can you do to assess soft skills during the interview stage?

The first look at the candidate

Richard Branson, an individual renowned for his out-of-the-box thinking, had a question. He wanted to understand better the types of people who were applying for jobs at Virgin. So, to do this, he disguised himself as an elderly cab driver and went to pick up the candidates.

From this, Branson got a better picture of the individual sitting behind him.

Those who showed rudeness or were dismissive were not the types of employees they wanted joining their teams, so they didn't get the job. 🙅‍♀️

Not saying that you have to start wearing a disguise and follow your interviewees to the supermarket, but it is crucial to understand how the candidates act in real life. 🦸‍♀️

With interpersonal skills critical in the workplace, some candidates may try to act differently during interviews. And their ability to engage warmly with those they come into contact with is an essential indicator of the type of individual you may hire.

An excellent entrance to the working environment

So It Begins Helms Deep GIF

A great way to start is to think the interview commences as soon as the candidate enters the building. Then, whilst they sit at reception, have your receptionist or those working around the entrance keep an eye on their interactions. 👀

  • Their actions, do they hold doors open, wait patiently for someone to see them.
  • Do they greet your fellow employees with a smile, are polite and show a willingness to converse and be friendly.
  • If fellow candidates are also waiting at reception, do they greet them with warm words, even just a 'hello'? 👋
  • Do they take an interest in the company material that is casually left on the tables around them? Rather than diving straight into their phones. 

Businesses are moving beyond the interview to see what candidates are made of and the soft skills. And a great first impression is a good start.

What signs to look out for from the candidates

The interview offers you front row seats to observe the candidates face-to-face. How they communicate, dress, and present themselves are indicators of the types of people they are and their professionalism. In addition, the insight can aid your judgment of which candidate would complement the company's existing culture.

Firstly, it is important to recognize: it is okay for candidates to be nervous! Going into a new place and trying to make an excellent impression can be highly stressful. However, candidates with excellent soft skills will exhibit certain behaviours, social and physical cues, so here's what you should keep an eye on: 😰

The candidate's body language

Are your candidates sitting correctly? A simple enough thing but are they seated upright, back straight, no slouching in their chair. It looks like they want to be there instead of being called to detention. 🪑

Furthermore, how do they express themselves? Is the interviewee's facial expression positive, smiling, happy to be here with you? They gesture to explain their points, but their arms are not spiralling out of control. 🐙

Look into my eyes

Eye contact, too, is essential. Connecting with someone via their eyes shows engagement and an interest in what someone is saying. It says that I am part of the conversation and respect you enough to give you my full attention. Outstanding interpersonal skills are vital in a team environment. It is not a problem to be introverted, but attempts to connect this way are essential.

But, candidates, please avoid going too intense. No one wants a Mike Tyson death stare boring holes into their head. It's intimidating and gives off the wrong impression.

Mike Tyson Boxing GIF by SHOWTIME Sports

How the candidate communicates

According to a survey conducted among 260 employees, communication is among the top 3 most sought after skills. The ability to connect quickly with those around you, regardless of a difference in background, age or interests, and bring a natural feel to the interview are vital skills. 

In addition, creating ease in a room and building rapport with someone is underrated and are critical in a workplace. It helps teams to develop closer bonds. And especially when your business is outward-facing for their clients, being easy to talk to can have advantages in retaining and growing your customer base. 😊

Plus, can you get through a sentence without the candidate interrupting or bringing the focus back to them? I know the interview is about getting to know the candidate, but it should be a relaxed back-and-forth. And this continual focus on 'I' is hardly a display of positive communication skills. 

On the contrary, it shows a candidate who has no interest in listening to others and appreciating their input in these instances. Will they, as a consequence, be good team players?

An enthusiastic candidate

It may be unrelated to soft skills, but this is also important when assessing candidates. 

Do the candidates possess wide-eyed excitement regarding the role? Are they excited about the position, inquisitive, curious to learn about the minute details, not just about the role but the organization at large and the culture they may end up joining? They show you that they want the position and are not ambivalent. Keenness is not a bad thing! ✨

How to question your candidates effectively.

With the right questions, you can acquire a better insight into the candidate and what they can bring to the table. And with a focus on different types of questioning, you can get a better grasp of their soft skills. 📖

What type of questions to use

The Office Questions GIF

Behavioural and situational questions

'Where have you shown' and 'How would you deal with'. These types of questions highlight how the candidate has dealt with different situations.

Moreover, another question could be, "What was it like to work with someone difficult to get along with? How did you handle this interaction?" 

Of course, you are not going to get along with everyone in the workplace. So, it is interesting to learn how your candidate handled and diffused the situation. Their answer can show a candidate capable of adapting and who uses excellent communication skills to turn a bad situation into a win. 👍

Focus on the candidate's past

Orient your questions to allow candidates to speak about their past experiences. The candidates may follow the STAR approach (Situation-Task-Action-Result). You can assess their answers featuring specific examples to see if they reference the skills you seek in a future hire. 🏺

How do you see yourself?

Discuss with the candidates how they perceive themselves. 

  • What skills do they feel they have? 
  • How would they rank their soft skills, and why? 
  • Why are they more potent in a particular area than in another?

The answers they give should give you a clear indication of their strengths and weaknesses. And if the strengths match with what you need in the workplace.

A tour around the office

Bring your candidates out into the wild and beyond the air-conditioned blandness of the meeting room. See how they mingle with those who could be their future colleagues. 🎫

The candidate who walks around with their hands in their pockets, eyes down and silent, may not be the personality you are after. But, if your applicant is inquisitive, polite, and able to maintain the conversation, that's a good start.

During this walk around the office, you could also 'stage' interactions with fellow employees. How does your candidate interact? Are they able to build quick rapport with others showing respect and politeness? The candidate with superb interpersonal skills, and friendly nature, maybe the type of individual you want around the office. 🚶

The candidate into the deep end 🌊

Ultimately, the best way to test a candidate and assess their soft skills is to place them in a natural working environment. By putting the candidate in a role tryout, you can see several things. 

Firstly, can they do the job? It can give the candidate a realistic job preview. And you can learn if the candidate's hard skills bring value to the existing team.

In addition, you can observe how they embrace the challenge. Does the candidate come equipped with a can-do attitude, eager to learn and put their skills to the test? As well as their working style and ability to work under pressure, can they deal with the tasks effectively? 💪

And perhaps most importantly, how do they manage as an individual within this team. Is there potential for a great working relationship with the other team members? Are the candidates able to collaborate easily with others, with minimal ego and a willingness to listen and work together? How the candidate works as part of the team is crucial, and a successful hire must do this.

High Five Will Smith GIF

By doing this, recruiters will be able to further assess their candidate's soft skills alongside giving your teams the ability to offer their insight into the applicants. After all, this individual may end up working with them, so it should be someone they like and know.

Soft skills in the workplace

Some roles may require candidates with more soft skills than others. However, with Deloitte believing soft-skills intensive occupations will account for two-thirds of all jobs by 2030, it is good to be prepared. And so, factoring in your recruitment process ways to test both the candidate's hard and soft skill set is tantamount to success.

For businesses, identifying soft skills should be a crucial part of your recruitment process. Employees with soft skills will help to strengthen your teams and the organization, improving performance and revenue. So, finding these great candidates and filling your teams with the right skills will help your business evolve as the way we work changes.

So, to best assess your candidate's soft skills, businesses should try to:

  • The interview begins when the candidate arrives; watch out for their behaviour and interaction with others.
  • The physical and social signs that highlight a candidate with excellent soft skills
  • Consider the types of questions they should use in the interview to better grasp who the candidate is, their experience and their soft skill capabilities.
  • How does the candidate engage with others when around the office?
  • How a trial run can show you what the candidate can do. Putting them in a work situation can put both their soft and hard skills to the test and how they work as part of a team.
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