The Best Way to Assess Soft Skills

Author: Samantha McLaren Source: LinkedIn Talent Blog

Eight in 10 talent professionals say soft skills (like creativity, collaboration, and adaptability) are increasingly important to their company’s success. And, 92% say these skills matter as much or more than hard skills.

This data comes from LinkedIn’s annual Global Talent Trends 2019 report, which identified soft skills as the biggest trend transforming the talent landscape this year. As automation and artificial intelligence continue to reshape the modern workplace, these hard-to-replicate skills are only going to grow in demand.

The report also found that the number one way companies assess soft skills is by using behavioral questions, with 75% of talent acquisition professionals reporting that their company currently uses this method.

But while behavioral questions about previous events can be useful, they do have limitations. By nature, they’re more about recalling the past than demonstrating skills in real time. That’s why John Vlastelica, founder of talent acquisition-focused consulting and training firm Recruiting Toolbox, who’s team has trained thousands of hiring managers and interviewers around the world, often prefers using situational questions —a hybrid between demonstration and problem-solving questions.

“While the past can predict the future, the present can also help predict the future,” says John. “As an alternative to ‘tell me about a time you collaborated with a teammate,’ why not try sitting next to the candidate in the interview and collaborating on something. See if they can receive and incorporate feedback without getting defensive, see if they naturally engage you when working through a problem, see if they ask for help.”

Don’t get stuck in the past. Here are steps to asking effective situational questions that will help you suss out candidates’ soft skills.

Step 1: Ask the candidate to solve a problem using their hard skills

The first step to assessing a candidate’s soft skills might sound contradictory: ask them to demonstrate their hard skills.

John recommends creating a realistic challenge based on the kind of work the role requires. It should be achievable using the candidate’s relevant technical skills—not a baffling brain teaser that will never come up on the job—and it should have an open-ended solution.

“I think the kind of challenge you’d want to give them doesn’t just have one approach or solution,” John says. “It’s not like multiplication, where there is only one correct answer.”

Let’s say you’re hiring for a senior marketing role. You might ask your candidate to sketch out a 90-day plan for a new product launching in Germany, then watch them as they work.

“Say, here’s the set of assumptions you can start with,” John explains. “The candidate builds out the plan—this is maybe at the whiteboard, on a piece of paper, on a computer—and then they’re showing it to you and they are walking you through it.”

This shows you whether the candidate has some of the essential hard skills needed to do the job. You might be able to pick up on a few soft skills here, too—but it’s only once you add a few surprises into the mix that these really come into sharp focus.

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