Essential soft skills for work include empathy, communication, adaptability, critical thinking, problem-solving, and teamwork.
A recent report from the International Association of Administrative Professionals shows that 67% of HR managers say they would hire a candidate with strong soft skills even if their hard skills are lacking.
But how can you identify and measure soft skills throughout an interview?
At Mogul, we work with the Fortune 1000 and some of the fastest-growing startups to help hire top, diverse talent through our Talent Acquisition Platform, Diversified Search, and board placement services.
Our methodology has allowed us to find top leaders with exceptional soft skills in record time. Here’s how we do it and how you can too.
Use Behavioral Interviewing
Behavioral interview questions are often considered the most effective way to uncover the person behind the resume.
Behavioral interview questions are generally formatted in this way:
- Ask your candidate about a situation they encountered
- Have them describe what actions they took in response
- Make sure they tell you what the results of their actions were
- Ask what they might do differently in the future
The thought process is that past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior – and, therefore future success.
Here is our shortlist of some of our favorite behavioral questions we ask while working on behalf of our diversified search clients:
- Share a conflict you had with an employee and how was it resolved.
- Share a mistake you made and how you handled feedback.
- Can you describe a time when you had to manage your team through a difficult or uncertain situation?
- How do you approach circumstances when an employee or multiple employees disagree with one of your decisions?
- How do you decide what tasks to prioritize when you have multiple deadlines to meet?
- Thinking back through your career, can you share the most significant problem you solved in the workplace?
Behavioral interview questions aim to avoid yes or no questions and get your candidate focused on self-reflection, openness, and honesty.
Level Up Your Observation
The key here is to watch for verbal and non-verbal cues:
- Do they make eye contact with their camera (i.e., you), or does the gaze shift to other places on their screen as if they're referring to canned answers?
- Are they organized, or do they come across as unprepared?
- Do they allow space for the conversation, or do they interrupt out of nervousness?
- Do they provide direct specific answers, or are they evasive?
It's often not what they say but how. Words matter, and tone matters. The candidates with developed soft skills understand this.
But observing your candidate doesn't start with the first interview.
Take a look at their resume and cover letter. Look for writing that is clear and concise. They don't have to be an undercover novelist, but brevity shows self-awareness and expertise.
Check if the candidate frames their sentences positively rather than negatively. Positive framing shows they have developed soft skills, whereas negative frames highlight otherwise.
There's some well-established brain science behind the importance of positive framing (stay tuned for a future article).
The power of a good question
Identifying candidate soft skills is all about what questions you ask. Leave your questions open-ended so that the candidate has the space to expand on their thought process.
Looking to target a particular soft skill? Ask about a situation (theoretical or not) where that skill is needed. You’ll get much better answers than asking outright, “Tell me about your teamwork skills”.
You want candidates who answer honestly. If they bring up a time they failed or had a weakness, they should follow up with what they learned. That learning and awareness is the soft skill.
You’re looking to create a team comprised of skill sets that complement one another and play off each other's strengths. Remember: look for culture add, not just culture fit.