Soft Skills in Hiring: Here’s How to Assess Them

When looking for new employees, we all look for those people that are the most qualified. Okay, so that’s the part of the recruitment game that is clear to everyone. But what we’ve also noticed over time, especially when it comes to SMBs, that there is an increased demand for finding candidates with the right soft skills.

In fact, around 93% (yes, you read that right) of employers consider these skills as an essential factor when it comes to hiring decisions.

Here’s where the sad part of the story is about to kick in – unlike qualifications, education and hard skills, soft skills are incredibly hard to assess & measure. You cannot really take a look at someone’s CV and immediately know whether this person is a great problem-solver while simultaneously being a great listener, right? 

Well, the good news is that you’re not alone. 

Approximately, 60% of hiring managers admit that screening candidates for soft skills is a challenge

Yet, it doesn’t have to be this way.

After reading this blog, you will know:

Soft skills: A definition

What are soft skills?

Also referred to as interpersonal skills, which consist of cognitive abilities, behavioral and personality traits. These include aspects related to one’s character, ability to work with others, communication skills, and any other skills, such as emotional intelligence, that are not always easily taught.

Some of the key soft skills include:

  • Problem-solving
  • Time management
  • Cognitive flexibility
  • Critical thinking
  • Emotional intelligence

For example, problem-solving is a cognitive trait.  Good problem-solving allows us to independently take decisions and to be self-reliant at work. 

Especially in positions that involve frequent decision making or in which we often get confronted with complex business issues, this is an important skill.

The 3 most important soft skills

Especially in a remote setting, soft skills can make or break one’s success at their job. Flexibility and being structured, collaboration & teamwork, and problem-solving in the top 25 soft skills needed to succeed. 

So, let’s take a look at what these skills entail and why they are important.

Flexibility vs. being structured

Being flexible helps you adapt to change more easily, which is beneficial in a fast-changing environment, but also makes you easily change your plan, which is not always helpful. 

On the other side of the spectrum, being structured helps you to thrive in routine and helps in successfully executing a plan, but at the same time it will also make it more difficult to work in an environment that changes often or is uncertain.

Workplace interaction

Being collaborative will allow you to work better with your team members, but it also might result in slower processes and less independent decision-making. 

Being individualistic, in contrast to that, allows you to make decisions independently and work more efficiently, but also makes it more difficult to ask for help and feedback.

Problem-solving style: systematic vs. intuitive

Being more systematic allows you to better understand and define a problem, before trying to solve it, which usually turns out in fewer errors, but it also takes longer. 

Being more intuitive, in contrast to that, allows you to take action fast, but it also increases the likelihood of making mistakes.

Soft skills vs. Hard skills

What are hard skills?

Hard skills are much easier to quantify and measure. These skills concern more job related and technical skills, such as coding language knowledge (think Python or Elyxir),  technical SEO skills,  language skills, designer skills (knowledge of Adobe programs, for example), accounting knowledge, and so on.

The difference between hard vs. soft skills

Here are some main differences between hard and soft skills:

Hard SkillsSoft Skills
Industry-specificUseful across all industries
Learned through training, education etc.Natural abilities
Technical knowledgeRelated to emotional intelligence

The importance of soft skills in the workplace

The problem here is that we tend to focus on hard skills only – a developer’s programming language, an analyst’s financial forecasting skills, etc. And that not only does this heavily impact the size of your talent pool, but it also often leads to bad hires. Think about it: We hire people based on experience, but we fire them on behaviour. 

That’s soft skills vs. hard skills.

The thing is, if you’re only hiring people based on specific hard skills and experience, you will end up making a big mistake – you will miss out on important job future performance predictors. That is exactly why you need to begin hiring for soft skills and less for hard skills & experience.

Benefits of measuring soft skills

5 benefits of measuring soft skills

Here are the main reasons why measuring soft skills matters:

  • Having strong soft skills will lead to a more productive, collaborative and healthy work environment.
  • Identifying soft skills will help you hire candidates that are not only able to do the job, but can also do it well.
  • On top of that, it will allow you to hire for potential not just knowledge.
  • Cognitive ability (soft skill) contributes to learning ability, which is something you need to keep growing in your role.
  • Lastly, a soft skill focus when in a hiring setting will enlarge your talent pool!

Why measure the soft skills of current employees

By analyzing existing skill gaps within your current teams or organization as a whole, you will be able to gather insightful information about the strengths and weaknesses of your employees in terms of their soft skills. And on top of that – you’ll also be able to identify what are the traits of your top-performing employees.

Now, why exactly is this important? 

Here are 3 reasons:

  • 70% of employers who are actively hiring report a skills shortage
  • 46% of surveyed companies expect to reskill more than one-fifth of their workforce
  • 54% of employees will require reskilling or upskilling by 2022

If a team, for instance, your Sales team, consists of 10 people or more, you could separate top-performing team members from less-performing team members to analyze what distinguishes them – and therefore, which skills/personality traits are predictive of top-performance.

Why measure the soft skills of candidates

Long story short – the more you know about the soft skills in your current workforce, the better hiring decisions you will be able to make in the future. Because for once, instead of blindly guessing what you need (or hiring copy-cats of your current top-performers), you will actually have enough information to back up your hiring decisions with.

After all – once you know what skills your current employees are lacking, you can begin looking for candidates that already master those skills. 

How to assess & measure soft skills

But how can you determine a candidate’s soft skills by only looking at their resume or motivational letter? You simply cannot. So here are 3 ways you can assess the soft skills of candidates!

3 ways to measure and test candidates soft skills

Assessing soft skills through interviews

Probably one the most common ways to assess candidates’ soft skills is during the interview process as it is a good chance for evaluating how different candidates approach challenging situations. 

Why? Because it’s often the first time you’ll get face-to-face with the candidate (whether it be virtually or in person).

Important! 

If you know what you are looking for in potential hires before you start the interview process, it will be easier for you to prepare a set of the same questions to ask candidates you are interviewing for said position.

For example, if you want to assess what is someone’s problem solving style and abilities,  we’ve prepared a list of 10 questions that can help you do this.

Exercise-based soft skill testing

Another quite popular way of assessing a candidates soft skills is through real-life scenario simulations. This can be done either through group exercises or role-playing out certain scenarios that are relevant to the job position.

This type of screening method used to assess soft skills, however, can prove to be time consuming and in most cases employers choose to imply this method later on in the recruitment process. So, when they are already more convinced about the suitability of a candidate for said role. 

And that makes absolute sense because time indeed is money especially when it comes to recruitment. Otherwise – imagine how much time consuming it would be if you were to do exercise-based soft skill screening with every applicant at the very beginning of the recruitment process..

Assessing soft skills through personality tests

Now another method of assessing soft skils is by using personality tests. 

Personalities also matter a lot when it comes to hiring new employees to join your company. In fact, more and more companies consider candidates’ personalities as early as the very first step of the hiring process (so during initial candidate screening). 

Additionally, we tend to assume that personality tests help us get to know a person in a short amount of time, even without being in direct touch with them. This way giving us the necessary insights to determine what soft skills necessary for a job they already possess. So, whether they are collaborative, open-minded, have a great work ethic and so on.

However, not all that glitters is golden.

Personality tests might be fascinating to use as you can know people who you first get in touch with within a very short period of time (well, the duration of the test to be precise). 

However, you should be cautious when using them in the pre-employment screening process, considering their drawbacks – low validity in predicting future job performance, generalized scores due to social desirability, phrasing in questions and statements, and ways of presenting results.

The 3 challenges when it comes to assessing soft skills

3 challenges when it comes to assessing soft skills

Lack of knowledge

There is a common misconception that soft skills are something that you either have or don’t have. As a result of this lack of knowledge surrounding soft skills, many companies just don’t really know how to assess soft skills and thus end up advancing (or rejecting) candidates based on their subjective assumptions.

Difficulties for candidates to showcase competency

On top of that, what we also hear quite often is that showcasing soft skill competencies for candidates is not as easy as it might initially seem. After all – soft skills are not as easy to demonstrate as hard skills. 

Think of the traditional CV – how can one showcase their communication skills or problem solving abilities within a CV? It’s simply impossible. And it’s sort of similar when it comes to traditional interviews – lots of risk for social desirability to creep, thus leading to less accurate perception of who the candidate actually is as a person. Perhaps they were just extremely nervous during the interview and that’s why their communication skills did not come across as well as they would have in an actual real life situation.

Lots of room for unconscious bias

Whether it’s conscious or unconscious, when we actually screen the candidates for something so intangible such as soft skills, our very own biases can still influence the hiring decisions we make. 

Let’s imagine a situation where you think you have found the perfect candidate. They’re likable, friendly, with an amazing educational background and work experiences, and they seem like the most sociable person ever. So, based on your first impression and gut feeling – you hire them. It takes one-tenth of a second to make a wrong judgment about someone, and thus, it comes as no surprise that first impressions can be misleading. 

We often tend to hire people based on what we can see, while a person’s fit depends on what we can’t see. Think about it this way, can you determine someone’s fit for the job, or their soft skills and talent right away just by looking at their resume or motivational letter? Or simply by having a chat with them once? Even if your answer to this question is yes, let me remind you that often these judgments are influenced by your very own bias. 

The danger of not measuring soft skills objectively

If you want to start hiring for soft skills, it is crucial to first collect insights about these skills in an objective way. However, accurately assessing these skills may get tricky since they are intangible and have no one clear definition. So you can imagine the dangers that can arise when you start assessing something that is intangible. 

Many traditional approaches like personality questionnaires provide results that are too subjective to be considered useful. If (soft) skills are not measured objectively, we begin hiring people based on what our own assumptions about their skills are. Sadly, these assumptions are heavily influenced by our own unconscious bias.

Use Case: How Equalture helps you measure Soft skills

Measuring soft skills objectively does not have to be hard. One way to objectively assess and measure soft skills when looking at your current team composition and assessing candidates is by using game-based assessments.  Game-based assessments allow both your current employees and candidates to show their natural, unconscious behaviour and abilities.

These games are based on neuroscience, focusing on the brain and its impact on individual behavior and cognitive function. By objectively measuring soft skills you will no longer be hiring people based on your own assumptions. Instead, you will know which candidate possesses what skill and this way you’ll be able to hire people who complement your current team composition.

After all –  in order to scale, you must think long-term and make informed hiring decisions. Hiring decisions that are based on facts and science instead of gut feeling.

Curious about what these games are like? Play a game yourself and find out! 

ferry game

Cheers, Anete.

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