How to assess soft skills in recruitment

Anouk van Barneveldt

Anouk van Barneveldt

Content Marketer

Organisations often hire for hard skills and fire for soft skills, highlighting the importance of assessing soft skills in recruitment. However, 57% of hiring managers admit that screening candidates for soft skills is challenging. Learn more about how you as a recruiter can help the hiring manager in measuring a candidate’s soft skills to guarantee job success. 

Soft skills in the workplace

Soft skills are interpersonal competencies related to how you work and interact with others. Soft skills are shaped by cognitive abilities, behavioural traits, and personality traits. Some vital soft skills in the workplace include problem-solving, time management, cognitive flexibility, critical thinking, and emotional intelligence. 

Disclaimer: Soft skills are very different from hard skills. Soft skills are transferable and usually useful across industries. Hard skills are often industry-specific and can be learned. 

Why do soft skills matter in the workplace?

The most successful employees thrive because of their soft skills, because they help in understanding the business, how to work with others, and how to learn new things. Your ability to measure soft skills in recruitment and current workforce is beneficial for the following reasons: 

The benefits of measuring soft skills in the recruitment process.
  • Having strong soft skills leads to a more productive, collaborative, and healthy work environment.
  • Measuring soft skills helps identify whether someone is not only able to do the job, but can also do it well.
  • Focusing on soft skills allows you to hire for potential, not just knowledge. Identifying potential is also significant when your organisation wants to upskill and reskill employees.
  • Cognitive ability (a soft skill) contributes to learning ability, which is necessary for employees to keep growing in their roles.
  • Focusing on soft skills in hiring creates larger talent pools.

The most important soft skills in the workplace

According to the World Economic Forum (WEF), the soft skills that are most sought after by organisations are as follows:

  1. Problem-solving ability: the extent to which someone completes tasks in either a routined and systematic way, or an intuitive and spontaneous way. Managerial positions often require advanced problem-solving ability. 
  2. Analytical thinking skills: your ability to assess, segment and complex information, to understand the information and anticipate upon it. Examples for roles requiring good analytical thinking skills are Researchers and Accountants.
  3. Cognitive flexibility: how easily your brain can adapt to constantly changing environments. Salespeople usually need to adapt their sales strategies to different customers and industries, which is why this role requires cognitive flexibility. 
  4. Learning ability: your capacity and speed of learning new things and applying them. Examples of jobs that require a high degree of learning ability are Scientists and Engineers. 
  5. Creativity: the ability to come up with original ideas and solutions to a problem. Roles that require creativity are Graphic Designers and Writers. 

 

Note: Charlotte Melkert, CEO and Co-Founder of Equalture, touches upon the soft skills that are most sought after by companies, and how companies can implement competency-based hiring successfully in her book.

How to know what soft skills you need to look for?

It is important to pinpoint what soft skills you are looking for in a job candidate. You could start by identifying the specific soft skills that differentiate top performers from those who are less successful. This process involves documenting the strengths and weaknesses of your employees, and identifying the traits that overlap among top performers and those who are less successful. By doing so, you will know what soft skills to prioritise when assessing job candidates.

Example: When the majority of top performers in a sales team are very flexible, this is the soft skill that you need to look for in a job candidate. However, when both top performers and average to low performers are all very collaborative, this soft skill might not be a good indicator of performance in the sales team. Nevertheless, you could use these skills to create diversity in the team, by hiring both collaborative people and individualistic people. 

Reading tip: Key Competencies for Hiring Success in High-Volume Roles

How to assess soft skills?

Determining a candidate’s soft skills is barely possible when you only look at CVs or cover letters. CVs and cover letters could be written by Artificial Intelligence programs, such as ChatGPT. In fact, half of the job applicants use ChatGPT to generate these documents. Furthermore, CV’s and cover letters present a person’s experience, such as education or work experience, both having little correlation with future job performance. This underscores the necessity of assessing soft skills beyond CVs and cover letters. In this section, we will dive into 3 ways to measure and test candidate soft skills. 

3 ways to measure a candidate's soft skills.

Assessing soft skills through interviews

The most common and easiest way to assess candidates’ soft skills is during the interview process. During interviews, you can evaluate how candidates approach certain situations. Although, interviews are often prone to biases from the interviewer and social desirable answers of the candidate. 

Tip: If you know what you are looking for in a hire, prepare a set of the same questions to ask job candidates for a position. Specifically, open-ended and competency-based situational questions can help assess soft skills. 

Charlotte Melkert, co-founder and CEO of Equalture, shares in the passage below from her book on competency-based hiring, how you can easily leverage such questions:

  • Create a list of competencies relevant for the role
  • Mark the ‘high priority’ competencies for a role
  • Ask ChatGPT the following question: “Provide me with 5 situational questions to ask to candidates to assess the skill [competency X] for a [job] role¨.

Exercises for soft skill testing

Another popular way of assessing soft skills is through real-life scenario simulations, such as group exercises or role-playing scenarios relevant to the job position. While effective, this approach can prove costly and time-consuming when you apply it at the beginning of the hiring funnel, given the large number of candidates at this stage. 

Personality tests

Organisations often employ personality tests to assess soft skills. These tests offer insights into candidates’ personalities, which could help identify soft skills like collaboration and work ethic. 

However, traditional personality tests also have drawbacks. They have low predictive validity for job performance, are susceptible to social desirability bias, and questions and results are often interpreted differently. Learn more about the drawbacks of personality tests in this blog.

The 3 challenges in assessing soft skills

Although the previously mentioned assessments can help in measuring soft skills, three challenges need to be addressed that could affect the validity of these methods. Namely the following:

  • Different interpretations of soft skills: Every human being interprets soft skills differently. During role-plays, for example, your colleague might connect other traits with collaborativeness than you do. Consequently, companies end up advancing or rejecting candidates based on different interpretations of soft skills.
  • Difficulties for candidates to showcase competencies: Soft skills are more challenging to demonstrate than hard skills. Candidates cannot showcase all the soft skills they have in interviews, role-plays, or personality tests.
  • Lots of room for unconscious bias: When humans assess soft skills, there is always room for biases influencing hiring decisions. For example, when your first impression of a candidate is negative, there is a big chance that you might not advance this candidate in the hiring process.

Why we should measure soft skills objectively

When you hire for soft skills, it is important to gather insights objectively. This will ensure that you select the right candidate for the job, provide fair opportunities to job candidates and increase your talent pool. However, soft skills are hard to measure due to their intangible nature and human beings’ inability to measure them accurately and objectively.

How Equalture helps in measuring soft skills

One effective method with which you can objectively measure soft skills within your current team and during recruitment is by adopting game-based assessments. These assessments allow candidates to showcase their natural and unconscious behaviour and abilities. These games are based on neuroscience, focusing on the brain and its impact on individual behaviour and cognitive function. In this way, you will know which candidate possesses what skill, and you’ll be able to hire people who complement your current team composition.

Are you curious about what these games are like? Play a game yourself and find out!

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