Interviewing for Soft Skills

October 12th, 2018

Assessing a candidate’s “hard skills” during an interview can be fairly straightforward (depending on the circumstances). Since hard skills typically include demonstrable abilities or simple facts, you can always ask the candidate to demonstrate the skill or ask if they possess it. Can you speak a foreign language? Did you win this award? Are you certified in this subject area? Have you held this role before? Easy. How you weigh the candidate’s response is up to you, but by asking the question, you place the ball in their court.

By contrast, soft skills can more difficult to assess. Asking a candidate direct questions in this area won’t get you very far. For example, “Are you easy to work with?”, “Are you a team player?” and “Do you like to work hard?” are silly questions, because the answer will always be yes. Try these moves instead.

Ask for stories.

If you’re looking for leadership, ask your candidate to describe an episode in which they were required to demonstrate leadership under challenging circumstances. If you’re looking for resilience, ask the candidate to describe a time they failed at something. What happened and what did they learn? If you’re looking for teamwork, conflict resolution or negotiation skill, ask for stories that can give you a sense of these traits. As the candidate responds, read between the lines.

Consider the interview a stress test.

Never bully, intimidate or behave rudely to a candidate—that goes without saying. But keep in mind that all interviews, no matter how friendly and professional, are inherently stressful. Monitor the candidate’s response to this baseline stress. Pay attention to body language (are they twitching and sweating?) and pay attention to how the candidate bounces back from the little hiccups of the process (awkward pauses, minor disagreements, misunderstandings).

Ask questions with no wrong answers.

Questions with clear right answers (like “Are you a hard worker?”) just waste time. But when all answers are equally valid, the truth can come to the surface. Try either/or questions like these: “Are you more of an introvert or an extrovert?” “Do you prefer leadership or team roles?” “If you have to choose between turning in excellent work OR meeting a deadline, which do you usually choose?”

Share some unpopular aspects of the job.

Tell your candidate about some of the more difficult, unpleasant, tedious, disgusting, boring, frustrating or unglamorous aspects of the job they’re targeting; then observe their response. A cringe followed by a long silence can speak volumes. So can a candidate who lights up and leans forward. Cleaning grease traps, dealing with angry customers, spending lonely days on the road and working odd hours are daunting to most people. If your candidate isn’t one of them, that’s a good sign.

For more on how to choose the best candidates for your position, talk to the team at PSU.

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