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How to Identify and Hire for Soft Skills

What is a soft skill?

The hiring process can be challenging to navigate, particularly because finding the right candidate — not just for a specific position, but for a team and a company — can take a significant amount of time. Of course, candidates must possess a basic skill set that will allow them to fulfill all duties, perform all tasks and (ideally) contribute to a team in a meaningful way. While it is extremely important to hire for these more tangible skills and abilities, there are other qualities you should consider as you work to onboard the perfect candidate. As you evaluate your potential employees, it will be helpful to understand the difference between hard skills and soft skills.

How do we define soft skills and hard skills?

Hard skills are measurable abilities that can be taught; they are often used to describe and outline a job posting. These are tangible skills that are typically acquired through obtaining a degree or certification. Hard skills are specific, quantifiable abilities that are often task-related and include things like machine operation, excel proficiency, or specific knowledge of a program or system.

Soft skills, on the other hand, are sometimes thought of as behavioral skills and are more difficult to measure and teach. Some examples of these skills include things like leadership, time management, critical thinking and work ethic. Soft skills are more abstract than hard skills as they reflect our personality traits and indicate our social abilities.

Hiring for soft skills

While soft skills are more difficult to measure (and therefore more difficult to hire for), they are critical to assess when hiring a new employee. After all, you can train most people to perform a laborious task, or provide them with a training class or instructional seminar, but skills like problem-solving, effective communication and self-motivation are harder (if not impossible) to teach. Being able to recognize whether or not someone has strong soft skills can determine whether a candidate may be more likely to succeed longterm.

To figure out if a potential candidate possesses the desired soft skills you feel they need to be an effective employee, begin by asking some questions throughout the interview process that might help you get a better sense not just of what they can do, but of who they are (outside of their tangible skills). Here are a few examples:

  • Tell me about a time when you had to juggle several projects at the same time. How did you prioritize your time and what did you learn? (This question gives the interviewee the opportunity to showcase their organization and time management skills).
  • Can you give an example of a time you had to work with someone you were not compatible with? How did you handle your interactions? (These questions will help you identify a candidate’s ability to navigate and recognize conflict and their willingness to collaborate).
  • Talk me through your process of explaining a topic to someone who is unfamiliar or inexperienced. (In this instance, you could come up with a specific scenario for the interview, contingent upon the job. Asking this question poses an opportunity for the candidate to highlight how they communicate and empathize).

Listen to the answers provided to these questions carefully, and probe more as necessary. People generally come prepared and polished to their interviews, so it may take some deeper inquiring to gain an authentic understanding of someone’s true personality traits.

Soft skills are increasing in priority among hiring managers. According to a LinkedIn survey, “Ninety-two percent of respondents told LinkedIn that they value soft skills as much or more than hard skills upon hire.” The study also indicates that while more companies agree that soft skills are critical, they can be difficult to accurately measure.

What this tends to indicate is that employers understand the significance and need for soft skills in the workplace, even if they don’t always know exactly how to hire for them. Though finding the right blend of skills in a candidate can be time-consuming, it is worth the investment to implement a process for identifying soft skills into your staffing strategy.