How to Assess Soft Skills During the Job Interview
There's hardly any avenue that would be as unpredictable, unquantifiable, and unstructured as a job interview. And you can't blame employers for that. After all, an interview is an opportunity to not only gauge whether a candidate would be fit for the position but to understand how their personality and skills would align with those of the organisation's culture.
But, of course, recruiters have a certain set of criteria that helps them decide whether the person would be an apt fit. For example, Liz Cannata , VP of HR for CareerBuilder says that "Companies have a lot to gain by treating soft skills as they would any technical skill."
LinkedIn career expert Andrew McCaskill echoes this sentiment when he says that "the ability to adapt and engage equitably, not just with the people that you have a great rapport with, but the people you might not see everyday, is a really important skill to have for any job."
What does this mean? There's a certain structure, albeit vague as some would argue, that employers can follow for assessing soft skills during the job interview.
Following this structure is even more critical today now that ChatGPT is making it hard for recruiters to filter out candidates before the interview. Adam Nicoll of Randstad says, "The language generated by ChatGPT reads clean, if formulaic. Compared to most cover letter writing, there are no idiosyncrasies; there are no red flags, but no personality."
So, the only saving grace (so to say) for recruiters is accurately assessing the soft skills of the candidates during the job interview. How to do that? Let's discuss.
First Off, What Exactly Are Soft Skills?
Soft skills are a set of interpersonal and communication abilities that enable individuals to interact effectively and harmoniously with others in various personal and professional situations.
Unlike hard skills, which are specifically technical or pertain to job-related abilities, soft skills are more about how people interact, communicate, and collaborate with one another.
These skills are typically intangible and difficult to measure quantitatively, but they play a crucial role in personal and professional success.
Here are some examples of important soft skills:
Communication: Skill in effectively expressing ideas, information, and emotions through both speaking and writing.
Emotional Intelligence: The ability to understand, manage, and empathise with one's own and others' emotions — using them appropriately in social situations is critical.
Adaptability: Flexibility and openness to change; this means that the person should be adept at handling new challenges and situations.
Problem-solving: Skill in creatively and efficiently identifying, analysing, and resolving issues.
Time Management: Ability to organise tasks, set priorities, and meet goals and deadlines effectively.
Leadership: Capability to inspire, guide, and support others — providing direction and motivation.
Resilience: The ability to adapt, bounce back, and recover from setbacks, challenges, or adversity.
Stress Management: The practice of effectively handling and reducing stress to maintain emotional and physical well-being.
Why Are These Soft Skills Crucial?
"Soft skills are taken for granted — they are mostly intangible...Paradoxically it's also soft skills that are the most valuable and transferable," writes Binod Shankar in his book Let's Get Real: 42 Tips for the Stuck Manager
Here's a rundown of the importance of soft skills:
Enhanced Workplace Efficiency
Strong soft skills contribute to better teamwork, communication, and collaboration. This leads to increased productivity and efficiency within organisations.
Soft skills are essential for building strong relationships with colleagues, clients, and customers. No doubt, effective communication can prevent misunderstandings and conflicts, fostering a positive work environment.
Leadership and Management
Effective leaders possess strong soft skills. And this enables them to motivate and guide their teams towards success.
Adaptability to Change
In a rapidly changing world (especially the one being challenged by generative AI), individuals with strong soft skills are better equipped to adapt and thrive in new environments and industries.
Soft skills are crucial in customer-facing roles, as they help create a positive customer experience and foster loyalty.
So, Can Soft Skills Be Assessed During a Job Interview?
Again, soft skills can be just as important to hiring managers as hard skills, such as technical qualifications, education, and experience. However, it can prove hard to assess them during the job interview since their definition is somewhat vague and, unlike hard skills, they can hardly be measured.
Moreover, there is a natural human inclination to feel more comfortable and positively disposed towards individuals who share similar traits, characteristics, and behaviours to our own. This can manifest in various ways during the interview, such as unconsciously favouring candidates who have similar personalities or backgrounds to the interviewer.
Subjectivity in evaluating soft skills can be problematic for companies due to various reasons:
Bias in Selection
Interviewers may unintentionally overlook candidates with diverse perspectives, which can limit creativity, innovation, and the ability to cater to a broader customer base.
Exceptional candidates with unique soft skills might be underrated if they don't align closely with the interviewer's preferences. This results in the loss of potential top performers and their valuable contributions.
Limited Team Dynamics
Building a team solely based on similarities to the interviewer's soft skills can lead to a lack of complementary abilities. A well-rounded team benefits from diverse soft skills that can support each other and handle a broader range of tasks.
Relying on subjective assessments may perpetuate the existing organisational culture, hindering adaptation to changing market demands and societal trends.
So, How Can We Make This Easy?
To address the difficulties in the evaluation and challenges posed by subjective soft skill evaluations in the hiring process, organisations can adopt several strategies to ensure a more comprehensive and objective assessment of candidates.
Structured Behavioural & Situational Interviews
Implementing structured behavioural interviews involves asking candidates specific questions about past experiences and how they handled various situations. These questions are designed to assess the candidate's soft skills, such as communication, problem-solving, adaptability, and teamwork.
Having a standardised set of questions ensures that all candidates are evaluated on the same criteria, promoting fairness and consistency.
Here are a few examples of such questions to assess different skills — let's keep this limited to the skills we discussed above for the purpose of brevity.
"You receive an email with unclear instructions from a colleague. How would you respond to seek clarification and avoid misunderstandings?"
"Tell me about a time when you successfully managed a challenging situation where emotions were running high among team members."
"If a team member disagrees with your approach to a task, how would you handle the situation and encourage constructive discussion?"
"Share an instance where you had to adapt quickly to a change in a project's scope or requirements. How did you ensure the project's success?"
"You discover a critical error in a report just before the deadline. How would you handle the situation to correct the mistake efficiently?"
"You have multiple tasks assigned with overlapping deadlines. How would you prioritise and manage your time effectively to complete all tasks on time?"
"How would you handle a situation where a team member is struggling with their tasks? How would you provide guidance and support?"
"Tell me about a time when you successfully resolved a conflict between team members. What steps did you take to find a satisfactory resolution?"
"Tell me about a time when you faced a significant setback or challenge at work. How did you cope with the situation and bounce back?"
Some Other Such Measures
Apart from traditional interviews, organisations can incorporate skill-based assessments that allow candidates to demonstrate their soft skills in practical scenarios.
For instance, candidates can be asked to participate in group exercises, role-playing, or simulations that simulate real-world workplace challenges.
Involvement of Multiple Interviewers
The inclusion of multiple interviewers in the hiring process can provide a more comprehensive view of a candidate's soft skills. Each interviewer may focus on different aspects, ensuring that a wider range of soft skills is assessed.
Additionally, different interviewers can cross-validate their observations — thus, reducing the impact of individual biases and increasing the overall accuracy of the assessment.
Training to Recognise Unconscious Biases
Providing training to interviewers about unconscious biases can help them become more aware of their potential prejudices and preferences. They can learn techniques to minimise the influence of bias during evaluations, leading to fairer and more objective assessments.
Awareness of bias also encourages interviewers to focus solely on the candidate's demonstrated soft skills rather than personal likeness.
Diversity and Inclusion Initiatives
Organisations can foster diversity and inclusion to create a more equitable hiring process. By actively seeking candidates from diverse backgrounds and experiences, the company can enrich its talent pool with individuals possessing a broad range of soft skills.
This entails emphasising the value of diverse perspectives, which can lead to a more dynamic and innovative workforce.
Finally, How to Rate Candidates' Answers?
Assessing and rating the answers given by different candidates for the interview questions requires a structured and objective approach. Here are some ways to evaluate their responses:
Create a scoring rubric with specific criteria and rating scales for each question. This allows interviewers to evaluate candidates consistently and objectively based on predetermined metrics.
For behavioural questions, have anchor answers that exemplify different levels of competency. These anchor answers can serve as benchmarks for evaluating candidates' responses and assigning appropriate scores.
Rate candidates' responses based on the demonstrated competency levels relevant to the specific skill being assessed (e.g., communication, problem-solving, leadership). Assign scores for each competency independently.
For behavioural questions, use the STAR (Situation, Task, Action, Result) method to structure the evaluation. Assess candidates on the clarity and relevance of their responses for each component.
In addition to numerical ratings, provide written comments or feedback on each candidate's performance. This allows for a more comprehensive evaluation and can help in decision-making.
Consistency Across Interviewers
If multiple interviewers are involved in the evaluation process, ensure calibration and consistency in scoring by discussing the scoring rubric beforehand and comparing impressions after the interview.
When assessing problem-solving or leadership skills, consider how candidates quantify their achievements or the impact of their actions on projects or teams.
After conducting all interviews, have a post-interview discussion among interviewers to share impressions, compare notes, and finalise ratings.
After evaluating all candidates, create an objective ranking based on their scores and overall performance to facilitate decision-making in the selection process.
So, there you have it! Remember, there's no one magic technique that will guarantee success in the hiring process. Still, incorporating some of these measures and techniques can help you hire the right talent.