How to Assess Candidates for Soft Skills

Two people shake hands at a job interview

One of the most frequent questions we get from hiring managers and employers is: how can I assess job candidates for soft skills?

Before we answer this question, we need to clarify what “soft skills” are. Soft skills can be defined as a combination of social intelligence, emotional intelligence, and personal attributes that help someone interact effectively and harmoniously with other people. Some examples of soft skills include verbal and written communication, leadership, and conflict resolution.

“Hard skills,” on the other hand, are defined as specific knowledge and abilities required to succeed in a role. Some examples of these skills include coding and painting. At Skillful, we refer to soft skills as “foundational skills” or “foundational competencies” in order to put more emphasis on their importance. “Hard skills” we call “occupational skills” or “occupational competencies.”

Foundational Skills and the Future of Work

Historically, employers have overlooked foundational skills. In the past, these skills were viewed as less desirable than the occupational skills a candidate could bring to a job. But as technology changes the way we work, foundational skills have become increasingly valuable to employers. A study from the University of Michigan, Harvard University, and Boston College found that soft skills training boosts productivity and retention by 12% and delivers a 250% return on investment. With employers realizing the benefits of foundational skills, it is no wonder that “In Emsi’s analysis of over 36 million job postings in 2018, skills like leadership, research, communications, writing, and problem solving are among the most in-demand human skills.”

How Traditional Employers Hire

Many employers rely on traditional hiring practices, which often do not emphasize screening for foundational skills. They also struggle to assess foundational skills, unaware that many tools exist to help with the process. Skills-based hiring practices, which focus on the skills needed to do a job, instead of proxies for skills (like degrees, years of experience, and past titles), give hiring managers a way to assess a candidate’s foundational skills. By implementing situational and behavioral questions into your candidate screening process, you can assess if a candidate has the necessary foundational skills to succeed in a particular role.

For example, you can ask a candidate to describe a time in which a conflict arose between members of a team they were managing, how they handled the situation, and what strategies they learned that could be used to resolve conflicts in their new role. Their answer will give you insight about their conflict resolution skills. The behavioral and situational questions should be framed to reveal not only how the candidate has used these skills in the past, but also how they would implement these skills in the context of your position.

Tools You Can Use to Assess Candidates for Soft Skills

Switching from traditional hiring practices to a skills-based approach is easier than you think. PAIRIN, a Skillful partner, offers an assessment that can help you determine whether or not your candidate has the soft skills needed to succeed in your specific role. Prevue is another resource that offers a pre-employment test to measure soft skills. You can also check out this LinkedIn article for a list of ways you can assess candidates’ soft skills. Our Skillful employer page also offers a variety of tools that can help you implement skills-based hiring process, including a candidate evaluation process guide.

Check out Skillful’s upcoming trainings to learn more about how to effectively implement skills-based hiring practices.

About Skillful, Skillful Colorado, Skillful Indiana, and the Skillful State Network

Skillful works with business, educators, and government—powered by technology—to help the nearly 70% of Americans without college degrees get good jobs based on the skills they have or the skills they can learn.

Skillful, a non-profit initiative of the Markle Foundation, is dedicated to enabling all Americans – particularly those without a four-year college degree – to secure good jobs in a changing economy. In partnership with Microsoft and others, Skillful is developing skills-based training and employment practices in collaboration with state governments, local employers, educators and workforce development organizations. Skillful and its partners are working to create a labor market in which skills are valued, and people can more easily access the information and education they need to keep pace with technology’s impact on work. Skillful currently operates in two states, Skillful Colorado and Skillful Indiana, bringing investment, training, tools and innovative methods to augment local workforce development efforts. It formed and facilitates the Skillful State Network, a collaboration among 20 state governors to accelerate the development and deployment of effective skills-based practices to transform their labor markets. Skillful is grateful for support provided by Walmart, and its partnerships with the states of Colorado and Indiana, Microsoft, Lumina, Purdue University and Purdue Extensions.