Uncovering Soft Skills in the Interview

Strategies to reveal your soft skills in an interview, as
these skills are just as important as the technical skills.

Soft skills: A buzz word; one of those phrases discussed a lot, without a clear definition. Essentially soft skills are anything beyond the technical skills and ability needed to perform a job. These skills primarily fall under the categories of communication and relational skills.

Employers should understand the value of these soft skills, but it can be difficult to know how to uncover them prior to the individual coming on board. 

It is probably impossible to perfectly assess an individual’s soft skills during the interview, but there are several strategies you can use to help you find the best employee for your team. 


1. Assess your needs:

Just as the same technical skills are not required for every position, not every position requires the same type of individual. As such, it’s a good idea to take time before the interview to assess which soft skills are necessary for the position you are hiring, or are necessary for an employee to have in order to thrive on your team.

In addition, talk with your team about the role you’re looking to fill, and find out what insight they have to offer concerning the position, and the type of person who should fill it. In doing so, you are likely to get a clearer idea of which soft skills are necessary. You may not always need a team player or a leader, so defining which skills you are looking for prior to the interview will assist you in the interview process. 


2. Ask open-ended questions:

Open-ended questions do directly test some soft skills—like adaptability, and the ability to communicate effectively—but more importantly they give candidates the opportunity to reveal the skills they have or would use in particular circumstances. There are several kinds of questions that draw out soft skills.

Ask general questions about the candidate’s interests and hobbies… ‘Tell me about yourself’ is a good place to start. For team fit, common interests can be very important. But asking candidates about themselves also puts them at ease, and can give you a sense of personality and who they might be in a social environment.

You may also want to ask a more pointed, challenging question, like ‘what would you improve about yourself, professionally, and personally?’

Tell me about a time when…this type of questioning has grown in popularity as it is a good tool for drawing out an individual’s soft skills. By asking candidates to tell you about past experiences, you get an example of their soft skills in action.

This is an effective questioning method in many instances, but it can also be leading. For example, if you are looking for someone who handles conflict well and ask a candidate to tell you about a time when he or she had a conflict with a coworker, the candidate knows you are looking for a story that shows how he or she successfully resolved a conflict. In fact, the candidate is probably prepared to tell you just such a story, which is why we suggest integrating some ‘what if’ scenarios as well.

Rather than drawing from past experiences, asking candidates ‘what if’ questions asks them to envision working at your company and predict how they would respond to or handle a situation. Create a scenario you think would provoke someone’s emotions and let him or her describe how he or she would respond. You are asking the candidate to process your question in the moment, and figure out how they will respond to it.

While here too, the candidate may guess what kind of answer you’re looking for, this method of question has the advantage of uncovering talent potential. You may be interviewing someone lacking in experience in one area. But if you ask a candidate what he or she would do in such and such situation, he or she could surprise you (and a good candidate will), with the knowledgeable way he or she approaches a scenario with which he or she is less familiar.

Ask directly about soft skills. 'What is the role of soft skills for doing your job well as an IT professional?' The way a candidate answers this question can be very telling. Does he know what soft skills are? Does she think they are important? Is the answer an ‘easy out’, or does the candidate have knowledge of the soft skills possessed and how to use them? 


3. Read the candidate:

As an interviewer, you are probably used to the gut feelings you get about a candidate during an interview. Communication and rapport are very important qualifiers in finding someone who will be a good fit for your team. But some skills aren’t determined by intuition, or gut instinct. If you know how to read a candidate in an interview, you should be able to gage which soft skills he or she has, and which are missing.

If someone is a poor listener, or unable to explain or speak knowledgeably about his or her work, the project will likely crumble. Depending on whether your work environment is one that requires someone to be a self-starter or one that functions on a hierarchy of direction and assignments, you are looking for a person with a different work style and set of skills.

Here are a few things we look for when interviewing a candidate to gage soft skills:

Active listening—does the candidate repeat your questions back to you? Do they answer in a way that clearly shows they heard what you were asking?

Adaptability—How do they answer questions that are direct, but open ended? Are they able to answer questions that catch them off guard, or ask them to talk about a specific time, or unusual scenario?

Respect—does the candidate interrupt you or wait until you are done speaking before jumping in? Did the candidate make eye contact and give you a firm handshake? Do they say thank you before leaving the interview? Is he or she prepared for the interview? Was he or she on time?

Confidence—does the candidate want the job? Does he or she give a firm handshake? Do they smile?

We don’t think you should every underestimate smiling. As an interviewer, you’re going to get better responses from your candidate, and give him or her a better impression of your company if you smile.