How to Assess Soft Skills in the Interview

As new technology and career moves trigger constant change to the hard skills required in the workforce, interpersonal skills like communication, problem-solving and organizing are increasingly critical. Hard to develop, hard to assess and hard to find, these attributes, which are perhaps poorly named soft skills, are essential to today’s workforce. However, according to HR Today, recruiters and experts report facing a “soft skills gap,” particularly in younger workers.

What Soft Skills Should I Look For?

While some soft skills may be specific to an organization’s culture and mission, other core soft skills translate universally:

  • Communication
  • Initiative
  • Teamwork
  • Leadership
  • Adaptability
  • Critical thinking
  • Work ethic
  • Applied learning

Interviewers should consider the requirements of a given position to establish specific soft skills that may be necessary – like curiosity for a reporter, or agile learning for an engineer.

How Can I Assess Soft Skills in the Interview?

Asking the right questions equips the interviewer to establish a dialogue with the candidate, and truly evaluate soft skills. Focusing on behavioral questions helps the interviewer establish a candidate’s soft skills as she describes her behavior in a previous situation. For example, instead of asking “Are you an introvert or an extrovert?” (neither of which precludes or entails a soft skill) ask a candidate:

Describe something that challenges you when interacting with coworkers or customers. How do you deal with it?

The answer to this question reveals a candidate’s approach to interpersonal conflict, communication and flexibility.

Other questions designed to spur conversation and help the interviewer assess soft skills include:

  • Tell me about a time when you had a significant problem at work. How did you handle it? What was the result?
  • Tell me about a time when you had multiple projects with competing deadlines. What did you do?
  • Describe a very difficult person you’ve had to work with. How did you handle working with them?
  • Tell me about a time when you had to provide bad news to a customer – or internal stakeholder. How did you handle it? What was the outcome?
  • What would you do if your team disagreed with your planned approach to a project?
  • Tell me about a time you faced an ethical dilemma, and how you approached it?

Reframing an interview as a conversation positions the interviewer to assess soft skills in the interview, instead of being surprised by a highly skilled worker with a soft-skills deficit during the onboarding process.

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