Most job openings today will generate many candidates.  Fortunately, Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) can assist in the screening process by identifying candidates that most closely match the required skills and experience needed for the role.  ATS can be extremely beneficial to employers as it saves time by narrowing the field of qualified candidates.

So, why then, is the hiring decision still so difficult?  While technical skills and previous experience are easily quantified, the challenge comes into play as one assesses the intangibles – the soft skills.  As strong as the ATS may be, it cannot evaluate how well the candidate resolves conflict, make decisions, deals with ambiguity or influences others – to name a few.  These are the soft-skills that are not easily documented or evaluated through traditional screening.  Evaluating these skills requires a deliberate process and dare I say, human intervention. Some suggestions for assessing candidates’ soft skills are:

  1. Decide What’s Critical for the Role: The key is to choose the top 5-7 for your role. Coming up with a list of soft-skills is easy. Coming up with the right list is another story.  All too often, managers mistakenly recruit for skills they’ve been told are important without evaluating how it relates to the current role.  Creative thinking is a valuable skill. So is risk-taking, however, it is likely that neither are the primary success factors for a compliance officer.  Similarly, research and analytical skills may be lower on the list for successful sales people.  There are many important soft skills to choose from – each with their own merit.  One way to determine the critical factors for each role is to look at the high performers and identify what differentiates them from their peers.
  2. Identify a Profile and Cast a Wide Net: When searching for specific soft-skills, it is important to cast a wide net.  Sure, those with a similar experience profile may have all the needed skills.  However, don’t limit the search to only candidates with the same experience profile.  You may find that those with a different career path have also developed the needed skills. For example, strong sales people may come from a variety of backgrounds such as independent consulting, or small business ownership where they gained experience marketing their product, building relationships with customers and overcoming resistance.  Knowing what profiles share similar skills requirements allows you to broaden your search, and strengthen the candidate pool.
  3. Create Behavioral Questions: Prepare, Prepare, Prepare! The interview is the best opportunity to assess the candidate’s soft skills, but it requires preparation on the part of the interviewer.  You should craft 1-2 questions for each of the identified soft skills. The intent is to ask for real-life examples where they’ve demonstrated the skills.  These questions typically begin with phrases such as “Tell me about a time when…”,  “Describe a situation in which…” or “Give me an example of…”.   Real life examples require the candidate to reflect on his or her behavior in a specific circumstance.  It will provide you greater insight then the well-rehearsed response you might get if you simply ask them to describe their skills in a given area.
  4. Look for Clues: Finally, look for clues from the candidate.  Hidden throughout their resume and the interview, you will find clues that shed light on the true person.  Most resumes, cover letters, and LinkedIn profiles include a summary statement.  These summary statements represent their personal brand.  What they’ve chosen to include will provide insight into their values and give you a glimpse into how they view themselves.  Additionally, pay attention to their body language and choice of words during the interview.  If they grimace when discussing their former employer, or break eye contact when explaining their reason for leaving, take notice. Remember, it’s not always what they say, but how they say it that can be the most telling piece of information.
  5. Check References: Now that you’ve identified the critical skills, ask the references to rank the candidate on a scale of 1-10.  For any response, lower than a 10, ask them what it would take to get them to a 10. Use this information to validate the information you gathered during the interview process.

Final Note:

Incorporating a methodical approach to the assessment of soft-skills will yield better results in the selection process. Not only will it ensure you get the best candidate for the role; it will highlight the key areas of focus during the onboarding stage to ensure a successful transition into the role.