An employee’s soft skills can make or break the job performance. Technical or “hard” skills are certainly important, but soft skills—those personal characteristics like agreeableness, ability to influence, likeability, and ability to resolve conflict—will determine whether the employee is able to enlist the necessary cooperation and buy in from peers, subordinates, superiors, and even clients and vendors, to do the job well.
So, how can you identify a candidate’s soft skills? It’s an unfortunate truth that someone with poor or underdeveloped soft skills can nonetheless harness enough superficial charm to convince a hiring manager he possesses these attributes in spades. In these cases, the manager might not see the truth until it’s too late.
According to a recent article on U.S. News and World Report, all employers want workers who are:
I’d add that employers want workers with good communication skills, the ability to work well in a team, good problem-solving skills, good time management and planning skills, the ability to take criticism, and a strong work ethic. Anyone being considered for a people (versus project) management position should also possess coaching, mentoring, and influencing skills.
When we consider that resumes are usually reviewed for technical skills, correctly discerning your candidate’s soft skills sounds nearly impossible. After all, 45-90 minutes (the length of the average job interview) is not a lot of time to gain real insight into a person’s true character.
#1. Tell me about the last time you had to learn a new task. How did you go about learning it? What, if any tools, did you employ? (learning agility, curiosity)
#2. Tell me about the last time a manager rejected one of your ideas. How did you react to his/her feedback? (intellectual humility, ability to take criticism, influencing skills)
#3. Tell me about the last time you had to stay late at work. Was that unusual for you? (work ethic, time management skills)
#4. What tools do you use to keep yourself organized? (organization and planning)
#5. I see from your resume that you were the lead on the XYZ project. Tell me about your greatest challenge as lead. (time management and planning skills, intellectual humility, learning agility, coaching skills, and work ethic)
#6. Tell me about the last project you worked on where you were made to understand you could not fail. What steps did you take to ensure success? (planning, emergent leadership)
#7. Tell me about your biggest work failure. What did you learn? (learning agility, work ethic, problem solving)
#8. Tell me about the last time you were asked to do something that violated your personal code of ethics. (work ethic, influencing skills, communication skills)
#9. Have you ever had to fire someone? Why? (leadership skills, work ethic)
#10. How do you stay on top of developments/trends in your field? (learning agility, curiosity, work ethic)
Keep in mind that as the candidate is answering the questions, you’ll get the opportunity to assess his or her communication skills and style.
It can be hard to develop good interview questions, but with practice it gets easier. Good luck!