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10 Great Interview Questions to Identify Candidates’ Soft Skills

February 25, 2020

By: Wendy Sheaffer

An employee’s soft skills can make or break their job performance, especially in leadership positions. Technical or “hard” skills are certainly important, but having good soft skills—those personal characteristics like agreeableness, empathy, the ability to influence and listen, likeability, and the ability to resolve conflict—will determine whether an employee can enlist the necessary cooperation and buy-in from peers, subordinates, superiors, and even clients and vendors, to do their job well.

Identifying Key Soft Skills in the Hiring Process

So, how can you identify a candidate’s soft communication skills? Unfortunately, someone with poor or underdeveloped soft skills can harness enough superficial charm to convince a hiring manager they possess these attributes in spades. But being able to put on an act in a short interview isn’t the same as using soft skills in the workplace. In these cases, the manager might not see the truth until it’s too late.

According to Forbes, these are a few of the key soft skills all employers want workers to possess:

  • Empathy
  • Ability to influence peers
  • Curiosity and Positivity
  • Humility

Apart from the right experience and qualifications, employers want workers with good soft 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.

Asking the Right Soft Skill Interview Questions

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. 

Here then, are ten soft skills interview questions to help you make the most of your time (and the candidate’s) and focus on key soft skills in the workplace.

1. Tell me about the last time you had to learn a new task. How did you go about learning it and what, if any, tools did you employ?

This question will provide some insight into the candidate’s learning agility and sense of curiosity. It may also reveal their preferred learning style and resourcefulness when seeking assistance from others.

2. Tell me about the last time a manager rejected one of your ideas. How did you react to his/her feedback? 

Rejection is often an exercise in humility. Listen carefully for signs of resentment or hostility when they recount having their ideas shot down or criticized. It’s also important to see how they handle the aftermath of this situation. Did they become sullen and critical, or did they buy-in and contribute to a positive outcome?

3. Tell me about the last time you had to stay late at work. Was that unusual for you? 

While this may seem like a straightforward question about work ethic (and it is), it also offers a glimpse of the candidate’s time management skills. Are they constantly working late to go above and beyond expectations, or do they need to put extra work to meet them?

4. What tools do you use to keep yourself organized? 

There is no excuse for disorganization in today’s era of time management tools and applications. Leadership candidates need to know how they keep themselves on track because those habits will often trickle down to the rest of their team.

5. I see from your resume that you were the lead on the XYZ project. What was your greatest challenge as a leader? 

This question looks at time management and planning skills and provides insight into the interviewee’s emotional intelligence, learning agility, coaching skills, and ability to build consensus and manage conflict.

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? 

As they emerge, handling problems is one thing, but laying out a strategic and visionary plan for success from the start is quite another. This question forces candidates to consider whether they have the ability to translate big picture goals into short-term objectives and get their team on-board with a “can’t fail” agenda.

7. Tell me about your biggest work failure. What did you learn? 

The most successful leaders are always learning. Resilience is among the key soft skills that organizations want leaders to trickle down into their teams. Finding out how people respond to setbacks is a good indication of whether or not they will bounce back from disappointments and frustrations in the future.

8. Tell me about the last time you were asked to do something that violated your personal code of ethics. 

Integrity matters in any organization. Will the candidate go along with the crowd when asked to cross a line, or will they take a stand and make the case for doing the right thing? While the latter type of employee may spark the occasional conflict, those conversations almost always benefit the organization in the long run by steering it clear of ethically dubious decisions.

9. Have you ever had to fire someone? Why? 

Dismissing an employee is difficult, even if the person is being let go for justifiable (and documented) cause. The potential for conflict is high, and if mishandled, the situation could expose the company to liability. Leaders with good soft skills should have an idea of how to handle those conversations.

10. How do you stay on top of developments/trends in your field? 

The best employees and leaders are always learning. Ideally, their desire to learn should be contagious, encouraging the people around them to level up professionally and grow personally. There should also be an incentive for leaders or managers to learn new things to pass on to the rest of their team.

Ready? Try a Complimentary Assessment

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. While your gut reaction is rarely a perfect judge, you should be able to see if the candidate can communicate comfortably and effectively. For a deeper understanding, you should consider using soft skills assessment tools during the interview process. These tests provide information in a more controlled environment, which helps you assess their soft communication skills without the potential bias that comes with an in-person interview.

Soft skills development should be a major component of every employee development plan. The ability to communicate effectively and build strong working relationships is incredibly important for success in any organization. While it’s important to target candidates who possess key soft skills during the hiring process, developing those skills will help make them even more successful in the future.

effectively hire your next wave of talent

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Wendy Sheaffer

Wendy is the former Chief Product Officer of The Omnia Group. She is a subject matter expert in behavioral assessments and in using Omnia’s 8 columns as a tool to make more-informed hiring and development decisions and effectively engage staff. For more information, email or call 800.525.7117.

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