Hiring for Soft Skills: Attracting and Assessing Candidates

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Two people are visible from the shoulders down sitting in chairs across from each othre. One person holds a clipboard and appears to be interviewing the other.

Most organizations focus on hard skills in recruitment when they should be hiring for soft skills which are one of the best predictors of job fit.

There are a number of reasons for this –  from the idea that the job seems to revolve around hard skills to the fact that when you are hiring for soft skills it is much harder to assess candidates – most hiring managers struggle with it. The problem with this logic is that by saving time and energy on the front end, you are costing your company exponentially more on the back end. It is much more difficult to teach soft skills than hard skills, which makes them more valuable to identify in your interview process. Attracting and assessing soft skills may be more difficult than hard skills but you can set your organization up to be successful in doing so.

Attracting the Right Candidates

Once you know what soft skills drive success for a given role, the first step in hiring for that role is to attract applicants who have those soft skills. Of course, this all comes down to communication. How and where you promote open roles are the key to successfully drawing in applicants who fit your criteria.

When it comes to how you communicate open positions: tailor your job description to the skills you want to attract. Focus on soft skills at the beginning of the description and continue to emphasize their importance throughout. It isn’t essential to include the hard skills or even a specific level of education or experience as “required.” Consider labeling them as “preferred qualifications” instead. This will encourage candidates who might have the soft skills to excel but fall short on other qualifications.

The channels you use to communicate open roles play a big part in attracting (and hiring) candidates with the soft skills you want. Advertise your job in a wide variety of places to attract candidates with a wide variety of mindsets and a wide array of backgrounds. Some non-traditional places to post jobs include:

  • Local community colleges
  • Local job boards
  • Your client list
  • Job boards for underrepresented groups

If you consistently advertise your job in the same places, you will inevitably attract the same candidates. At the very least you will attract candidates with similar histories and thought processes. Don’t limit your organization. An added benefit of diversifying where you share job openings is that it leads to more diversity within your organization. By opening up your job to a wider variety of candidates you are more likely to be able to hire for the soft skills that you are seeking.

Assessing Candidates

It is important to be committed to hiring for soft skills. Of course, a role may take a specific level of expertise or skill, but as you attract a wider array of applicants, don’t immediately eliminate anyone because they fall short on hard skills. Instead, focus on the soft skills first, and once you have a pool that you know fits those skills you can reassess based on their technical skills.

If you focus on screening candidates for soft skills, it is likely that you will end up with a much larger applicant pool since you won’t have immediately rejected anyone based on hard skill or education requirements. With these larger numbers, it may not be practical to interview every single applicant, so you need a way to assess their soft skills.

Cangrade recommends using our Pre-Hire Assessments as the first step in the hiring funnel. Besides receiving a report on the candidate with a job fit score that predicts their success in the role, Pre-Hire Assessments eliminate unconscious biases that are so prevalent in the interview process.

You can also review resumes, conduct phone screens, and contact references as alternative methods to screen your candidates. While these won’t be as reliable as assessments, they do provide you with insights to determine who to move to an interview.

Once you have conducted an initial screening and decided which candidates to interview, there are a few ways to assess soft skills in an interview. The first is to ask behavioral or situational questions. Behavioral questions typically start with “Tell me about a time when…”, giving you an idea of how the candidate handles different situations. It is important to direct the questions to situations that will highlight the specific soft skills that you are looking to identify. For example, if you are looking for someone with leadership qualities, ask about a time they were asked to head up a project.

Another way to assess soft skills in the interview is to ask the candidate what skills they think it would take to be successful in the position. Having them force-rank skills can help you avoid a simple yes or no on whether or not they have the skill.

When using human perception to judge soft skills, it is important to be aware of your unconscious biases throughout the process. Don’t rely solely on the perspective of one person. You should be assessing soft skills at every step of the hiring process in order to see how a candidate’s results line up.

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This article was originally published on the Cangrade blog.