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How to Evaluate Soft Skills in a Job Interview

How to Evaluate Soft Skills in a Job Interview

Even the most gifted employees, including those who work from home, have to be able to get along with co-workers, adapt to changing demands of a client, solve problems and be a role model to others. These kind of soft skills are essential for every job, but can be tricky to suss out in an interview. After all, most everyone puts their best foot forward in the interview. How can you really tell if they possess the soft skills you need at your organization?

To find out how you can assess a candidate’s soft skills during a job interview, we reached out to Amanda Newfield, HR consultant and former president of the Baton Rouge chapter of the Association for Talent Development. Here’s how she does it.

Leadership

Newfield says she likes to see leadership potential in every new hire, from an individual contributor to an executive. Assessing leadership is different at these different levels, however, so she varies her approach depending on the level of the position she’s hiring for.

For an individual contributor, she often asks about a time when the candidate was responsible for completing an assignment that required input from others. “In the response, I’m looking for how the candidate worked with others who were not direct reports to ensure their accountability and how successful the candidate was at achieving results,” she says.

For a supervisor or leadership role, she often asks more focused questions, such as “Describe a time when you set a long-term goal. How did you ensure your team’s success?” In this response, she wants to hear how the manager set the goal, encouraged employee participation and engagement, and measured their success and progress.

Communication Skills

Communication skills are often the most important soft skills one can possess. There’s a finesse required to deliver bad news, encourage others or be friendly during stressful times, and Newfield says she often can sense it in her interviews.

She likes to ask candidates to describe a time they missed a deadline and what they did to fix it. It’s happened to everyone. She wants to see someone who is not afraid to break bad news and tell a manager that work is taking longer than expected, in advance of the deadline, so they can find a solution together.

Newfield also likes to hear about disagreements. She’ll often ask about a time a candidate disagreed with a co-worker on how to accomplish a goal and what happened during this process. “I expect the candidate to demonstrate listening to the other co-worker and working together to resolve the dispute,” she says.

Critical Thinking and Problem Solving

Newfield says she weaves critical-thinking and problem-solving queries into many of her other questions, but some specifics that she also includes are:

  • “Describe a time when a work assignment didn’t turn out the way you expected. What did you do to resolve the issues?” Here, she says, she likes to see a structured approach to identifying the problem and taking steps to solve it.
  • “Tell me about a time when you discovered an issue that others didn’t know about.” “I’m looking to hear the thought process that led the candidate to make the discovery. Did the candidate notice patterns in what people were saying, in customer problems or in data within reports?” she says.

Adaptability

Deadlines get moved up. Clients change their minds. Co-workers have to miss work because of jury duty. It happens and people have to roll with the punches to get through it. This is where adaptability becomes key.

Newfield says she assesses adaptability by asking about a time a manager changed an assignment after it began, or a time someone was faced with a big change or surprise at work. “I’m looking for a candidate who can quickly assess new requirements and move on without too much complaining,” she says.

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