The One Interview Question to Evaluate Soft Skills

These days, more and more companies are turning away from “hard skills” like qualifications and job-related experience to focus on hiring people with the right “soft skills” like collaboration, effective negotiation and problem-solving. According to CareerBuilder research, 63% of employers said one of the top questions they’re trying to answer when looking for candidates is “what are their soft skills?”

But as hiring executives know, soft skills are often as hard to measure as they as desirable. Unlike hard skills, there are no tangible certificates to refer to when determining a candidate’s ability in these arenas.

How would you navigate this problem and ensure you’re getting the right person for the job during the relatively short interview?

We do not have any “magic bullet” that will provide absolute proof of a candidate’s ability, but there is a question you absolutely should be asking: behavioural questions.

Such questions are one of the most effective ways to evaluate a candidate’s soft skills. These require a candidate to refer to previous experience, as opposed to hypotheticals. Questions you could ask include:

  • Describe a time when you had a problem with a supervisor and what you did to resolve it.
  • Give me an example of how you handled a very tense situation at work.
  • Tell me about a time when you had difficulty getting others to work together on a critical problem and how you handled it.
  • Tell me about the best leader you have worked with, why you felt this way, and what you learned from that person.
  • Describe a problem you faced that was almost overwhelming and how you got through it.

Why do these questions work at determining whether a candidate has the soft skills you want?

The first reason is that past behaviour is a better predictor of future success on the job than potential behaviour. According to workforce management expert Nancy Newell, it helps predict future success on the job by looking into past behaviour.

Secondly, when they hear questions shaped around potential behavior, candidates are more likely to say what they think you want to hear. Circumvent this by asking for real-life examples based on prior experience, which will give you clearer insight into candidates’ soft skills, such as how well they work under pressure, how they communicate and their work ethic. A good candidate will have ready examples of their successes and how they overcame their failures.

So for your next job posting, add a few behavioural questions into the mix, and you will be astonished at what insights you find!


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