How To Evaluate a Candidate’s Soft Skills During Your Interview Process

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There’s no one-size-fits-all formula to hiring top talent, but there is one key component that could change your interview process: Looking beyond hard skills. 

When hiring managers focus solely on hard skills, there’s always a chance that the most experienced candidate lacks the ability to adapt or the willingness to work alongside a new team. Especially with regards to senior or executive leadership roles, it can be a second thought to prioritize emotional intelligence when a candidate’s academic background and accomplishments are so impressive. However, as Anthony Bourdain once said, “Skills can be taught. Character, you either have or you don’t have.” 

Here are a few pointers to help you identify a candidate’s soft skills and uncover those characteristics that are typically less obvious. 

Interview questions to ask

While it’s important to ask the necessary questions to determine if the candidate is a right fit for the position, it’s also important to identify if the candidate is a culture fit. Below are a series of questions that can be asked to gain a better understanding of a candidate’s soft skills and personal characteristics: 

Q1: “Can you tell me about a time when you mentored someone and helped that person shine even when you didn’t get any credit for it?”
The purpose of this question is to determine if the candidate possesses leadership qualities. However, the answer can help you understand if he/she is trusted by others, wants to help others without expecting anything in return, and enjoys building relationships. All of these are positive traits and signals that you’ve identified a reliable team player.

 

Q2: “What three traits would you want to be remembered for when you retire?”
This question will give you a glimpse into how a candidate perceives themself. Studies show that the way we treat others is often a reflection of how we feel about ourselves. So, it’s interesting to inspire a conversation that could give you more insight than what you find on the candidate’s resume.

 

Q3: “What efforts have you made to increase your knowledge or skills in an area that interests you and benefited your company?”
The goal of this question is to determine if the candidate is a self-starting, goal-oriented individual – and to determine if the candidate will work autonomously to facilitate company growth. Being a team player is one thing, but continuously contributing to the overall success of a company is another. Finding a candidate who is motivated to learn, evolve, and contribute to company goals will ultimately influence your team’s long-term success.

Behavioral exercises to conduct

Just because a candidate rocks an interview and answers your questions flawlessly does not automatically mean they fall into the “top talent” category. Some people are expert interviewers, and while that’s a skill in and of itself, you should also consider behavioral exercises to truly get a feel for what a candidate brings to the table. 

The World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs report stated that emotional intelligence will be among the top ten most wanted employee skills. Below are a few telling behavioral exercises that are a great way to screen a candidate for emotional intelligence:

  • Reach out to a candidate’s references to ask about their experience working together 
  • Observe how the candidate interacts outside of the official interview 
  • Invite the candidate into the office for a trial run (or conduct a team interview remotely) 
  • Request that the candidate completes a personality or aptitude test 

Conducting behavioral exercises will require additional time and energy; however, it will help ensure your investment pays in spades. 

External information sources to review

This one will come as no surprise, but there is no better place to look for top talent than LinkedIn. Not only should each candidate’s profile be up-to-date with their experience, but you can often pick up on clues. For example, you might be able to gain insight into how they communicate with colleagues, recommendations given and received, or how they position themselves within their current work environment. 

Engagement in the workforce holds weight. A candidate that’s considered “top talent” has earned that accolade because of the relationships built, people helped, and lives influenced over the years. LinkedIn is where you can begin to fact-check a candidate’s personality by seeing what they stand for, the nature in which they comment, and how active they are in their community and industry. 

If you’d rather interview the top talent than have to find the top talent, it’s worth considering a partnership with an experienced recruiting agency to do the heavy lifting. Especially, when it comes to filling an executive leadership seat or senior management role: A recruiter can expedite the hiring process so that you only need to set aside time to speak with top-tier candidates that strictly fit your criteria.

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