Why you need to ask these 7 questions to test soft skills during a job interview

Hiring managers sit on the less nerve racking side of the table, but they still need to be hyper-aware of how a candidate is showcasing soft skills during an interview.

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Hiring a candidate with fitting technical skills is always on the top of a manager’s mind, but companies are increasingly giving a candidate’s soft skills greater consideration. Hiring managers should consider these tips while interviewing potential employees.

What are soft skills?

Soft skills are qualities learned through one’s environment rather than during formal training. Communication, coachability, work ethic, time management, and critical thinking are all examples of soft skills.

How can you test a candidate’s soft skills during an interview?

There are multiple ways hiring managers can tell if a candidate has strong soft skills during an interview. First, hiring managers can observe the way a candidate communicates.


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Additionally, hiring managers can ask behavioral questions, which require candidates to provide stories from their professional career. Asking questions that demand an anecdote will give hiring managers with a better look into a candidate’s past experience. Asking anecdotal questions also reveals soft skills, such as if candidates are able to think quickly on their feet.

Candidates can always claim that they are detail-oriented, but an anecdotal question demands an example that delivers evidence to back up that claim. If candidates can’t think of an example, chances are they actually haven’t been detail-oriented during their career.

Examples and explanations of questions that test soft skills

Q: Have you ever unintentionally offended or upset somebody? Can you describe the details?

Explanation: This question is ideal for testing a candidate’s emotional intelligence, according to Jen Shirkani, an emotional intelligence expert. Answers will reveal if they have enough self-awareness to identify how their behavior affected others and if they have enough empathy to see the situation from someone else’s point of view. Additionally, the answer will give an insight into whether or not a candidate has strong enough social skills to admit mistakes and successfully work through conflict.

Q: Can you tell me about the last time you had to act and there was no formal procedure on how to do so?

Explanation: This question will test a candidate’s flexibility. According to Shirkani, answers will help you judge if a candidate is comfortable thinking quickly, making decisions and working independently.

Q: Can you describe the details of a time you were unfairly criticized?

Explanation: Shirkani explains that this is a great question to asses a candidate’s self-awareness. By including “unfairly,” you are able to assess the person’s ability to take criticism as well as his or her judgement about what is unfair.

Q: What was your relationship with the best boss you ever had?

Explanation: This question will inspire the candidate to discuss a relationship they’ve had in the workplace, which gives the hiring manager a glimpse into future relationships, according to Rachel Karitis, the director of marketing at TransitScreen. The goal is to pull more specific answers from candidates, instead of simply hearing that they love feedback but don’t like to be micromanaged.

Q: Can you tell us about a time you took initiative on a project?

Explanation: Answers to this question reveal what type of employee a candidate will be. If a candidate can’t think of a response to this question, it suggests that they are more of a do-er, rather than an achiever.

“We’re looking for somebody who goes above and beyond, who has a growth mindset and is good at solving problems,” Karitis said.

Q: How do you approach a task that you’ve never done before?

Explanation: In a fast-paced office, there’s not always time to teach employees new skills. Employees that will do research and figure out a new task on their own are much more desirable, according to Karitis.

Q: What’s been the toughest criticism you received so far in your career? What did you do with it?

Explanation: These questions will let you know if the candidate took their job seriously enough to remember the criticism, according to Pearlie Oni, the senior manager of employee experience at RedPeg. In addition, the criticism points out their weakness, without making candidates admit their faults outright. A candidate with strong soft skills will round out the question by revealing how they took the criticism and improved their work.

How can you tell if a candidate has soft skills?

Hiring managers will be able to tell if a candidate has soft skills through the answers they provide to the above questions, but there are a few other factors that also come into play.

During an interview a candidate will express whether or not they have strong soft skills through their communication and body language. The way candidates deliver answers tells you about the strength of their soft skills. If a candidate pauses to think about a question before answering, it shows they actually want to provide a thoughtful answer, instead of rambling about an irrelevant topic.

If candidates deliver answers that don’t answer your questions, it shows  they prepared specific stories for the interview and aren’t able to think on their feet in order to provide a more fitting example.

Why is it important to hire employees with soft skills?

Hard skills, which are often learned in a formal education setting, are much easier to teach employees than soft skills, according to many hiring managers. While it’s not impossible to teach employees soft skills, many are linked to a person’s personality, which is a hard thing to alter by the time someone enters the workforce.

Denise Dudley, behavioral psychologist and founder of SkillPath Seminars, stresses that hiring for soft skills is crucial because this person will be contributing to the company culture.

“When somebody walks out of my office, I ask myself if are they somebody I would want to sit next to on an airplane for three hours,” Dudley said.

How a candidate behaves during an interview is also the first indication of how they will behave once they are hired. In fact, Oni points out that you’re seeing a candidate’s best during an interview, since he or she is actively trying to impress you.

“On a day to day basis, they will probably be operating at 80 to 90 percent of what you saw in their interview,” Oni said.


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