Talent Strategy

The ‘Dos and Don’ts’ of Identifying Soft Skills

The experts have spoken: 77% of employers think soft-skills are just as important as hard skills (source). Yet, even though it’s clear soft skills are important, they aren’t always simple to identify. In fact, more than 60% of hiring managers agree that screening for soft skills is tough (source).


The reason for this is simple: Unlike hard skills, which candidates can easily prove and recruiters can measure, soft skills are often more difficult to quantify. But, with the right strategy, it’s not only possible, but it’s a critical component to most recruiting strategies.


If soft skills are a key area of contention amongst your team, you’re in luck. Today’s post is a quick primer on identifying soft skills.  We cover everything from how soft skills impact an organization, to the tactics a recruiter can use to easily identify them in a potential candidate. Let’s get started!


What are Soft Skills?


Let’s start with the basics. Sometimes called ‘transferrable skills’ or ‘professional skills’, soft skills are simply the non-technical attributes needed to complete a job. Examples of soft skills include adaptability, problem-solving, conflict resolution, teamwork, initiative, and responsibility.


Unlike ‘hard skills’, which refer to an individual’s job-specific knowledge and expertise, soft skills are more often associated with interpersonal ability – i.e. how an individual interacts with others and behaves in the workplace.


Hard skills can be learned whereas soft skills are traditionally untaught qualities that candidates develop from childhood. Soft skills can be personality traits, social skills, communication tactics, and other innate factors that contribute more to candidate’s ability to fit in and be productive, rather than their ability to complete the core competencies of their role.


Susan Vitale, chief marketing officer at iCIMS aptly explains it like this, “Hard skills are what you do, and soft skills are how you do it.” (source)



Why do Soft Skills Matter?

At first glance, it’s easy for recruiters to write off soft skills. After all, if the candidate in question possesses the required hard skills, how could they not succeed? But, believe it or not, soft skills are more than just nice-to-have qualities. In fact, research suggests 85% of job success comes from well‐developed soft and people skills, and only 15% of job success comes from technical skills and knowledge (source).


The reason for this is simple: Technical competencies, while important, are only one small component of many job roles. To truly succeed in a role within an organization, a candidate must be able to fit in with the existing company culture– a feat that is impossible without the right soft skills.


What’s more, misaligned behaviors and personalities can inhibit teams from working together towards a common goal, and ultimately, can prevent a company from achieving organizational success. Don’t believe us? Consider these statistics (source):


  • The stress caused by having to work underneath a manager who lacks interpersonal skills is believed to cost American companies an estimated $360 billion every year.
  • Miscommunication costs businesses $37 billion (or $26K per employee) in the U.S. and U.K. every year.
  • 86% of executives identify ineffective collaboration and communication as a major cause of failure in business.


As you can see, modern recruiters can no longer ignore soft skills—it’s simply too expensive. Next, we teach you some actionable skills to help you better identify a candidate’s soft skills.


The ‘Dos and Don’ts’ for Identifying Soft Skills


Don’t: Go into the hiring process before you identify ideal/required soft skills for each role.

If you don’t actually consider which soft skills are needed for a particular job, you will go into the hiring process blind. Think about it, how can you identify a soft skill you don’t even know to look for?



Do: Include the preferred soft skills within each job description.

Talk to hiring managers and current employees about the qualities they look for when building a team. Determine the attitudes and behaviors that allow teams to succeed. Then determine the attitudes and behaviors that cause a team to fail.


With this input, craft a job posting that not only lists the key hard skills for a role, but also the necessary soft skills. The more specific you are, the more a candidate is able to determine for themselves whether or not they are a good fit for a role. More often than not, candidates will be able to disqualify themselves, saving everyone the time and energy. For this reason, soft skills are key elements of a job description.


Don’t: Always take an applicant’s word for it.

In recent years, job candidates have begun to recognize soft skills as necessary job skills. As such, it’s not uncommon for candidates to list soft skills as they would list hard skills on their resumes. Think terms like, ‘self-starter’, ‘team player’, ‘problem solver’ and, ‘innovative thinker’.


But, as experienced recruiters will tell you, what you see isn’t always what you get. In fact, according to one recent survey, 75% of human resource managers have caught a candidate lying on their resume (source). So, don’t take someone’s word for it.  Just because a candidate lists admirable soft skills on their resume, doesn’t mean they’ll be able to demonstrate them.


Do: Perform thorough reference checks.

Because you can’t always trust a candidate’s assessment of their own soft skills, you must perform detailed reference checks on every candidate you’d like to hire.


Rather than simply asking a reference to vouch for your candidate’s soft skills, ask for concrete examples of times they actually demonstrated these things.


Or, ask each reference to rank the soft skills that best reflect the candidate from strongest to weakest. If a reference lists one of your required soft skills as one of the candidate’s weakest, it is a pretty good indication that the person will not be a good fit for the role.


Don’t: Rely on past experience alone to assess soft skills.

One strategy recruiters often use to help identify how strong a candidate’s soft skills are is to simply ask them how they have utilized a particular skill in the past. While this can sometimes reveal a candidate’s soft strengths, as with a candidate’s resume, their answers will likely be subjective and fine-tuned to what the candidate thinks you want to hear.


Do: Pose situational problems or “What would you do?” questions.

A more effective strategy to assess a candidate’s soft skills is to ask them to solve a realistic problem they might encounter at your organization. Ask them to walk you through the steps they would take to resolve the issue, and to identify the relevant soft skills they’d use at each point.


This tactic requires the candidates to think on their feet and forces them to reveal their true strengths and weaknesses.


Do: Utilize soft skill assessment questionnaires.

In many hiring instances, recruiters will turn to personality tests and soft skill assessment questionnaires to help them identify the specific soft skills a candidate possesses. This technique tend to be more reliable and more straightforward than relying on gut feeling, alone.


Don’t: Take answers with more than a grain of salt.

Although personality tests and questionnaires can be helpful,  candidates aren’t naïve. They fully understand the purpose of these assessments. If they really want the job, they’ll more than likely sway their typical answers to be more in-line with what they think you’re looking for. We aren’t saying these assessments should be avoided – but rather, integrated into your other efforts.


Key Takeaways

And there you have it—the complete guide to identifying soft skills in job candidates. As you can see, soft skills are a critical component of a candidate’s ‘hire-ability’. Don’t wait until after you hire someone to figure out they lack the interpersonal skills to be a contributing member of your organization.  Instead, use the tips and best practices explained above to drastically improve your candidate sourcing tactics today!


About the Author: Krysta Williams is the Marketing Content Specialist at ZoomInfo where she writes for their B2B blog.  ZoomInfo is the most accurate and actionable USA business database solution that helps organizations accelerate growth and profitability. In her free time, Krysta likes to spend time with her dog and write about business topics.



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