Measuring Candidates’ Soft Skills

Whether they’re in marketing or manufacturing, every employee in your organization needs specific job knowledge. These hard skills might include analytical ability, industry experience, programming language knowledge, or digital savvy, but they’re quantifiable. You can spot them on a resume or test them in action. Soft skills are just as important but much harder for HR directors to assess. They’re the skills that make a candidate a great hire in any position. They aren’t related to any specific job task but instead enhance everything an employee does.

Here are a few key soft skills candidates should master and how you can assess these skill sets in interviews.

Emotional Intelligence

We’ve all known people who had a great deal of subject knowledge but were challenging to work with because they couldn’t impart that information effectively to others. Cognitive intelligence is only one part of the larger picture; emotional intelligence is important too. Closely linked to empathy, emotional intelligence is a measure of how well a person interacts with others and maintains his or her own emotions on an even keel. People with high emotional intelligence have insight into your customer base and effortlessly adapt themselves to company culture.

To spot people with extraordinary emotional intelligence, look for people who raise thought-provoking questions of their own. Ask them questions related to empathy, such as getting them to describe how they might handle an angry client or what they might do to facilitate team-building.

Collaborative Capability

Few people work alone, and people who can make teams function flawlessly are tremendous assets to their organizations. They can coordinate with others across departmental lines too, making them excellent candidates for managerial positions as well as for entry-level work.

How do you know you have a great collaborator on your hands? Listen for someone who uses “we” more than “I” and seeks consensus with you on answers. Someone who tries to establish common ground while answering a question by using a familiar metaphor or asking about your own experiences is probably an effective team worker.

Self-Starting and Initiative

Rock-star employees don’t need micromanagement and often come up with their own great ideas. Having the drive to develop innovative ways of doing things and the initiative to see the implementation process through is particularly important in creative fields, but self-starters succeed in any department. They’re always ahead of the curve and spend extra effort to stay there.

To find self-starters among your field of candidates, look for the ones whose resumes contain self-employment histories or non-traditional education. They tend to be well prepared for interviews and may even over-prepare, so ask them how they spent their time getting ready for their time with you.


One of the most undervalued soft skills any employee can have is the willingness to be accountable. People who take responsibility for all their actions, good and bad, tend to be better decision-makers. They have an internalized locus of control and can be counted on to keep projects on track. Like anyone, they make mistakes, but they rarely make the same one twice and will always use their mistakes as opportunities to grow.

Find your accountability all-stars by asking about past projects. Ask about what went right, what went wrong, and why; the answers you get will reveal a great deal about how a candidate values accountability.

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