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How Employers Assess Soft Skills in Job Interviews—And Why They're so Important

Posted on April 25, 2019
Square with a lime green block at the top containing the words "Soft Skills" and below this are 6 black and white illustrations of arrows pointing to stops and then re-routing, a stop watch, a man speaking at a podium, a silhouette of a man's head with a puzzle piece pulled out, another head with the top lifted off exposing the brain, and a set of hands holding a head, and a pair of hands shaking - all to convey soft skills

It should be no surprise employers are looking for soft skills in their new hires. In fact, according to LinkedIn’s 2019 Global Talent Trends Report, 80% of the more than 5,000 talent professionals surveyed, 80% say soft skills are increasingly important to company success. They specifically identified: creativity, persuasion, collaboration, adaptability, and time management as the soft skills in highest demand. To be even more specific, 92% of the talent professionals stated soft skills are more important than hard skills, and 89% stated bad hires are usually a matter of poor soft skills.

So how do companies assess a candidate’s soft skills?

According to the talent professional interviewed, they rely on 5 key ways to assess soft skills during the hiring process:

  • Behavioral Questions (75%)
  • Reading Body Language (70%)
  • Situational Questions (58%)
  • Projects (31%)
  • Tech-based Assessments (17%)

Behavioral questions such as: Tell me about a time when you failed or give me an example of a conflict with a coworker and how you handled it or tell us about a time when you had to make a significant pivot in a project, don’t necessarily show us how a potential candidate will act in the future. Samantha McLaren, author of the LinkedIn Talent Blog post entitled, “The Tactic This Expert Uses to Assess Soft Skills (Hint: It Doesn’t Involve Behavioral Questions” presents three tactics used by John Vlastelica – the founder of the talent acquisition firm, Recruiting Toolbox. His firm focuses on a hybrid of demonstrational and problem-solving questions:

Step 1: Ask the candidate to solve a problem using their hard skills

John’s view is to ask the candidate to solve a problem related to the specific role using the required technical skills. One example he suggests is asking the candidate to construct a 30-6-90-day plan – not in advance, but right there in the middle of the interview. He recommends providing a set of assumptions and materials such as paper, white board, computer, etc. The hiring manager can observe the candidate as they work through the process, noting the specific skills the candidate employs to complete the task.

Step 2: Introduce new constraints and conditions to see how the candidate adapts to change

Now, to see how the candidate uses soft skills, John Vlastelica recommends mixing it up by adding “real-world constraints to the challenge – like a shorter time frame of significantly lower budget.” He argues this is a great opportunity to observe whether the candidate can think on their feet – an essential soft skill. Other observable soft skills include: communication, adaptability, pivoting, etc.

Step 3: Collaborate with the candidate to see their soft skills in action

The final step is to ask the candidate to collaborate with the hiring manager to solve a problem. Instead of asking them about a time they collaborated, John Vlastelica argues, “If they’re excited to listen to your ideas and try to build on them, they’re probably great at working in a team. But if they get defensive, fail to acknowledge your feedback or questions, or struggle to see how they can incorporate your ideas into their solution, you might be justifiably concerned.”

There is no question soft skills are essential to succeed in today’s workplace. If you are thinking about making a change, then first spend some time evaluating your soft skills and if they are lacking, then hone them and practice with a trusted colleague in case you find yourself in an interview where you’ll be asked to solve a problem or collaborate. If you are a hiring manager, evaluate your go-to interviewing practices and thinking about incorporating the steps John Vlastelica utilizes in his talent search firm.


Anne Converse Willkomm
Assistant Clinical Professor
Department Head of Graduate Studies
Goodwin College
Drexel University
Posted in professional-development-career-tips, interpersonal-communications