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Testing for Soft Skills During an Interview


Hiring a candidate with good technical skills is always on the top of a manager’s mind, but companies are increasingly giving a candidate’s soft skills greater consideration.

This raises a common question among hiring managers: how can you test for skills such as teamwork and empathy during the interview?

Unfortunately, there is no magic formula, but while conducting an interview you need to look for two things: self-awareness (can the candidate make the connection between his or her actions and professional outcomes?) and instincts (do they tend to lean towards the empathetic, team-oriented, and optimistic approach?).

While soft skills interview questions will obviously differ depending on your unique circumstances, we’ve pulled together some common ones that employers rely on to get a better feel for the less tangible qualities candidates may bring to the table.

Can you tell me about a time when you worked as part of a group?

Be sure to red-flag a candidate who tells a story about how their group was useless until they rode in and saved the day. This person clearly hasn’t done the interview prep necessary to know you shouldn’t speak poorly of others. Additionally, it’s not a good sign if the story that comes to mind is one where they personally succeeded and the team failed. The “I’m smarter/better than everyone else” response indicates low self-awareness and a poor propensity for teamwork.

A candidate who works well with others will often tell the story in a different way. They will include the merits of the team’s approaches and frame it as a story that shows initiative, leadership, and creative thinking; rather than one about being the smartest person on the team. In this instance, saying “I had the solution” works and shows a willingness to work objectively as part of a group.

Of course, the best answer to this question is one about a time when a team successfully worked together. The interviewee could potentially discuss the other members’ contributions as well as his or her own and include what it taught them about working well with a team. This candidate is more likely to bring stronger teamwork skills to the table.

Can you tell me about a time when you overcame a significant challenge?

This popular question can be especially revealing when it comes to a candidate’s level of perseverance and problem-solving capabilities, two traits that are undeniably important in any professional environment. Chances are that the person you are interviewing hasn’t made it this far into their professional career without encountering a roadblock or two, so thinking of an appropriate example shouldn’t be too difficult for the candidate.

This question also provides an opportunity for the interviewer to assess the highlighted issue and determine whether or not it was due to something outside of the candidate’s control or if the challenge resulted from negligence on their behalf. Be sure to listen carefully and try to spot any red flags that reveal that the interviewee was just covering up their own mistake while overcoming their challenge.

The best response to this question will result from sharing a time when the candidate not only overcame a challenge but came up with a way forward that resulted in something positive for themselves and for their company.

Can you tell me about a time when you had to ask for help?

In an interview, candidates know that every answer should make them look like the best choice when compared to their competition for the role. So, seeing how an applicant approaches this question will let you know if they can describe (and view) themselves as an asset, even when discussing a failure.

The red-flag answer for this question is, “I can’t remember the last time I had to ask for help.” This person thinks the only way to make a good impression during the interview is to be perfect. They not only lack self-awareness but could be a dangerous hire, because when they inevitably make a mistake in their position (because who hasn’t?) he or she may not be comfortable telling anyone.

An ideal answer to this question is one in which the candidate identifies a mistake they made and how they learned to overcome this mistake from someone else. Why? Because it takes learning experiences in prior roles to apply the lessons learned to a future position. An answer like this gives a candidate the chance to speak sincerely about mentorship and growth which is great for them to share and for you to hear.

All in all, screening for soft skills is just as important as testing for technical abilities. Use the questions above to make sure your new hire has the emotional aptitude to handle the job.

About Kristy Hall, Talent Acquisition Lead

"Do what you love and you will never work a day in your life." To Kristy, this is what recruiting is all about. Bringing over 7 years of experience in recruiting, account management, sales and customer service; Kristy appreciates working together to make a difference in the lives of others.

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