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Soft skills in the work place

The How & Why of Assessing Soft Skills in Recruitment

Application forms and CVs provide an effective means of discovering candidates with desirable qualifications and experience for the role. However, of equal importance are the individual’s soft skills; the personal attributes which can heighten or hinder business success. These aren’t easy to quantify, but in this article, I share ideas on how to assess soft skills and why this should be part of the recruitment process.

What Are Soft Skills?

Before we talk about assessing soft skills, let’s clarify what they are. These relate to an individual’s attitude and approach to work, colleagues, customers and challenges.

Why Are Soft Skills Important in the Workplace?

No matter what your industry or profession, you need employees who collaborate, communicate and use initiative. You need critical and creative thinkers; individuals who can solve problems, make decisions and adapt. Those with a positive outlook, those who listen and those who can see things from different perspectives make for productive team players and effective leaders.

As automation and AI are increasingly integrated into our workplaces, hard skills become less important. Knowledge and technical capabilities can be input, with machine learning keeping this updated.

Whether as employees or customers, people want to associate with brands that make them feel valued. As such, the future of work demands personable employees with emotional intelligence. Understanding and responding appropriately to colleagues, customers and stakeholders is at the heart of business success.

3 Ways Employers Can Assess the Soft Skills of Candidates

The first step is to consider which skills are vital to the organisation and role. Do you need creative thinkers and problem solvers or does the position demand empathy, negotiation skills and conflict resolution? Once decided, add these to the job description, advert and application form to show they hold equal weight to qualifications and experience.

1. Use Personality Assessment Tools to Inform Candidate Selection

As part of the recruitment process use personality assessment tools. Using a variety of formats, these offer a comparable, non-bias means of reviewing the soft skills of candidates. My preference is DISC, a world-leading tool that is trusted to provide insight into vital soft skills. An Introduction to DISC is available on my website.

Sometimes assessment tools deliver unexpected results, with a less qualified candidate showing considerable strengths in the skills you are looking for. Is it easier to upskill them on the hard skills or develop the soft skills of a graduate with industry experience?

2. Ask Ex-Colleagues for Reference Requests

When asking applicants for two references, these are typically provided by previous managers or team leaders. However, it could be beneficial to also request a reference from a colleague. A SkillsSurvey study* identified that managers tended to mention task-related behaviours in references; for example, technical competencies and the ability to meet deadlines. In contrast, team members were more likely to mention interpersonal soft skills; for example, working collaboratively and being helpful.

When you follow up on references, ask open questions, such as ‘What was your experience of working with this colleague?’ or ‘How can you get the best out of this candidate and how did they get the best out of you?’. This approach is likely to generate clearer feedback about their soft skills.

3. Present Problem Solving Questions in the Interview

This type of question is less about the answer they come up with and more a means of revealing their attitude and approach.

You might show the candidates an idea for an upcoming project and ask them to develop it as a group. Then, on an individual basis, ask how they would respond if the perimeters changed; for example, the deadline was brought forward or staff capacity was cut.

Note their reaction to the suggested change. Are they stumped or open to fresh thinking? Do they run with the first idea that springs to mind or is their evidence of a critical or creative thought process? Is there any suggestion of a collaborative response or is it all on what they, as an individual, would do?

Soft Skill Development

As a final point, I want to add that identifying and developing the soft skills of your existing workforce is also beneficial. A recent article in People Management** cited higher employee engagement and business performance as outcomes of soft skill development.

The article reported that 92% of employees viewed soft skills as important for their careers and 56% would be willing to change jobs if essential skill-building opportunities were offered.
Using assessment tools to identify skills and coaching to develop them is, therefore, an effective way of attracting, strengthening and retaining talent.

* http://www.prweb.com/releases/2017/06/prweb14461828.htm

** https://www.peoplemanagement.co.uk/article/1815592/uk-losing-22bn-year-not-investing-soft-skills-development-research-finds

As a specialist in business coaching and assessments, I can assist you in recruiting and developing employees. Get in touch to find out more about DISC and soft skills training at info@suegarner.co.uk or 07775 624724.

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