How to assess soft skills in an IT candidate

IT professionals who possess strong technical and soft skills are highly valued in the marketplace. More and more, team leaders are placing a greater emphasis on candidates who have the right soft skills. And although assessing soft skills can be more challenging than determining a candidate’s technology expertise, it’s worth the extra effort when you consider the potential value to your team and organization.

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Unemployment in the IT sector remains very low. The demand for highly skilled technology professionals is strong, but as technology is increasingly integrated into the development of overall business strategy, so does the list of what employers are looking for in their team members. The desire for team members who have the soft skills to complement their technical skill has grown.

Technology’s modernized role has translated to a rise in demand for IT professionals who can communicate effectively with business units, and understand and formulate technology solutions to address business problems. Highly-valued soft skills on tech teams include collaboration, flexibility, problem-solving skills, empathy and a customer-service attitude.

The challenge for IT hiring managers is that soft skills are often harder to evaluate in candidates — and more challenging to develop. When candidates don’t have the necessary technology skills, it’s usually a straightforward process to tighten up that gap through training, certifications, mentoring and hands-on work experience. However, it’s much more difficult to build soft skills, and that’s why it’s so important to be able to evaluate them quickly in IT candidates. Here are three tips to assist in assessing a candidate’s soft skills:

1. Use behavioral interview questions. These types of questions can be very effective in assessing a candidate’s soft skills. Ask candidates questions about their previous work experience and how they collaborated to complete a project successfully. What was their role on the project? How did they find common ground with difficult personalities on the team? Provide a scenario that your organization is facing and ask how they would work with diverse personalities and business interests to find a solution. Additionally, asking questions that probe into previous customer service experiences can be beneficial in determining how a candidate has handled difficult customers in the past.

2. Test both verbal and written communication skills during the interview process. A simple assignment such as researching your organization’s website and asking candidates to respond via email about the most interesting company news they found on the website and why can demonstrate written communication abilities. Additionally, you can provide candidates with a simple business problem and ask them to follow up with a brief summary of how they might approach solving that problem, and then schedule a call to have them explain their approach. This not only will test their communication skills, but will provide insight into their problem-solving skills.

3. Ask for specific examples of soft skills when talking to a candidate’s references. Of course, you’ll want to ascertain that the candidate has the right technical skills, but inquiring about how they performed as a previous employee or coworker in certain scenarios can also provide a helpful third party perspective on a candidate’s soft skills. How did they interact with difficult associates? Can they give an example of how they solved a key business problem? How flexible were they when challenges arose or business priorities shifted?

IT professionals who possess strong technical and soft skills are highly valued in the marketplace. More and more, team leaders are placing a greater emphasis on candidates who have the right soft skills — sometimes even if there are technical shortcomings since these can be honed on the job, whereas soft skills can’t. And although assessing soft skills can be more challenging than determining a candidate’s technology expertise, it’s worth the extra effort when you consider the potential value to your team and organization.

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