How to assess soft skills before you hire

In the digital era, tech skills are scarce, but soft skills like emotional intelligence, creativity and strategic thinking are the secrets to success. Here’s how to ensure you hire for the intangibles.

How to assess soft skills before you hire
Palo K. / Mustafa Hacalaki / Getty Images

It used to be that hiring IT staff was merely hard. Finding (and landing) that complex array of technical skills remains a tall ask. But as technology becomes further entwined with the business and IT has become more customer-centric, IT positions demand not only technical know-how but also emotional intelligence, creativity, persuasiveness, adaptability, a communicative and collaborative approach, even humility.

“Gone are the days of head-down coders,” says Jeff Frey, managing director of Talent Path. “Even if you have those people on staff, they need to be able to collaborate.”

These days soft skills can be a better predictor of how well a new hire will do than technical skills. But determining whether a candidate has soft skills is challenging. Getting it wrong can cause a mismatch that will be hard to overcome. According to a study from HireVue, four-fifths of job candidates are confident in their ability to articulate soft skills in an interview yet four in ten have started a job only to later discover they had the wrong soft skills — and over half left because their personality or work style didn’t fit.

“This is a topic I’ve spent a lot of time fretting over,” admits Rob Lefferts, CVP, Microsoft Security. “Most of my team are program managers. And management requires a whole ocean of soft skills.” These skills include listening, a constant commitment to learning, a growth mindset, communication skills, the ability to tell a story, strategic thinking, problem solving, and humility, to name a few, he says.

“You have to have all these skills somewhere on every team and put together a team that will click together,” Lefferts says. Pulling that off requires more than including a Meyers Briggs test in your assessment and barely glancing at the results.

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