As new waves of technology increasingly automate many hard skills, workers’ soft skills (sometimes simply called “people skills”) are becoming more critical to job success.
In fact, according to a 2021 Future of Work report published by Monster, the top four skills employers are looking for, across all industries, are soft skills: dependability, teamwork/collaboration, flexibility, and problem-solving abilities.
Whether employees possess these qualities can often be the determining factor in how well they perform, whether they stick around, and how engaged they are with their work and their employer. And because of the increased competition for talent and the higher-than-normal voluntary quit rates employers are dealing with, it’s more important than ever for employers to effectively and accurately assess soft skills in candidates and employees.
So—what exactly are soft skills, how do teams benefit from employees who have them, and how can you evaluate talent to learn whether they have them? Let’s take a look.
What are soft skills?
According to SHRM, soft skills “are behaviors, personality traits and work habits, such as collaboration, critical thinking, perseverance and communication, that help people prosper at work.”
Soft skills are important to assess because they can be good indicators of longevity of employment and a candidate’s ability to work well on the team, grow, and take initiative. Using a soft skills analysis in your hiring process provides an objective measurement to help you consider candidates fairly and assess for the soft skills that matter most for each open position you have.
Highly valuable soft skills include:
- Communication: Can you effectively convey ideas?
- Dependability: Will you do what you say you will, when you say you’ll do it?
- Managing work stress: Can you think clearly and maintain professionalism under stress?
- Leadership: Are you able to think strategically and manage a team?
- Teamwork: Do you cooperate, listen actively, and respect others’ differences?
- Creativity: Are you able to develop innovative solutions and identify opportunities?
- Problem-solving: Can you remedy problems quickly and effectively?
- Adaptability: How adept are you at learning new skills and behaviors in changing circumstances?
- Conflict management: Can you identify and handle conflicts fairly and efficiently?
- Open-mindedness: Are you open to new ideas, solutions, and critical feedback?
Why are soft skills important to evaluate?
As technology continues to automate basic manual processes, the demand for soft skills will increase, according to McKinsey research. The report predicts the rise in demand for various skill sets in 2030 vs 2016, and soft skills are growing fast. Specifically, the need for strong cognitive skills is predicted to increase by 8%, while the need for strong social and emotional skills at work will likely increase by 24%.
AI and automation have come a long way, and are advancing quickly. But those technologies still lag behind the human brain when it comes to creativity, critical thinking, problem solving, and leadership—all soft skills that are required for innovation and growth.
The shift to remote work may have also created a greater need for employees with strong teamwork skills, as some studies suggest remote work can lead to more siloed departments and more hurdles to collaboration.
According to the journal Nature Human Behavior, “(Remote work) reduced the number of ties bridging structural holes in the company’s informal collaboration network and caused individuals to spend less time collaborating with the bridging ties that remained.”
Considering this potential challenge, companies with remote or hybrid workforces that identify candidates and existing employees with soft skills related to working well with others in any context (open-mindedness, conflict management, adaptability, communication) may be more equipped to evolve and grow than those that don’t.
What is a soft skills assessment?
A soft skills assessment is a questionnaire, usually administered online, that reveals the degree to which a candidate possesses the soft skills necessary to likely succeed at a particular job. (The job specificity component is crucial.) Conducting a soft skills evaluation of your candidates as part of your hiring process can provide you with insights that help you:
- Hire people who can adapt to change and new ideas
- Find employees who can work well with others in the organization
- Compare similar job candidates—and make a confident decision
- Identify people who are reliable and resilient
- Find “big idea” people who can help your company grow
- Identify the best approach to developing employees once they’re hired
Critically, soft skills assessments provide objective insights into candidates that resumes and interviews can’t. Resumes are notoriously ineffective at providing insight into soft skills, given their tendency to focus on achievements and education. Interviews provide an opportunity to get more insight into a candidate’s soft skills, but are vulnerable to subjective opinions and even implicit bias. This isn’t to suggest you skip interviews, by any means. But reviewing insights gathered from a soft skills test administered online before an interview can help you interview more productively—by highlighting competency areas worth digging into more thoroughly.
Soft skills assessments aren’t only used in hiring, either: they can also be administered to existing employees as part of your learning and development efforts. Soft skills can be developed through training, though the path to proficiency may be less linear than with technical skills. And, notably, SHRM warns that “soft skills can weaken if they go unused,” giving employers cause to conduct regular soft skills assessments to identify problem areas and respond with appropriate training.
For both job applicants and existing employees, standardized soft skills exams provide objective evaluations, helping ensure your decisions are fair and giving you scientific data to consider alongside your subjective experiences. (Check out our recommendations for evaluating the soft skills of sales candidates here.)
What are the best ways to conduct a soft skills assessment?
One of the most valuable strategies employers can use to assess soft skills is to using a combination of multi-measure hiring assessments, behavioral interview questions and/or job simulations or role-playing scenarios.
Each of these methods provides unique insights into the soft skills of a candidate or employee, and can help inform a wide array of employment decisions.
Use multi-measure hiring assessments
Multi-measure assessments cover all the bases, giving you a complete picture of a person’s most job-relevant soft skills based on objective, scientific data.
Cognitive ability assessments measure a person’s ability to learn from experience, use critical thinking, solve new and novel problems, and comprehend complex ideas. Cognitive ability is the single-best predictor construct for on-the-job performance. This test lets you know if the candidate has the cognitive aptitude needed for the role.
Personality assessments evaluate a range of characteristics, including cooperation, dependability, stress tolerance, sociability, and open-mindedness. Understanding personality traits, juxtaposed against the requirements of the job, can help predict the likelihood of success in that position.
Motivation assessments evaluate a person’s interests and preferences related to their work, revealing what types of tasks are likely to keep them most engaged.
To see how thousands of companies assess the soft skills of candidates with WonScore, click here to learn more and schedule a free demo.
Ask targeted behavioral interview questions
As we mentioned earlier, interviews are most productive when they explore competencies as much or more than work history and hard skills. Asking the right types of questions can help contextualize the objective data you get from multi-measure hiring assessments.
Examples of questions than can uncover information about key soft skills:
- Tell me about a time when you identified a problem and minimized the negative impact
- Describe an example of how you would approach a task or project that initially feels overwhelming or even impossible
- Tell me how you typically respond when you make a mistake at work
Conduct more in-depth job simulations
Beyond asking general interview questions about how a candidate handled a situation in the past, consider going a step further and assessing how a candidate responds to realistic role-specific scenarios.
Present a complicated work situation with a variety of information the candidate would need to weigh to suggest a course of action, and ask them to explain their thought process in solving the problem. Creating these types of scenarios can be especially helpful in assessing candidates with less direct work place in that they suss out what a candidate would do, even if they haven’t handled the challenge in a previous role.
Prioritizing soft skills creates a competitive advantage
As artificial intelligence, automation, and remote work continues to change the jobs landscape, the soft skills related to innovation and collaboration—the work human brains are still better equipped to excel at than an algorithm—are becoming more and more valuable.
The better job your company does at taking a soft skills inventory of your job applicants and developing those soft skills in your existing employees, the more likely you are to build teams that are able to flourish and grow, no matter what the future of work holds.