Interview tips and tricks to assess human ‘soft’ skill fit

- November 10, 2022 5 MIN READ

With workplace and employee wellbeing a top priority for businesses in acquiring and retaining staff, Renata Sguario, founder and CEO of Maxme, explains why soft skills – also known as human skills – are just as important as technical skills and experience – if not more so.

In the battle to win and retain staff, human skill fit is often a bigger indicator of future success and happiness in a role, than just focusing on hiring for technical ability alone.

Research from McKinsey & Company found that 77 per cent of skills people will need in the digital economy will be human soft skills. In fact, McKinsey predicts that two-thirds of all jobs will be soft-skill intensive by 2030.

Of the 56 foundational skills McKinsey found to increase employability and job satisfaction, 43 are distinctly human skills. McKinsey’s findings highlight why it is so important in interviews to gain candidate insights beyond just the technical skills stated on a resume.

Hiring for human skills

Here are six interview tips and tricks to help small businesses and startups make the right hires and determine if a candidate possesses the necessary human traits for success.

So, what should you look out for? Self awareness, social awareness, relationship management, creative problem-solving skills and empathy.

happy smiling team members at work

1. Identify strengths

Encourage interviewees to complete an assessment like the VIA Strengths assessment in advance of the interview. Then discuss their top five strengths and how they use them in everyday life.

Many people are able to see their own weaknesses far more easily than their strengths and talents. By asking candidates to talk about their strengths, you can boost their confidence in the interview. It’s also important, as there is a significant body of research that has found that developing strengths further can result in faster improvements in performance than putting too much focus on weaknesses.

2. Self-awareness

To gain insights into self-awareness, ask ‘How would your friend / family / former colleagues describe you and why?’ 

The ability to step outside a situation and see it from a more distanced perspective is a valuable skill. By asking a candidate how they think others view them, you can assess the person’s ability to put themselves in other people’s shoes. This is a critical skill when it comes to negotiating, managing stakeholder expectations and building successful partnerships and relationships.

3. Problem-solving

Give the candidate a scenario where they need to resolve an issue within a team or with a client/customer, and then ask them how they would handle it. It’s important that the scenario doesn’t have a right or wrong solution. What you’re looking for is how they approach solving the problem.

Problem-solving is a critical skill and many of the situations a person faces at work don’t have black and white / right and wrong solutions. Often, solutions are nuanced and rely on communications, stakeholder management and balancing conflicting demands and time pressures.

Asking a candidate how they would handle a situation will provide insight into how they resolve issues and how they would work with other people involved. For example, will they focus on the risks? Or will they default to an analytical approach? By listening to how they work their way through the scenario, you can learn about how they solve problems, particularly in situations where there may be conflicting priorities and points of view.

Smiling woman shaking hands at job interview

4. Personal interests

As an ice-breaker and a way to get to know the candidate better, ask them to bring to the interview an item that gives you insight into who they are outside of work. It could be a book that inspires them, a sporting item that highlights their personal interests or a photo of a significant time/place/event.

Taking an interest in a candidate’s life outside work can be a great way to build rapport during the interview process, and give you some insight into their wider passions and interests. For example, if the candidate is involved in team sports, it can tell you about their ability to collaborate. Other candidates may love travelling, which might tell you something about their level of curiosity and ability to work in unfamiliar situations.

It’s important to understand that people are much more than the work they do. And by listening to their outside interests, you may uncover a hidden gem or unexpected skill that will bring benefit to your organisation that might have been missed in a traditional skills-based interview.

5. Teamwork talk

Ask the candidate to describe the key attributes that are needed in a high functioning team.

Every organisation wants its teams to operate to their full potential. Candidates will have their own experiences about what makes a team perform at its peak. By asking them what they believe to be the key attributes of a high performing team, such as communication, collaboration and respect, you’ll learn about how they view teamwork and what human skills they believe are most important.

Supportive boss with hand on employee's shoulder

6. Empathy

When it comes to assessing how empathic a candidate might be, ask ‘Can you describe a situation where you were working with/helping someone and you disagreed with them? How did you work through the challenges and find a way to resolve the situation?

Managing disagreements and divergent perspectives is an important part of working life. By asking about how the candidate handles disagreements, you can also ask them what they learned from the situation. The key is to determine if the candidate seeks to externally allocate blame, or if they can sympathise with different viewpoints and understand aspects of how these are valid.

While technical skills remain an important element of any job, working as part of a team, having resilience for when things don’t go to plan and being able to problem-solve are critical for success in almost any role. It is important to look for those skills in job candidates.

Small businesses and startups are in the same battle to find great talent as large enterprises and often can’t compete on salary to find and retain staff. Incorporating human skills questions into your interview process helps you determine who is going to be a right fit for your culture, so you can find someone who will sync with your team and become an asset to your business.

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