A growing trend in hiring is the need for prospective employees to not only bring technical skills, but also demonstrate complementary soft skills to be successful in a position. While technical proficiency is critical in positions such as finance and human resources, it is often soft skills that determine whether an individual can truly thrive in an organization.

These soft skills, such as communication, collaboration and flexibility, reflect how someone approaches their work, including how effectively they engage with their colleagues and contribute to a positive work culture. However, while the demand for soft skills has risen, many organizations still use the same recruitment practices to attract and evaluate new talent. Understanding how to assess soft skills using a variety of formal and informal techniques can be a game-changer for your organization.

Start by taking a step back and revisiting your recruitment approach

Many organizations fall into a predictable pattern when initiating, planning and executing their recruitment plan. They leverage the same promotional channels, use the same job postings, and follow the same process steps, all the while expecting a different result. While this might be an efficient approach to recruitment, it typically doesn’t yield the best results. Breanna Miller, senior manager of talent and client relations at Dotted Line Consulting, has seen a shift in the need for soft skills since the COVID-19 pandemic and encourages organizations to rethink some key areas of their recruitment efforts: “For starters, you need to think about each opening as an opportunity to sell your organizational brand to a potential applicant. This includes asking yourself key questions like ‘What type of individuals succeed here?’ and ‘What is the workplace culture that we are trying to build?’”

This could start with exploring different channels to attract talent, including the option of targeting specific candidates or working with a recruitment partner. Casting a wide net by posting positions on prominent job sites might feel like a success based on the sheer number of applicants, but these numbers can often be misleading. If you are following a traditional cover-letter-and-resume approach to applications, you might find yourself spending your days screening applicants who don’t possess the technical skills, let alone the soft skills, needed to succeed. And while we’re on the subject of your application approach, it might be time to do away with cover letters altogether. Whether it’s reviewing an obvious templated letter where nothing but the company name has been altered or an artificial intelligence-generated letter that feels a bit “off,” sometimes it’s better to keep things simple by looking for a tailored resume that aligns well with the requirements outlined in your posting. As far as first impressions go, this can show whether a candidate is able to effectively gather information, organize their thoughts and sell themselves through a clear and concise communication style.

Communicate with applicants in a variety of ways

Once applicants are shortlisted, the demonstration of soft skills should be top of mind throughout the interview process. This includes analyzing all back-and-forth communication, typically over email or text messaging, to make sure that a candidate’s behaviour aligns with the culture of your workplace.

As you communicate with each candidate, consider underlying questions such as:

- Does their tone align with what’s required for the position?

- Is their communication style clear and easy to understand?

- Do they follow instructions, or do they require multiple follow-ups?

When it comes to interviewing candidates, consider the nature of the role and the work arrangement before deciding whether a virtual, in-person or hybrid approach is best. Miller explains why the interview setting itself can be critical in the recruitment process: “You always want to consider a setting that fits the position you are trying to fill. For a more front-facing position, such as a salesperson or an office administrator, it’s important to learn more about their communication style and body language. For a back-facing position, such as a programmer or data analyst, a virtual setting might be appropriate.” If the position you are filling is an in-person or hybrid role, use the interview to show what a candidate can expect in the day-to-day of the job. Schedule the interview at the time their day would typically start so your potential hire understands the commute time they are signing up for. You can also use this as a way to show all the perks of working at your office, like upgrades you have made to collaboration spaces or a fully stocked communal snack pantry. If a candidate cannot picture themselves in your office setting, it’s better to know right away so you can find someone who is a better fit.

Define soft skills in your own words

If your organization agrees that soft skills are important, it is essential that you clearly define what they mean. Highlighting skills such as teamwork, problem solving, or adaptability are relatively meaningless if they are paired with a generic definition, as each of these skills can have very different meanings depending on the organization and role. For each soft skill, develop your own organizational definition and include specific examples.

A skill such as “accountability,” for example, can be assessed much more effectively in an interview when you have examples to integrate into questions, such as:

- You keep commitments made to others

- You acknowledge and learn from mistakes without blaming others

- You seek constructive feedback from others

- You build trust and credibility by demonstrating consistency between your words and actions

Without a shared understanding of what these skills mean in your organization or the ability to communicate these meanings, you risk having new talent struggle to integrate themselves and placing them in a situation where they cannot be successful.

So, the next time you find yourself with a position to fill, don’t underestimate the importance of soft skills for the specific role you are hiring, as well as for the culture you are building. It could make all the difference between finding your next superstar or finding yourself working your way through another stack of resumes.

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