This month Im going to talk about something I've come across more and more recently - the confusion in how to understand and recognise soft skills.
You only have to look at job specifications today to see that employers are demanding more and more from candidates in terms of soft skills, even in the recruitment of technical roles.
What do I mean by soft skills? They could include: influencing, negotiating, communication, building relationships, stakeholder management, engagement, positive collaboration, and the list goes on. The skills tend to be intangible and something that, more often than not, are hard for many of us to demonstrate in an interview, even if we have them in abundance.
But how do you go about measuring these skills in an interview? And how can you confidently know and understand these skills are really something that a candidate possesses?
Soft skills, I think, are very difficult to effectively measure and evidence during a job interview. Lots of employers will use competency-based interview questions in an attempt to evidence these softer skills with questions like: “Tell me about a time when you successfully…”
But there are two inherent problems with this technique. Firstly, the scoring system itself is potentially subjective, and secondly the candidate may be just very good at story telling. (The latter trait in itself could suggest strong influencing skills.)
Other methods of assessing soft skills include psychometric testing and assessment centres, both of which are expensive and time consuming. So, how do you really know whether the candidate has strong influencing, communication, and engagement skills etc.?
One employer I work with built in a “test run” day into their interview process, where the final two candidates each spent a day with the team they would be working with, doing the job they applied to do.
Time consuming, yes, but an excellent way to see the individuals in action and witness first hand their soft skills. But a caveat to this approach is the need for a structured environment. This isn’t an opportunity to just get them in to see how they perform with the team – there must be “markers” of soft skill attainment.
There is no perfect solution, but it’s great to see employers investing more time in candidate selection. I met with a candidate today who, on the face of the spec, their skill set and their soft skills unfortunately still failed to secure the post at the second round of interviews. I think that was down to demonstrating the right answers and subjective interviewing. Giving new candidates an “on-the-job” day, might surprise you in that it gives you a lot more to assess them on, and, ultimately locates the right candidate for you.
Scott Taylor is Associate Director of Accountancy & Finance
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