Did you know that 97% of employers consider soft skills just as important or even more important than hard skills? The same research found that 46% of new hires fail within their first 18 months. The reason? For 89% of those failed hires, it’s a lack of soft skills.
Clearly, soft skills are crucial, and (not) having them can ultimately determine the success of a new hire.
Today, we will walk you through everything you need to know about soft skills as a recruiter or hiring manager, starting with what they are, the ones that matter, and how to assess them.
TL;DR – Key Takeaways:
- Soft skills are the non-technical skills people use in the workplace to communicate, collaborate, and solve problems.
- Assessing these skills is problematic because measuring and quantifying them is complicated – but not impossible.
- You can assess these skills through various methods, such as interviews, job simulations or role-playing exercises, 360-degree feedback surveys, and pre-employment skills assessments.
- Top soft skills employers should test include communication, leadership management, problem-solving and critical thinking, time management, teamwork skills, and remote work skills.
- Choose Toggl Hire as a soft skills assessment tool because of the wide variety of skills you can test candidates for, all available in our test library.
What are soft skills, and why do they matter at work?
Soft skills are non-technical skills people use in the workplace to communicate, collaborate, solve problems, manage work and relationships, and more. Besides exceptional hard skills, every employee should have a robust soft skill foundation. Here is why:
- Employees with soft skills are quick to adapt to different situations
- They come up with different approaches to solving a problem instead of going with tried and tested patterns by default
- They facilitate better teamwork and collaboration among employees
- Employees with great soft skills have higher emotional intelligence and empathy, usually resulting in better conflict management within the workplace
In short, they’re an integral part of every employee’s workplace competency. No wonder they have recently been nicknamed as ‘power skills‘!
However, because of some overlap, it’s easy to confuse soft skills, hard skills, and personality traits when assessing candidates. All three are uniquely important when identifying an all-around great hire.
Let’s take a look at them side by side.
Soft skills refer to someone’s interpersonal characteristics. Often referred to as ‘people skills‘, they are qualities individuals need to work, lead, and interact with others. Besides communication skills, a whole range of other skills go into this category.
While soft skills can definitely be developed, in many instances, candidates naturally have an inherent level of soft skill ability, showcasing themselves as great people to work with.
A major part of soft skills is emotional intelligence or EQ. This is the ability to understand the emotions of others, as well as manage your own emotions in the workplace. This is a crucial skill for employees of all levels, as it influences effective communication and their leadership ability in the workplace.
View a sample soft skills assessment from Toggl Hire: Leadership & Management Skills test
Hard skills refer to learned competencies in an area/field that are developed on the way to competence in a particular role.
Because of this level of objective competence, hard skills are much easier to train, measure, and assess when compared to soft skills.
View a sample hard skills assessment from Toggl Hire: Digital Marketer Skills Test
Personality traits are the component parts of an individual’s character. These traits come together to form part of an individual’s personality and mostly stay the same throughout an individual’s life.
When assessing candidates, depending on your sector, organization, and individual role, you’ll likely have a good idea of the ‘type’ of person you’re looking for. You can assess these traits with the right tools, such as a personality test.
Comparison Table – Soft Skills vs. Hard Skills vs. Personality Traits
|Soft Skills||Hard Skills||Personality Traits|
|What are they?||Interpersonal skills used to lead, manage, and work with other people.||Learned competencies in an area/field.||The attributes of an individual’s character.|
Persuasion & Influence
Foreign language skills
7 Soft skills & personality traits employers should test
When looking for the right candidate, you’ll know the right mix of skills you need to get the job done. But, of course, for many roles, some soft skills and personality traits will be more critical than others.
Here are the top seven of each we suggest you test for:
Top 7 soft skills to look out for
- Communication – In an ever-connected world, the ability to communicate well has never been more important. Test that your candidates can communicate both in written and verbal formats when running your recruitment.
- Leadership & Management – Managing others and leading by example is essential, especially for those in senior positions. Make sure your candidates have the ability to do both.
- Problem-Solving – Being a superstar employee is all about handling the problems thrown at you to find the best solution. Ensure your candidates are expert problem solvers who can think outside the box.
- Time Management – Everyone’s always busy. The best employees are the ones who can manage their time by prioritizing the tasks that really matter to deliver what their business needs.
- Teamwork – No individual can do everything independently, so they must work well within a team. Whether as a team member, a leader, or a manager, make sure your candidates work well with others and aren’t afraid to get stuck in!
- Negotiation – Especially good for customer-facing roles, the ability to understand the objectives of both parties and come to a reasonable solution is essential for long-term success.
- Remote Working – What was once a hard skill is now a soft skill. Make sure that your next super-star employee tailors all of their other soft skills to stay productive and effective in a remote world!
Top 7 personality traits to look out for
- Honesty – You want to build a team of honest individuals to add integrity and courage to your team. Look for those who are open to admitting mistakes and calling out things they believe are wrong.
- Adaptability – The business world changes daily, so make sure your new employee can keep up. Those who can adapt quickly help you stay competitive within your market.
- Resilience – Like adaptability, when things constantly change, you need someone who can roll with the punches. Resilience is key to a strong business, so look for those who react positively to setbacks and take constructive feedback well.
- Confidence – Confidence breeds confidence, so look for individuals who are sure of themselves. This helps you and your team perform well and reduces their reliance on other people.
- Empathy – Whether it’s working in a team or facing out to customers, the employees who build the best relationships can empathize with others. Look for candidates who can see the world through other people’s eyes.
- Drive – Every business wants people who are self-starters and don’t need managers to get them going. Those with good drive push themselves to do well and often exceed what’s expected of them to deliver amazing results.
- Loyalty – As employers, leaders, or managers, we all want people in our business who are loyal to the cause. Look for individuals who are sincere and show they’re long-term team players when hiring.
How do you measure soft skills?
While hard to measure, soft skills can still be observed and assessed through interviews, job simulations or role-playing exercises, and soft skills tests. Other methods, such as self-assessments and 360 feedback, are also valuable tools for providing insight into a candidate’s strengths and weaknesses.
To help you visualize how soft skills assessment tools fit into the hiring pipeline to help you find the best candidates, here’s what the process looks like at Toggl Hire:
7 ways to assess soft skills – tests, interviews & job simulations
Now that you know the critical soft skills to look for, how can you actually execute a reliable soft skills assessment?
Here are three of the best ways to get deeper insight into a candidate’s soft skills:
1. Include a soft skills assessment test
Skills tests are an excellent way to assign value (qualitative or quantitative) to how well someone performs on the job. Hiring managers use soft skills tests like Toggl Hire to quickly test and compare soft skills between candidates. Some of the skills we can help you test include:
- Critical thinking
- Attention to detail
- Time management
- Active listening
- And many others
You can test these soft skills in isolation or in combination with one of our hard skills assessments. That way, you can find out whether someone is good at product management, for example, AND if they are a good communicator.
For the candidate, skills tests are fun and engaging to take and can be completed at a time that suits them. For recruiters, they give you real insight into how an individual operates while allowing you to test multiple candidates at once to save time.
Perhaps the most important thing as a recruiter is you can get a glimpse at someone’s soft skills before evaluating them in an interview. Take a look at our test library to find a wide range of skills tests for different abilities.
2. Combine with a personality test
As we’ve already seen, personality traits are character features that people inherit through genetics or develop through their life experiences. While people can hone their soft skills, personality traits are more or less a permanent part of someone’s character.
Traits like honesty and integrity are essential for roles with a lot of responsibility, like many medical and legal professionals, but less critical for others. Similarly, when hiring people on a management fast-track path, for example, it could be essential to identify traits common to career success, such as drive and loyalty.
To judge someone’s personality traits, you can use various personality tests, such as:
3. Dig deep into their interpersonal skills in an interview
There are many ways to conduct an interview: face-to-face, audio or video call, or a recorded clip of the applicant presenting themselves to you. No matter the medium, interviews are ideal for assessing soft skills.
Through conversation and reading body language, a hiring manager can quickly assess how well the candidate communicates, for example. For other soft skills, asking behavioral questions will give critical insight into how they behave in certain situations.
That way, you can get a better idea of how they think. Here are some examples:
- Tell me about a conflict you had in one of your previous positions. How did you communicate your ideas in a civilized way? (Communication skills, conflict resolution)
- Tell me about a time when you took the lead in your team. What was the issue, and how did your team react? (Leadership skills, problem-solving)
- Tell me about a situation where you found someone breaking the rules at work. How did you handle it? (Work ethics)
You can come up with various questions, depending on the soft skills that are most important for the role at hand.
4. Ask hypothetical questions
Another popular way to test soft skills in the interview process is to ask questions that put candidates in a hypothetical situation. Here are some examples:
- Your manager gives you a massive project with a very tight deadline. How do you manage this workload and still meet the deadline? (Time management, delegation skills)
- You’re a manager, and two of your employees are in conflict, asking you to resolve the situation. How do you approach it? (Conflict resolution)
- You’re working on a project for an important client, but your coworker is extremely difficult to work with. How do you meet your goals and handle your coworkers at the same time? (Communication skills, teamwork skills)
With this method, you’re asking about situations that the candidate may have already experienced and looking to understand how they would react to different problems and challenges they might face in the role.
A great source of information for designing these questions is the existing team for which you are hiring. Ask them to tell you about obstacles they overcame and how they went about it to make sure you’re covering all the right skills.
5. Conduct real-life exercises (role-play)
Taking the hypothetical questions one step further, another way to assess a candidate’s soft skills is to simulate real-life job scenarios. There are two main ways to do this: through role-playing or trial projects, where candidates work with others to achieve an objective.
Within a job simulation, you can assess soft skills to see the following:
- How they manage their time
- How they communicate
- How they solve problems and use critical thinking
- How they take initiative and lead
- How good their attention to detail is
- How they negotiate and handle conflicts (if they arise)
At this point of the recruitment process, you can find valuable information that can contribute to your final hiring decision.
6. Encourage self-assessment
A different approach is to let candidates assess their own soft skills, from communication skills to problem-solving skills, to compare where they see themselves with the information you observe.
While this method is handy, it can be very subjective. Some candidates will be outright dishonest, while others are too modest in their answers. Therefore, hiring managers who see value in a self-assessment may want to combine it with another test.
A more specialized self-assessment tool, like 360-degree feedback, is not ideal for pre-employment assessments and works best for assessing soft skills in existing employees. With this method, hiring managers can collect feedback from the employees and those who interact with them most often to paint a realistic picture of their soft skills assessment test.
7. Call their references
Finally, sometimes, the best people to tell you about a candidate’s soft skills are those they have worked with before. If reference checks are a standard part of your hiring process, use this opportunity to ask their previous employer about the soft skills they displayed at work.
The feedback you get in these calls will often give you all the information you need to probe further and make a good hiring decision.
Unpacking the challenges of a soft skills assessment
Unfortunately, assessing soft skills in the hiring process isn’t always straightforward. Unlike hard skills, where it’s easy to judge competency, the results from a soft skills test can be left to interpretation.
Here are some of the key challenges businesses face when assessing soft skills:
Since soft skills aren’t as clear-cut as hard skills, you need to get candidates into a situation to showcase their abilities. During the traditional interview process, that’s quite hard. Especially with resumes, candidates can’t exhibit skills such as verbal communication and leadership, leaving many hiring managers to start assessing soft skills after the initial screening.
Whether we like it or not, we all hold unconscious bias.
Soft skills are subjective, so what one person thinks is great, another may think isn’t. It’s hard to overcome this in settings such as interviews, so additional measures to improve fairness and objectivity need to be put in place.
Lack of knowledge
Some people believe soft skills are something you either have or don’t have. For example, rather than assess the level of a candidate’s communication skills, they instead jump to the conclusion that they are either good or bad. Because of that lack of knowledge, many hiring managers simply don’t know how to assess soft skills, or identify how to further nurture them, and may eliminate viable candidates too soon.
What if an employee has amazing technical skills but lacks soft skills?
This is a great question. When you do a soft skills assessment, you will likely run into candidates who are amazing at the technical aspects of their job but lack the right soft skills. In this case, it’s important to think holistically about the real demands of the job and the fit with the company and team.
Because if someone is truly great at what they do, you could teach them to develop the necessary soft skills along the way – if time and budget allow.
In this case, you can be open about it and explain that you’re bringing them on your team but will create a professional development plan to help them become better in their soft skills.
The steps to this process can include:
- Identifying which soft skills are lacking (with soft skills online assessment tools)
- Explaining the value of open communication
- Giving them room to share and receive honest feedback
- Emphasizing the value of those soft skills in their day-to-day operations
- Giving them space and time to understand and practice soft skills in the workplace
- Giving them opportunities to observe others and their interactions, e.g., body language, so that they can practice interpersonal skills
You can include any number of steps and processes in a personal development plan for a specific employee. It’s best to make it unique and personalized according to their needs and your company’s desired outcomes.
Turbocharge recruitment with Toggl Hire’s soft skills assessments
Soft skills are some of an individual’s most important and effective attributes. Even if someone is amazing at the technical aspects of their job, having subpar soft skills could make them a bad hire.
In the past, assessing soft skills was very difficult, especially early on in the hiring process. Nowadays, tools like Toggl Hire help you screen for the skills that really matter for the role and your business.
Whether it’s hard, soft, or a mix of two skill types, we have the test for it. Don’t hire based on gut feeling; hire based on evidence. Start for free and browse our soft skills assessment test templates.
Juste loves investigating through writing. A copywriter by trade, she spent the last ten years in startups, telling stories and building marketing teams. She works at Toggl Hire and writes about how businesses can recruit really great people.