Testing Hard Skills in Candidates: A Guide for Hiring Managers | Toggl Blog
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Testing Hard Skills in Candidates: A Guide for Hiring Managers

James Elliott James Elliott Last Updated:

Hard skills are one of the most difficult things to accurately assess during the hiring process. While a resume gives a good insight into a candidate’s past, it doesn’t objectively test how well they perform in the workplace. 

In this article, we’ll be diving deep into hard skills. After we’ve looked at exactly what they are and how they differ from soft skills, we’ll provide you, as a hiring manager, with several ways to accurately assess them within your candidates.

Let’s get started!

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hard skills

What are Hard Skills?

Hard skills are the tangible, measurable attributes people need to do their jobs. They are competencies that can be quantified or measured against a particular benchmark or standard and can even be used to compare against other people. 

Hard skills are abilities that can be taught in a classroom, through training courses, or learned on the job through practical experience.

Most jobs will require the candidate to have certain combinations of talents to ensure they have the fundamental competency, knowledge, and qualifications to carry out the role. 

While we’ll look at some examples in more detail next, common hard skills include proficiency in a foreign language, the ability to use software tools (such as Microsoft Word), or professional qualifications (such as a degree) in a certain field. 

Remember, hard skills are competencies that can be quantified, measured, and are typically learned through training or on-the-job experience – they’re the functional pieces of knowledge you need to work in a particular field.

Examples of Hard Skills

Here’s a list of 30 common hard skills you may come across for popular roles. These are just the tip of the iceberg, you’ll encounter many different requirements depending on the roles you’re recruiting for.

Examples for finance roles:

  • Accounting
  • Administration
  • Auditing
  • Bookkeeping
  • Budgeting
  • Microsoft Excel

Examples for software development roles:

  • Database Management
  • HTML
  • Java Script
  • C#
  • PHP
  • Computer Science Degree

Examples for marketing roles:

  • SEO
  • Facebook Ads
  • Email Marketing
  • Copywriting
  • Proofreading
  • Social Media

Examples for customer success roles: 

  • Project Management
  • Word Processing
  • Microsoft Outlook
  • IT Proficiency
  • Foreign Languages
  • Reporting

Examples for graphic designer roles: 

  • UI Design
  • UX Design
  • Photoshop
  • Adobe Final Cut
  • Illustration
  • Canva

Hard Skills vs. Soft Skills

Hiring managers often confuse hard and soft skills when assessing their candidates. In truth, soft skills are actually much harder to evaluate as they aren’t as defined.

Soft skills refer to the interpersonal characteristics of an individual. Often referred to as ‘people skills’, they are qualities individuals need to work, lead, and interact with others. 

Common examples include:

  • Communication
  • Leadership
  • Problem-solving
  • Critical thinking
  • Persuasion & Influence
  • Teamwork
  • Organization

By their nature, soft skills are far more subjective and, as such, are harder to quantify and assess. But, one thing that everyone agrees on is that for candidates to be their most effective, they need a great blend of both hard and soft skills.  

How to Assess a Candidate’s Hard Skills

Now that you know exactly what hard skills are, it’s time to start assessing them within your candidates. 

Here are three key ways you can assess your candidates for the competencies they need during the hiring process. 

#1 – Look out for Qualifications

During the early stages of your hiring process, look out for candidates who have achieved recognized qualifications for a particular skill or knowledge area. 

External qualifications are a great way to prove that a candidate has reached a certain level of competency in a particular hard skill. Most qualifications will require the individual to pass an exam to demonstrate their knowledge in a pressure situation. 

Whether it’s a degree, professional qualification, or a record of CPD, remember that in most circumstances, you can also contact the awarding body to verify the individual’s competence. 

Of course, qualifications usually need to be balanced off with practical experience, but they are a great way to quickly identify a certified hard skill level.

#2 – Run An Assessment Center

For particular roles, a great way to test for hard skills is to run an assessment center. While many people only associate these with graduates, assessment centers can be used for candidates at all levels, including senior executives. 

Assessment centers are a great place to test all sorts of different abilities as you can utilize various tasks, including aptitude tests. 

Try including some of these tasks within your assessment center:

  • Create a custom exam for your candidates, assessing them on their knowledge of a particular topic.
  • Challenge candidates to complete a job simulation such as an in-tray exercise or staged customer calls.
  • Finish by running a case study and presentation task for your candidates. This will have the supplementary benefit of assessing time management and communication skills alongside any other attirbutes you want the candidate to showcase. 

Since the pandemic, video conferencing software has dramatically improved. You can now run virtual assessment centers, too, taking away the need to host candidates at your office and making the whole process cheaper and easier for both you and your candidates. 

#3 – Skills Testing

And of course, we’re big advocates of using testing to assess candidates on their competency and knowledge. 

Skills tests are a great way to put a candidate’s abilities to the test, going far beyond simply listing them on a resume. Not only are they great for you as hiring managers, but they offer candidates the chance to stand out from the crowd and showcase how good they really are in a fun and interactive way!

They also help remove any bias within your recruiting, ensuring that you’re progressing the best candidates based on their knowledge and nothing else. 

Like the sound of that? Here’s how we can help you assess hard skills using Toggl Hire’s Smart Tests. 

Step 1 – Create Skills Tests in 2 Clicks

Setting up a skills test in Toggl Hire is super easy – in fact, it requires just two clicks! Our role-specific templates cover hiring across every department of your business, including technical, marketing, sales & support, and leadership!

hard skills

Our library of over 6,000 questions ensures every test is completely unique, eliminating the chance of cheating. Best of all, those questions are quality-checked by our team of Community Experts to ensure they accurately evaluate the exact hard skills needed to perform a job role!

Step 2 – Throw in Some Customization

While we do most of the leg work for you, we appreciate every role, and every organization is unique. That’s why you can add as many bespoke questions to your Smart Tests as you need to cover every single one of your hard skills.

hard skills

Simply jump in and add customized questions in the format that’s right for you. That could be free text, single choice, multiple-choice, picture choice, numeric input, or code input.

Step 3 – Get The Results

As your candidates complete their tests, evaluations of their hard skills start rolling into your dashboard!

Here, you can easily see your candidates ranked on their performance, with the ability to quickly search or filter on particular score percentages or customizable tags. This is a great way to identify which candidates have the hard skills to perform well in the role. 

If you’re expecting a high volume of candidates, you can even set a ‘percentage to pass’ threshold which will automatically reject candidates that don’t hit the mark. This helps you put testing on autopilot, with customized rejection emails tailored to you and your organization.

From there, you’re in a position to take the best candidates forward to interview now you know they have the competencies you need. A simple three-step process from start to finish!


Many hiring managers come unstuck when it comes to assessing hard skills. But don’t worry, it’s not actually as hard as it may seem. 

Given hard skills are the measurable competencies people learn through education or in the workplace, it’s easy to assess how skilled they really are. This is especially true when comparing them to soft skills, which are much harder to define and assess.

Whether it’s through an assessment center, external qualification, or testing, there are many ways to certify a candidate’s hard skills against the standard you need!

But, when it comes to testing, whether it’s a foreign language, accounting, or proficiency in Microsoft Word, it’s just two easy clicks to get started with a Toggl Hire Smart Test!

James Elliott

James Elliott is a Strategy Manager and Writer from London, UK. When not working on the day job, James writes on a variety of business and project management topics with a focus on content that enables readers to take action and improve their ways of working. You can check out James’ work on his website or by connecting on LinkedIn.

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