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How to hire for soft skills

Research by jobs website shows a high percentage of jobs ask for soft skills in the job description.

  • 25% of job ads asked for problem solving skills. 
  • 8.2% of job ads asked for problem solving skills.
  • 8.0% of job ads asked for interpersonal skills.
  • 6.5% or job ads asked for work ethic.
  • 6.0% of job ads asked for creativity.

Communication, empathy, conflict resolution and creativity are considered soft skills, but Adzuna CEO Raife Watson says they are among the most difficult attributes to find in a new hire.

“Finding a fullstack developer with in depth knowledge of servers, databases, and systems engineering is hard enough, but finding someone with these skills who can also communicate effectively with clients is a different challenge altogether. 

“Hiring managers and HR professionals are rewriting the book when it comes to how to hire for soft skills. 

“They know the future of the workplace will depend on soft skills and are coming up with innovative ways to attract candidates who can solve problems, think creatively, and add far more to a business than increasing profit margin,” Mr. Watson says. 

This is our guide on how to hire for soft skills in 2019. 

The C.V Litmus Test

There is ample research out there about writing job advertisements to attract a specific type of candidate. But a new tactic employed by managers to hire for soft skills is proving to be a game changer.

Scenario: We are hiring a civil engineer. Listing the hard skills required for the job isn’t an issue, but we are desperate for a team player, someone who has excellent interpersonal skills and can solve problems creatively. 

The Test: Ask the candidate to supply a C.V with two examples of projects they worked on and at least 1 unforeseen problem they solved in each project. 

The analysis:  A good civil engineer is only as good as the team around them. Take a good look at the examples of the projects listed in the C.V. Does the candidate talk about projects as a collaborative effort? Do they reference the multiple stakeholders involved in the project? If so, this is a great sign the candidate is a team player. If the candidate praises the efforts of other people involved in the project it’s time to pick up the phone and get them in for a face-to-face interview. Praising colleagues demonstrates they are self effacing, which is a rare, rare quality. 

A big red flag is every sentenced littered with “I”. “I” did this “I” did that. The candidate might be the most skilled, knowledgeable civil engineer in the country, but no one wants to work with someone who takes the credit for work only a dedicated team can pull off. 

Interviewing for Soft Skills 

Adzuna CEO Raife Watson offers this advice for hiring managers – don’t underestimate the value of good small talk.

“Of course it is important to keep the interview professional, but you aren’t going to get to the core of someones personality once the interview has started. It’s just too easy for candidates to provide the answers you want to hear. 

“Spend ten to fifteen minutes chatting about life. Start by telling the candidate a bit about yourself and just see where the conversation goes. This is also a great method to help the interviewee relax, which will result in more honest answers when the interview commences,” Mr. Watson said. 

Here are a few interview questions to hire for soft skills:


Question 1: One of your colleagues has just made a costly mistake on a project and they are stressing about telling the boss. What would you do? 

Question 2: A client you are working with has vastly underestimated the scope of a project you are working on. It is becoming clear they are concerned on how their mistakes will reflect on them. What would you do? 

Answers to these questions will give you an insight on both the levels of empathy and communication skills of the candidate. 

The second question is sure to provide fascinating responses. Will the candidate show empathy to the client before reporting back to their boss? 

Problem solving

Question 1: In your C.V you referenced a specific project you worked on. Please tell me the problem solving skills your teammates used to get the job done. 

Question 2:  The boss is away and you must handle this on your own. You have a critical decision to make. The client for the project you are working on has asked for extra work to be done that is outside the scope of work. The deadline for this project is a week away and is critical. What are your options? Talk me through how you would reach a decision. 

Both of these questions ask for more than problem solving. They ask for empathetic problem solving. 

Reference Checks for Soft Skills

Don’t just think about what to ask the referees provided by the candidate when trying to establish soft skills. Ask for reference checks from a wide range of sources if possible; team members, the receptionist, clients etc. 

The insights into the candidates soft skills you will glean from the receptionist or front-of-house will often provide a more accurate indication of the soft skills the candidate possesses.