Effective Ways to Assess Candidates’ Soft Skills

When making hiring decisions, the technical skills present on a resume are quickly highlighted, and you think you may have a good fit. However, it’s essential to take into consideration other telling factors of a quality candidate, including their soft skills, also known as interpersonal or communication skills. These skills can be just as crucial as technical skills to job performance and overall fit within your company. According to LinkedIn’s 2019 Global Talent Trends report, 89 percent of recruiters say that when a hire doesn’t work out, it usually comes down to a lack of soft skills. Difficult to assess, yes, but not impossible. Our recruiters share their tried-and-true approach to assessing soft skills.

Ask the right questions

It’s easy to put skills on a resume that match a job post so that it’s pulled from the applicant tracking system. It is up to the interviewer to ask the right questions to see if the candidate really possesses said skills. To assess soft skills, you are looking for instances where they’ve demonstrated leadership, problem-solving, conflict resolution, or adaptability. Some questions to ask can be:

  1. Tell me about a time when you had to communicate difficult or sensitive information to a colleague or supervisor. How did you handle the situation?
  2. Tell me about a time when you had to adapt to a change in your work environment or responsibilities. How did you handle the situation?
  3. Can you give me an example of a situation where you received feedback or constructive criticism, and describe the actions you took in response?
  4. Tell me about a time when you were under a lot of stress or had a heavy workload. How did you handle the situation and manage your time effectively?
  5. Can you provide an example of how you have built or maintained a positive relationship with a coworker or client? What specific actions did you take?

It’s important to remember that these questions are very surface-level. A quality candidate will be able to answer questions tailored to the specific needs and requirements of the job.

Assessing soft skills through body language and demeanor

Body language is a form of communication that can convey confidence, openness, and engagement, or the opposite such as disinterest, discomfort, or insecurity. When the candidate is answering questions, pay attention to their body language to get a sense of their soft skills at work.

Here is how our recruiters relate soft skills to body language in an interview:

  1. Confidence: Good posture and eye convey can all convey confidence and leadership potential.
  2. Openness: Open body language, such as uncrossed arms and legs, can show that you are approachable and receptive to others.
  3. Engagement: Active listening and nodding can show that you are engaged in the conversation and interested in what the other person has to say.
  4. Disinterest: Slouching, avoiding eye contact, or appearing distracted can convey disinterest or lack of motivation.
  5. Insecurity: Fidgeting, avoiding eye contact, or crossing your arms and legs tightly can indicate insecurity or discomfort.

Take references into consideration.

Recruiter assessing soft skills of candidate by calling references

Remember always to check references! Speaking with previous supervisors or colleagues can provide valuable insight into a candidate’s soft skills and overall work ethic.

Pro tip: Check LinkedIn to see if you have mutual connections, this can be a good sign.

If you’re contacting the references of a candidate, then you probably know they’re a technical fit, so be sure to stick to questions regarding personality. Here are a few to get started:

  1. Can you describe a time that the candidate contributed to the company culture?
  2. Can you provide an example of the candidate learning new things and taking on additional responsibilities successfully?
  3. Can you give an example of the candidate using problem-solving skills to overcome a particular obstacle?
  4. Can you describe a time when the candidate was given a significant amount of responsibility, and how they managed their workload?

Consider a temp-to-perm opportunity or internship

For some roles, it may be helpful to offer a trial period or internship as a way to assess a candidate’s fit within the company. This can be especially useful for entry-level or intern positions where technical skills may be less important. A recruiter, like the ones at Staffworks, can help you decide what makes the most sense for the open roles in your business. We specialize in an extensive range of industries, all with varying staffing goals.


Assessing soft skills is crucial to ensuring that a candidate will fit into the culture you and your existing team have cultivated over time. By asking the right questions, analyzing body language, and considering references, you can work toward making better hiring decisions. With practice, this becomes second nature, as it does for our recruiters.

Find out how we can support your hiring needs, so that you only meet with quality candidates.

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