How to Interview for Soft Skills

From the Ask Tom mailbag.

I think I know how to interview for technical knowledge, but how do I interview for soft skills, that are difficult to pin down. Specifically, how well will the candidate fit with our existing team? Does the candidate share our organizational values? Will the candidate bring the right attitude?

These ideas are actually good ideas, noble characteristics to find in a candidate. Here is the rub. How can the hiring manager, who is not a psychologist, evaluate the candidate on fit, values and attitude?

You have to get down to behaviors. You are not a psychologist, but you can spot positive behavior and negative behavior in the workplace. Observing and evaluating behavior is what managers do. Play to your strength. Interview for behaviors.

  • Fit. How does a person who “fits” our organization behave?
  • Values. How does a person with our values behave?
  • Attitude. How does a person with a positive attitude behave?

Now, interview for those behaviors. Yes, fuzzy stuff can be important, a valuable part of the interview and the criteria for hiring.

5 thoughts on “How to Interview for Soft Skills

  1. Becky Halvorsen

    Some of the questions we ask candidates are about when something didn’t go quite as planned, or a mistake was made. The answers we get to those questions often indicate a fit with those “soft skills”.

  2. Gideon

    Do you really want all new recruits to “fit” with behavior, values and culture, or do you need fresh thinking, culture and behaviors to progress forward?

    1. Tom Foster Post author

      The principle still holds. How do you interview for fresh thinking? All thinking is invisible until it’s connected to behavior. —What are the behaviors connected to fresh thinking?—
      Constructively questioning (challenging) the status quo.
      Using necessity as a rule of thumb – Is this step in the process truly necessary? Is this role necessary? Is this equipment necessary?
      Questioning assumptions? Is the logic of your project based on the correct assumption? What if?
      Constructive abandonment. What are we doing now that has no impact on the output (goal)?

      So, these behaviors might be connected to fresh thinking. Now, interview for those behaviors.

      Tell me about a time when you worked on a project where the standard methods underperformed, failed the quality standard or jeopardized an established deadline.
      What was the project?
      How long was the project?
      What was your role on the project?
      When did you identify that the standard method was going to underperform?
      How did you identify that the standard method was going to underperform?
      What was the impact to the project?
      How did you create alternative solutions?
      Of the alternative solutions, how did you select the best alternative?
      For the selected alternative, how did you test its impact on the project?
      How did you deploy the alternative?
      What was the overall impact of the new method?

  3. Hugo J. Fontalvo

    To fit with the desired/expected behavior, desired/expected value, and culture, welcoming fresh thinking and progress forward.


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