The 5 Most Important Soft Skills to Look for in a New Hire

Personality traits that determine how an employee will hack it in a group setting are hard to detect. Here are the questions that will help tease them out during an interview.

1. Broadcasts flexibility and enthusiasm

Ask a candidate to describe a time when someone had to learn a new skill or process on the job. This is a good way to understand both his or her method of learning and attitude toward a new experience.

„If I’m placing someone in a fast-paced, innovative environment, I need to see and hear enthusiasm as a candidate describes how they fly up the learning curve,“ says Rakos.

2. Takes initiative and direction

A question about how they tackled a challenge and found a solution helps assess personal accountability. Candidates should mention how they prioritized tasks and what specific steps they took to accomplish something.

„I also need to see a level of self-confidence when I hear the candidate describe how they chose a solution,“ says Rakos. „Someone who gets bogged down in analysis paralysis is not the right fit but neither is a candidate whose actions sound fearless to the point of recklessness.“

And asking them what’s important in an ideal boss should elicit descriptions of a manager who provides general, visionary direction and then unleashes their employees to get the job done.

„I especially like hearing candidates place greater value on bosses who are mentors but not micromanagers,“ says Rakos.

3. Keeps ego in check

Ask candidates to describe both their greatest success in the workplace and a time when they made a mistake. That helps determine if they are more invested in their ego or in getting the job done and building a strong team. Also ask what their role was versus that of the manager or teammates.

What you want are answers that share the credit with the team as a whole. It’s even better if they mention specific people on the team, which shows they are aware enough to articulate the skills and abilities of others–and someone who is comfortable sharing credit.

„If I hear a lot of ‚I‘ statements and precious few ‚we‘ statements, I see trouble ahead,“ Rakos says.

4. Demonstrates curiosity and a desire to learn

A vaguely worded question works here. Ask about the best job they’ve ever had and what they learned.

„While it’s true that I am listening for specific skills, knowledge and processes that may be needed for the job I’m filling, I’m also specifically listening for how the candidate values the process of learning itself,“ says Rakos. As with every question, notice body language, tone of voice and facial expressions as much as words. Rakos says he wants to see someone’s eyes light up when they describe the joy of working alongside smart, curious people.

And asking what questions the candidate has for you, is a final way to learn a lot about them.

Candidates who ask probing questions about the organization’s culture, the hiring manager’s leadership style, and how success is measured and mentored, help themselves greatly.

5. Understands strengths and limitations

Ask them describe their work style. Also, ask how a former manager or co-worker would describe their work style. You’re looking for consistent answers that describe consistency, collaboration, listening skills and respect for the ideas of others.


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