How to Evaluate a Job Candidate’s Soft Skills

how to evaluate job candidates soft skills

As the founder and CEO of a Software as a Service (SaaS) company that tests job applicants for their skills, I know how powerful and equitable testing and assessment software can be to identify the best candidates in terms of their current skills. Throughout the years, however, I’ve learned that no matter how techy a company is, tech skills are not enough. It is the soft skills that make a business grow and a product shine. I am not alone. Paul Petrone, Editor of LinkedIn Learning, writes, “57 percent of leaders say soft skills are more important than hard skills” to be successful in today’s business environment.

Soft skills can be applied in almost all categories of jobs, and, in many cases, are more critical to an employee’s success than the hard skills. These soft skills are the top skills necessary for any position, like sales jobs, customer service jobs, jobs requiring teamwork, and, of course, for leadership positions, such as supervisors or managers. Soft skills are the “people” skills that we often assume candidates possess, only to be sadly disappointed once we discover they do not.

Would you like to know how to recognize these soft skills in candidates? Using as an example the hiring of a designer for the marketing team, here’s what we at eSkill do to evaluate a candidate’s soft skills.

The Ability to Follow Instructions and Demonstrate Creativity

To find the best match and eliminate candidates upfront, we first assess the candidates through e-mail communication. For example, when hiring designers, following instructions is really an important key performance indicator (KPI) of their capabilities, since the Marketing team gives them specifications for a variety of productions. Plus, all the whitepapers, e-books or other design materials are normally reviewed and revised at least 3 times before the final version.

In the ad we post seeking a designer, we include 5 components that must be included in their e-mail response to the ad. Those who don’t follow the basic directions don’t have their applications further reviewed. The ad also contains some informal or “fun” requirements, and we evaluate how much thought and creativity the applicants put into these responses. If some of them are creative enough, we put those applications into the “maybe” stack.

Inner Motivation and Energy

Demonstrating passion for your work and being able keep up with the demands of your job is essential. A good sign of proper motivation lies in the questions candidates ask. Candidates who appear inquisitive about the job, asking difficult questions that reveal they have put some serious thought into the position, are the ones we are looking for. Also, we use Shelle Rose Charvet’s book, “Words That Change Minds,” which teaches you how to discern the motivational profile of a candidate, without using skills testing, through a structured interview. Charvet is an expert in subconscious communication processes — what drives people to do (or not do) things, outside of their awareness.

The Ability to Communicate Clearly and Sell Your Work

Communication in all its forms is a complex skill to test.  We gauge prospective designers’ work history by viewing their online portfolios. Many items in the portfolios are obviously school pieces, for which they had a lot of time to complete an assignment and they received specific instructions. We always look for other pieces, like personal projects, or stuff they’ve done on their own just to learn something. Many applicants don’t have those highlights, and when we speak with them on the phone, it becomes clear that they lack a certain creative spark.  They can’t explain the process they used to create those projects, and they didn’t learn how to approach work without being told or asked. Those candidates are not a good fit for our team.

The Ability to Manage Their Time and Handle Pressure

Once, a designer submitted a beautiful series of ads for our considerations. The ads were created for a semester-long art class, and they were great — lots of details, a creative logo and even illustrations. They had a modern and fresh look. But then we thought about it — it took the applicant four months to do something that we would need to turn around in a couple weeks. After speaking with him further, it became clear that deadlines and a quick turnaround were going to stress him out and he might be overwhelmed by the pace of our chaos. His soft skills weren’t up to the challenge.

Having an end product that pleases employers may not be enough to get the job, if you can’t also complete the work within their workflow demands. In our skills selection tests, we make tests that assess a candidates’ ability to focus, make decisions, say “Yes” or “No,” set goals, and prioritize tasks. To test if a candidate can remain cool under pressure, we give them multitasking tests and different computer simulations that replicate the real-life working environment.

The Ability to Explain the Process, Demonstrate Leadership and Accountability

It is said that “If you can’t explain it, you don’t really understand it.” We always look for candidates who demonstrate ownership and accountability for their work. To find who can do this, we use our skills testing tool and customize specific ‘free-response’ type questions. We then pose a few hypothetical questions to the candidates and ask them to describe the process they would take to handle a problem.

For example, any designer that says they’re going to use Photoshop® to create an image as a scalable vector logo, we know they lack actual experience. We also always ask candidates what their favorite font is. If they name a regular system font or have never heard of places like Dafont or 1001 Free Fonts, then maybe they don’t know that half a designer’s job is selecting just the right typography for each job.

Overall Advice

Just as with hard skills, soft skills can be evaluated. It may be a lengthy process to secure someone into a job, but relevant skills assessment through technology is an exceptional way to ensure that both you and the employee understand the expectations of the position from the start. Quality skills assessment providers can help employers determine whether candidates for a job or promotion have the soft skills necessary for them to be effective in their positions.

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Eric Friedman

Eric Friedman is the founder and CEO of eSkill Corporation, a leading provider of Web-based skills testing for pre-employment and training. Since 2003, has tested millions of job candidates for organizations worldwide such as Zappos, ADP, Coca-Cola, Randstad, and GE. With academic degrees in Psychology and Business and experience with both mature and expansion-stage company growth, Eric has focused on how to hire and motivate team members to be the best they can be for their companies.

Reader Interactions


  1. Mitch says

    Thanks so much, Eric! I love these and wholeheartedly agree that when hiring—or firing—soft skills are often the make or break. I love seeing people put these into practice well and a great example is one of our historically best-performing sales reps. He combined “Inner Motivation and Energy” with “The Ability to Communicate Clearly and Sell Your Work” when he used our employee onboarding software to help pass along soft skill tips to his fellow sales teammates. What still blows my mind is that the very best of the best take time to help others learn and grow and still perform well. Coincidence? I think not 🙂

  2. David says

    Thanks, Eric !!

    I think for the work ethic, Interviewers have various ways to measure the work ethic of a candidate through various questions. Developing/fixing a strong work ethic on an employee is very hard, sometimes impossible, so it’s far easier to just hire someone with a strong work ethic. In general, we will ask for questions about how they usually tackle a problem. People with high self-awareness that don’t easily make excuses about external factors (i.e. “I didn’t perform in my last job because the manager is….” is not preferred, while someone who admitted their mistakes and willing to improve is a strong green flag) is a strong sign of positive work ethic.


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