Most successful managers are adept at evaluating their employees’ success in the hard-skills of their role. Meeting specific goals and objectives, or directly contributing to profits or cost savings, leaves little to interpretation. Yet it’s the soft skills required to succeed that are often the hardest to measure. How can you successfully evaluate the soft skills of a candidate?

The Spectrum of Soft Skills

Start with the skills that are most critical to a new hire’s success; think of those qualities that you used to describe the ideal candidate to join your team. The attributes you list may be different if you are in marketing, then if you are in data analytics or consumer products sales. Whatever your industry, list the important traits you seek in a candidate. If you listed qualities like “driven,” “integrity,” “empathetic,” or “innovative thinker,” take a moment to reflect on why those qualities are important to the organization. In many cases, they are important either because your existing team is strong in those areas, or because past hires have not been and it has caused issues that you would like to avoid with future hires.

Where to Begin

Once the initial list of soft skills you’re seeking has been created, it can be helpful to further define those traits. A good listener can be further defined as someone who refrains from multi-tasking during a conversation, maintains eye contact, doesn’t interrupt or finish others’ sentences, asks clarifying or expanding questions, and takes notes. Once that list of characteristics has been created, take each of them and define specific actions associated with them. Someone who refrains from multi-tasking during a conversation does not answer or check their mobile phone during meetings (or keeps their mobile phone in their pocket during meetings), turns off computer monitor, does not accept incoming phone calls, or closes the office door, for example.

Questions to Ask

Most leaders responsible for hiring have experienced the frustrating situation of a candidate’s skill set during the interview process as completely different then the individual that shows up for their first day of work once hired. To avoid that situation and assist in the successful screening, interviewing, and onboarding of a new employee, be able to articulate answers to these types of questions:

  • How is successful performance defined or measured in this role?
  • What are the biggest challenges the candidate will face in this role?
  • What is the first project or assignment for which this candidate will be responsible?
  • How will this candidate know whether or not they are properly performing their critical functions?
  • What has a past employee accomplished in this role that exceeded expectations?
  • What outcomes, or specific accomplishments, must be achieved through this position and within what timeframe?
  • Following that timeframe, how will the candidate be evaluated, and how often?

Beginning to concretely measure and manage the soft-skills of candidates beyond regular performance expectations, will help create a long-term roadmap for successful professional partnerships. Most people are willing to grow and evolve; the key is to be able to provide a foundation of trust and universal standards of expected behavior and performance.

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