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Finding the Invisible Soft Skills When Recruiting from Behind a Screen

By Tara Wolckenhauer, DVP Human Resources, ADP

Tara Wolckenhauer, DVP Human Resources, ADP

As employers shift to rebuild their workforce due to changing company needs, the importance of employee soft skills remains top of mind. While many people have the tactical skills needed to carry out a job, “soft skills,” which include how one communicates, dresses, and presents them self, are what employers should prioritize during the recruitment stage, as honing these skills increases the potential to be successful at work. 

The difference many recruiters are facing now when seeking soft skills at the interview stage is that the recruitment process is remote. While soft skills were always fundamental and easy to detect in person, recruiters now must seek them out from behind a screen. So how can recruiters effectively gauge a candidate’s soft skills when they aren’t even in the same room? While it can pose as a challenge, it isn’t out of the question. Options may be limited to phone or video, but with a few tweaks to the structure and format, there are opportunities on both the candidate and recruiter side to embrace the remote interview.

Call Out the Soft Skills

When removed from the context of an in-person environment, soft skills are much more difficult to evaluate. In fact, both the interviewer and candidate must work harder during remote interviews to compensate.Recruiters should expect more from the candidate and therefore ask more complex questions to help uncover soft skills. For example, appearance comes into play even more so because of the flexibility of being at home. What will the candidate wear? Are they interviewing for a CFO position? Perhaps a suit is warranted in that case—even if connecting from the living room. The way they conduct themselves is also important. The candidate must work harder to bring their energy and really showcase their personality and strengths through a screen or over the phone. Do they laugh at the appropriate moments? Instead of shaking hands, how do they professionally greet the recruiter remotely? These are some of the considerations recruiters should be making at the candidate stage.

"When removed from the context of an in-person environment, soft skills are much more difficult to evaluate"

In turn, the recruitermust work harder as well and provide the opportunity for the candidate to bring to the forefront soft skills that might be hidden by the virtual dynamic. In this case, asking the right interview questions is key.Use the remote environment to frame your questions by asking, for instance, how the candidate might go about leading a remote team. As a leader, what tactics would they use to bring a remote team together, and how would they motivate another team member to have a voice behind a screen? Asking this type of layered question can help the interviewer understand how a candidate’s thought process works in their response. These are just a few ways recruiters can draw out those soft skills that candidates are trying to convey.

Consider the Role of a Company’s Culture

Beyond job descriptions and position requirements, hiring managers should approach the candidate search with a solid understanding of the soft skills they seek, and how those soft skills fit into and help shape the larger organizational culture. Align internally to define the company culture and use it as a guidepost when evaluating candidates. In fact, soft skills are what may differentiate two candidates who have very similar backgrounds and propel one to the top of the list. The candidate you end up selecting might have soft skills that fit better into the organization and the team. And now more than ever, culture is what is helping to get many through today’s environment—especially as remote work increased team collaboration.

Look for New, Emerging Soft Skills

Beyond the traditional attributes, there are new emerging sets of soft skills that employers must now consider and look for during interviews.  For example, the ability to connect with people and sense the needs of a team in a virtual environment is one of the most criticalemerging soft skills.  Employees can and will continue to do their jobs and do them well despite being remote. But when it comes down to assessing two candidates with similar backgrounds and work experiences, the candidate who is able to connect with people will likely get the job.There are some people who have the ability to bring everyone into the meeting virtually. They have the ability to notice who has not spoken during a video call, who seems distracted and who might be having an off day. That level of awareness and the ability to act on those observations are important for a team’s ultimate success. Seek candidates who can bring that quality to the virtual world.

As hiring managers continue to adapt and evolve to this new world of work, so should their approach to the interview. Employers are encouraged to lean into this new world of work by understanding the skills required to drive the organization’s success and finding the candidates that can best navigate forward, no matter any distance.

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