You won’t find a single job in the world in which soft skills do not matter. They may play a pivotal role, or have a secondary importance, but they matter. Always. In this article we will outline several questions (case studies, role plays, scenarios) that will help you to assess the level of each major soft skill (communication, problem solving, leadership, teamwork, adaptability, emotional intelligence) of your job applicants.
* The article is designed primarily for employers, but you can benefit from it also if you are applying for a job, and preparing for your interviews.
Interview questions/scenarios to test communication skills
- Tell us something about yourself. Just let them talk and listen without interrupting. Watch how they express themselves, vocabulary they use, short and long sentences, etc. Do they use technicalities, professional jargon? Can you understand them, and will their new colleagues understand their words? Do they articulate clearly? Is their language easy for the ear? Do they talk to the point?
- Tell us about a time when you struggled to get your message over (to a colleague, friend, partner). Can they use demonstration, practical examples, can they simplify their language for various audiences? Do they know how to get an unpleasant message over to someone? And do they care whether the others understand them? You can assess all these things while they talk about a situation from the past in which they struggled to get their message over.
- Listening exercise. You can let them to listen to a simple recording (something about your company), or basically you can tell them a story in five or ten minutes, and then ask them follow-up questions immediately. Doing so, you can observe whether they pay attention to detail, whether they actually listen or are lost in thought, whether they have a good understanding for the spoken word, whether they can “read in between the lines”. Listening is even more important than talking in any relationship. Test their listening skills with this simple exercise.
- There is a tension between you and your boss. You talk very little to each other. What will you do?
- How do you feel about talking to a stranger (making a cold call)?
Special Tip: Do not forget to check our article that specializes only in communication skills interview questions. There you will find a broader analysis of the topic and more questions/answers.
Problem solving interview questions
Problems and conflicts occur in every single company. We are people, we have our egos, desires, and also our bad days in the office.
Excellent employees can avoid conflicts, and when they find themselves in one they can admit making a mistake. They try to solve each conflict in a friendly and creative way, without attacking the other conflict party personally.
They can also solve problems (both simple and complex) that they encounter in their work, without a need to always consult their superior or supervisor. To some questions you can use to test the problem-solving skills of your employees belong:
- Describe the biggest problem you faced in your last job. How did you solve it?
- Tell us about a conflict you had with one of your colleagues.
- Here is a problem (you describe a simple or complex issue/situation, something they may realistically deal with in their new job). Tell us what you will do in a given situation.
- Do you consider yourself independent in work?
- Here is a Rubik’s cube. You have 20 minutes. Do your best to solve it.
Interview questions to test leadership skills of job applicants
Certain level of leadership is important in each job. Even if they won’t supervise or manage anyone in their work, they should be able to at least meaningfully lead their own life and their day in work. Let’s have a look at some questions you can use to test different levels of leadership:
- How do you motivate your subordinates? If they start talking about rewards or salary raise, you immediately know they aren’t good leaders, and opt for the easiest solutions that never work in a long run. But if they talk about going by example, strengthening team spirit, helping their subordinates to see the connection of their personal goals and the goals of the company, you know you have a good leader sitting in front of you…
- How do you attract people to follow your leadership? If they talk about attracting by authority (their rank or position in the company), you know that you aren’t talking to a real leader. But if they talk about connecting with people (on both personal and professional level), about listening to the needs and to the feedback of their subordinates, or about presenting a meaningful vision in which their employees play an important role and can identify with, you have a good candidate for your leadership role.
- Tell us about your last job, a typical day in work. This one is more about their ability to manage their own time, to work without constant supervision. Just listen to their description of a typical day. Do they have any system in their work, any schedule? Do they make decisions, or do they always seek a confirmation of their superior (even in most trivial matters)?
- Some of your team members complain that the workload is too heavy, and they will not meet the deadline with the project. What will you do?
Special Tip: Do not forget to check also our article that specializes only in Leadership interview questions.
Teamwork interview questions for job applicants
Every great effort is a team effort (or almost every one). Companies can be compared to living organisms, in which employees stand for different limbs and body organs. If they can’t coexist and cooperate together, the entire organization will struggle (or at least it won’t achieve the best possible results).
Following questions should help you assess whether your new employee will be a team player.
- Do you consider yourself a team player? What makes you a good team player?
- Have you worked in a team in your last job? Describe the experience.
- Tell me about a time you stepped up into a leadership role.
Group interview as a great test of teamwork ability
Perhaps the best opportunity to test this particular soft skill happens in a group interview.
You divide people to teams of 3 to 5 people, and let them work on a certain problem (it can be work related, but it can also be something funny, mathematical, etc).
You observe them while they try to solve the problem, watching who takes the initiative, whether they argue, who works most earnestly and who just sits and watches the others, and so on. This should give you a good idea of each person in the room–whether they can work in the team, what role they have in the team, and so on.
Special Tip: We have also a separate article on teamwork interview questions, with more than 15 questions. Do not forget to check it out.
Adaptability – another soft skill to test
Change is inevitable in every business. If you operate in a fast-paced environment where things change and evolve almost on a daily basis, it is important to find out whether your new employee will adapt to these changes.
Because if they struggle to adapt (or hate changes), they will find working for you unbearable and will eventually leave. Let’s have a look at some questions you may use to assess their ability (and willingness) to adapt to changes.
- Describe the most drastic change that happened in your last job (new management, reorganization of the company structure, new equipment you had to work with, etc).
- How would you define your attitude to change?
- Tell us about a colleague that you didn’t like in particular in your last job, but you had to work with them. What did you do to manage to coexist with them in the workplace?
Observe their behavior and non-verbal communication
Just like with communication skills or teamwork, you can get a basic grasp of person’s adaptability by simply watching them in an interview, and listening to their interview answers.
Are they nervous? How quickly do they react to your questions? Do they mention mostly positive or negative things while talking about their former jobs and colleagues? How do they react when you ask them a very atypical or even bizarre question?
Having said that, adaptability is still the hardest soft skill to assess. You can’t be 100% sure about their ability to adapt to changes and to your working environment until they start working for you. Sometimes you will simply have to take a risk and see how things develop…
Emotional intelligence in an interview
Emotional intelligence is interrelated with all other soft skills. It’s so much easier to lead a team, to cooperate effectively with your colleagues, or to find right words in a tense meeting, once you understand your emotions and emotions of other people who share the situation with you.
But I have some bad news for you: unless you are emotionally intelligent, you may find it hard to assess the emotional intelligence of other people, the job seekers. Some questions may help you, but they won’t guarantee a good judgment, since some job seekers may simply pretend (and you won’t spot it unless you have high EI). Let’s have a look at the questions:
- Describe a conflict you had with one of your colleagues. Observe how they talk about the conflict, if they mention emotions they experienced, and understanding for the emotions of the other conflict party.
- How will you deal with a frustrated (angry) client? An emotionally intelligent person will try to understand the reason of client’s anger. They will stay calm and try to address the problem without getting involved emotionally.
- What is your attitude to constructive criticism?
- Talk about the most negative experience from your last job.
Other ways of assessing someone’s emotional intelligence
Just like with other soft skills, simply observing the person’s reactions and body language will help you to learn something about their emotional intelligence.
How do they react to the pressure in the interview? Do they get angry or defensive once you ask them a personal question? Can they remain calm and focused in trying circumstances? Do they try to connect with you on a personal level? If they do, are they successful in their efforts?
All these things will help you to get some idea. Alternative you can opt for a professional tests, such as MSCEIT.
Final thoughts and next steps
Soft skills are important for every single employee. While it makes sense to ask job candidates special questions, trying to uncover their leadership skills, their ability to teamwork or to adapt to changes, you should not over-complicate things in a job interview.
Once you spend enough time with the job applicant face to face, put them under pressure with some questions, let them work on some practical exercises or even cooperate in a team (during a group interview), you should get a good idea about their soft skills–even without asking additional questions.
Some skills, such as adaptability, are especially hard to assess until the new employee starts working for you. At the end of the day, some employees will leave during the trial period (or you will send them away), regardless of how hard you try to understand and explain everything in the interviews. One real story at the end, back from the day when I led a recruitment consultancy.
Real story from my recruitment days
One of my clients was looking for a PR manager, and they designed a super complex interview process. Two phone interviews, assessment center, and two long face to face interviews. I was present in one of the face to face interviews, as a member of the panel, to give my opinion on the shortlisted candidates, but I didn’t have a decisive word or anything.
They started with 120 candidates and ended with two best, offering the job to one of them. The new employee left the company in less than a month. So they offered the job to the second best, who accepted. Six months later, they weren’t working in the company anymore.
This example illustrates that even the most scientific interview processes may end up with a wrong hire. It simply happens, and you have to count with it as an employer. Making things more complicated as they really are won’t help you in the interviews…
May also interest you:
- Emotional intelligence interview questions.
- Strategic thinking interview questions.
- Adaptability interview questions.