Employers recognize the widening skills gap that threatens the very existence of businesses. Many CEOs and top-level executives also realize the value of soft skills in the workforce. Sadly, soft and hard skills often run contrary to each other.
One cannot deny soft skills’ growing importance in the corporate world. Unfortunately, companies now show an increased awareness of cognitive biases’ impact on hiring decisions.
The challenge for HR professionals is how to measure soft skills without being biased. They must use soft skills evaluation methods with high reliability and validity to ensure objectivity in an otherwise objective parameter.
Soft Skills Evaluation Methods: Soft Skills vs. Hard Skills
It would be best to differentiate soft skills and hard skills before people can identify the most appropriate soft skills evaluation methods to hire new talent.
Most people equate soft skills with people skills or the ability to interact and relate with others. These are subjective characteristics that do not lend to accurate measurements. For example, leadership is one of the most sought-after soft skills for people aspiring for managerial positions.
Unfortunately, leadership is a general concept with various elements that defy precise quantification. Even if there is a tool for evaluating one leadership aspect, there will still be some gray areas.
Flexibility, motivation, and persuasion are also soft skills many companies expect from job candidates today. Unfortunately, these concepts are challenging to quantify or measure. Hiring managers can assign scores for each soft skill, but the values are not intrinsic to the people’s skill.
One can look at soft skills as a person’s innate qualities instead of being a product of education, training, or experience. These are behavioral and a reflection of one’s personality.
On the other hand, hard skills are measurable or quantifiable competencies. Some experts describe hard skills as proficiency in a complex task, which one can obtain through education, training, repetition, and practice. These are skills one can learn, develop, and master over time.
An example of hard skills is programming competency. One does not have the talent for making software straight from birth. People must study computer programming and train vigorously to achieve proficiency. However, it is worth noting that there is a ‘soft skill’ element to this. Programmers have exceptional problem-solving, critical thinking, and analytical abilities, which are innate attributes one cannot learn from school.
Another example is multilingual communication. Although communication skills are soft skills, proficiency in a language different from one’s native tongue requires training and practice.
The same is true for multilinguists. They cannot just head into the interview room talking in French, Italian, Mandarin, Nihongo, or other languages. Job candidates for multilingual positions must show verifiable evidence of their multilingual skills. Hence, certificates of second language proficiency or employment certificates underscoring a similar capacity are necessary.
Soft Skills Evaluation Methods: Why Companies Value Soft Skills
The principal issue with soft skills is they are challenging to measure or authenticate objectively. Thus, companies must use only reliable and valid soft skills evaluation methods to eliminate or minimize subjectivity. Nevertheless, many employers view soft skills as integral to their business culture and organizational success.
In 2019, LinkedIn released its Global Talent Trends that identified four developments impacting the workplace: soft skills, work flexibility, anti-harassment, and pay transparency. Of the four workplace trends, more than nine out of ten (92%) hiring managers and talent professionals consider soft skills more essential than hard skills. The report also underscored collaboration, creativity, and persuasion as the three most in-demand people skills companies need from new talent.
The same report also said that close to nine out of ten (89%) employers and hiring managers cite a lack of soft skills as one of the reasons for a bad hire.
In a separate survey, Wonderlic underscored the growing value of soft skills among employers. Closely mimicking the LinkedIn talent report, Wonderlic said 93% of managers and leaders consider soft skills essential when making a hiring decision.
There are many reasons businesses emphasize soft skills in any candidate they recruit and hire. Companies can determine a job candidate’s long-term commitment to the firm using appropriate soft skills evaluation methods. Organizations want commitment, conflict resolution, motivation, and a positive attitude towards work to ensure career longevity.
Employers also want new hires to be team players, allowing them to leverage collective effort to advance the company’s goals. Building and maintaining supportive relationships are also crucial for businesses to thrive, especially in securing customer trust and confidence.
Soft skills are crucial in growing a network, empowering businesses to expand their reach, and increasing the bottom line. Employers also want people who can accept feedback and take action, always looking for ways to better themselves and the organization’s processes.
Soft Skills Evaluation Methods: Measuring a Candidate’s Soft Skills without Risking Cognitive Bias
Soft skills are essential for a company’s existence in a highly competitive world. Unfortunately, the skill’s subjective nature makes it susceptible to cognitive bias. For example, measuring flexibility is a hit or miss because the hiring manager might use her perceptions about what flexibility is. So do motivation, commitment, and attitude towards work. These are subjective concepts that are challenging to measure or quantify without injecting unconscious bias.
The good news is that companies can either design or use valid and reliable soft skills evaluation methods to minimize, if not eliminate, unconscious bias. These techniques should give pre-employment screening activities objectivity. Here’s a three-step process for measuring a candidate’s soft skills without risking cognitive bias.
1.Analyze and evaluate the job role and identify relevant and necessary soft skills
Another example is an accounting staff position. Knowledge of accounting principles is not the only competency one must have to be effective accounting personnel. He must also have strong verbal and written communication, attention to detail, time management, system analysis, active learning, deductive reasoning, and critical thinking.
Hence, it would be best for companies to examine each job description to determine the competencies and innate qualities an employee must have to be successful at work.
Companies can also identify top-performing employees and determine their unique attributes or soft skills. Employers can evaluate each soft skill relative to its importance in ensuring successful work performance. They can check annual employee performance evaluation records, time attendance sheets, incident reports, and other relevant documents to identify the attributes that make these employees the best in the organization.
A case in point is Google’s eight core soft skills for anyone vying for a leadership role in the tech giant, a product of meticulous people analytics that included performance reviews, award nominations, and feedback surveys. The company correlated phrases, praises, words, and complaints to produce the Eight Habits of Highly Effective Google Managers.
Google requires any aspiring leader to possess a clear vision for the team with a well-defined strategy to follow. Helping employees in developing and advancing their careers is also crucial. Google also expects its managers to be results-oriented and productive.
Businesses can also consider their organizational culture as a source of enduring attributes. Corporate culture describes employees’ prevailing beliefs and behaviors defining their interactions and dynamics inside and outside the organization. Unfortunately, not all firms have an explicit cultural definition. Hence, it would be best to examine group attributes and traits to determine the soft skills necessary for culture add.
For example, Southwest Airlines considers soft skills essential skills, particularly communication, balance, relationship-building, reliability, and teamwork. These attributes reflect the company’s business culture.
Determining what soft skills an organization requires from all new hires and existing employees is only the tip of the iceberg. Managers and other decision-makers must also define the soft skills as clearly as possible.
For instance, the company might consider ‘good communication’ an essential soft skill. Unfortunately, some people are better at written communication than verbally.
Does this mean an employee who is excellent at writing materials but stammers in front of an audience has good communication skills, or would the company classify the worker as having poor communication skills? How about workers capable of building a consensus or those keeping everyone in the loop? Which would aptly describe a good communicator?
The company must decide how to define ‘good communication’ to clarify any misconceptions and promote objectivity. It is one of the most crucial steps to developing soft skills evaluation methods.
According to The Balance Careers, the following soft skills are what many modern employers value, regardless of career.
Businesses require employees to have good communication, including active listening, nonverbal communication, social skills, and persuasion. Conveying, receiving, and processing a message is crucial in any human interaction, more so in the workplace. It would be a big plus for employees to have negotiation skills, storytelling skills, public speaking skills, and the ability to read body language.
Employers expect employees to analyze situations, make informed decisions, and solve problems. Hence, critical thinking is a coveted soft skill, regardless of profession or job. Companies also expect workers to be creative, adaptable, innovative, resourceful, and able to think outside conventions.
Although not all job positions require leadership, it would still be best for companies to consider a candidate’s leadership qualities as part of a comprehensive succession planning. Leadership entails effective conflict management and resolution, decision-making, facilitation, mentoring, talent management, and inspiring people.
Negativity has no place in any work environment. Negative attitudes can spark controversy, pit one employee against another, and undermine group esprit de corps and morale. Hence, many companies look for job candidates with positive energy, enthusiasm, honesty, humor, respectfulness, friendliness, and other attributes of a positive attitude. Soft skills evaluation methods should cover these innate qualities.
A business is productive only if everyone works together collaboratively and cooperatively. Everyone must perform job roles and responsibilities to the letter without infringing on others’ rights and obstructing others’ functions. Empathy, diversity awareness, intercultural competence, self-awareness, team building, and social skills are soft skills related to teamwork.
No employer wants a lazy, poorly organized, and dysfunctional employee. Modern businesses expect workers to be attentive, dedicated, dependable, independent, persevering, punctual, and self-directed in their jobs. The related soft skills are a handful, underscoring the value of work ethic to contemporary organizations.
2.Determine the measurement tools and techniques most appropriate for the soft skills.
Identifying and clearly defining the soft skills a company wants to measure is only the first part of creating and developing soft skills evaluation methods. The second step requires organizations to analyze the different measurement tools and techniques best suited for a required soft skill.
The good news is that hiring managers can use existing pre-employment screening tests to evaluate some soft skills. For example, a cognitive ability test can give employers an objective assessment of a job candidate’s problem-solving, logical reasoning, critical thinking, and analytical thinking skills.
An excellent example of a cognitive ability test is the Criteria Cognitive Aptitude Test, which objectively measures a job applicant’s numerical reasoning, logical reasoning, verbal reasoning, deductive and inductive reasoning, language proficiency, and abstract reasoning.
Other cognitive ability tests provide a rough estimate of a job candidate’s error checking abilities, diagrammatic reasoning, spatial reasoning, critical thinking, and mechanical reasoning.
Companies can use the Wonderlic Test, the Predictive Index Test, the Cubiks Logiks Test, and the Thomas International GIA Test to measure cognitive ability-related soft skills. These pre-employment screening tools are impartial, standardized, consistent, relevant, and fair. They empower organizations to determine the best possible candidate for the job vacancy, focusing on their soft skills.
The Predictive Index Test is especially beneficial because it is a two-part assessment tool – cognitive and behavioral. Its cognitive component gives employers an idea about the job candidate’s learning abilities, adaptability, and speed of grasping new concepts.
These are crucial attributes of trainability, a soft skill that many companies value. The behavioral assessment focuses on four dimensions: dominance, formality, extraversion, and patience. These elements have corresponding behaviors that point to a job candidate’s soft skills.
Unfortunately, some soft skills do not have objective measurement tools. Companies must review their job interview processes to make them more objective. For example, a structured interview is less subjective than an unstructured version, allowing interviewers to field consistent questions across all job candidates.
Human resource professionals can develop interview questions that focus on behavior. Alternatively, businesses can use Pymetrics and other AI solutions to measure a job candidate’s soft skills. These programs include quizzes, puzzles, games, and other interactive activities that assess and analyze a job candidate’s soft skills without bias. Interviewers can use the insights as a guide during interviews.
3.Use standardized evaluation tools to ensure data reliability and validity.
Soft skills evaluation methods must be objective and free of any hint of cognitive bias for the results to be valid and reliable. Standardized evaluation tools also help improve the quality of hiring decisions, reducing the risk of bad hires.
According to LinkedIn’s talent trend report, only two out of five (41%) companies have formalized processes for assessing and evaluating soft skills. This figure suggests that three out of five (59%) hiring managers rely on their perceptions and innate abilities to appraise candidates. Unfortunately, this action is subjective and is prone to inconsistencies and unreliability.
Evaluating soft skills is not a problem if the company uses a credible and accurate pre-employment screening tool, such as those mentioned in this article. Vendors of these assessment tests subject their products to rigorous internal and external validity and reliability testing to guarantee impartiality, fairness, and objectivity.
However, companies must design a scoring methodology for their structured interviews to improve their validity using norm-referenced or criterion-referenced measures. Norm-referenced measures are a must. These measures allow employers and hiring managers to evaluate candidate responses and compare them to a referenced population. A criterion-referenced evaluation tool can bring more objectivity to the measurements. Unfortunately, it requires more meticulous planning and development of the interview questions.
Hiring managers can also use a Behaviorally-anchored Rating Scale (BARS) to evaluate soft skills objectively. This evaluation tool is ideal for companies with highly defined performance dimensions, allowing them to assess a candidate’s soft skills based on the behavioral components of each performance metric.
The evaluation tool must have standardized measures to guarantee validity and reliability in assessing job candidates’ soft skills.
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Final Thoughts on Soft Skills Evaluation Methods
Employers, hiring professionals, and recruiters must use reliable, valid, and standardized soft skills evaluation methods to make their hiring decisions more objective and less prone to, if not absent of, cognitive bias. Although the three-step process outlined in this article might seem tedious and challenging, the results are worth it.
Companies can leverage a new hire’s soft skills to strengthen business culture, drive productivity, promote teamwork, and facilitate a healthy and positive work environment. It is a definite win for any organization that wants to stay ahead of the competition.
Photos credit PEXELS