The Crucial Soft Skills You Must Look for in Candidates

by Victoria Mckee

When choosing which candidates to hire, many hiring managers would prioritize prestigious college degrees or stellar work experiences. While these are good priorities, hiring managers set aside another important factor to determine which candidates are the best fit for particular roles: Soft skills!

An applicant’s soft skills, also known as personal attributes helping them interact with their peers effectively, are just as important as work experience or education, if not more. When you assess candidates, you must remember that aptitude and personality are influential in job performance as education and experience is.

But what are the exact soft skills to look for in candidates? Read on to find out!


Critical Soft Skills to Focus on During the Hiring Process

Before anything else, what are soft skills in the first place?

These are intangible skills that are difficult to quantify, unlike hard skills, which we can prove and measure. Some soft skills include leadership, analytical thinking, and verbal and written communication. Think of soft skills as a combination of communication skills, people skills, social skills, attitudes, career attributes, social and emotional intelligence, and character and personality traits enabling employees to navigate the work environment.

These skills help employees work and perform excellently with their colleagues while achieving goals as they complement hard skills. Here are what you should look for in candidates:


Critical Thinking Skills

Every position and organization will greatly benefit from people who have the ability to logically and objectively think through problems. That’s because critical thinkers can fairly and effectively resolve any issue that may arise as they work.



It’s crucial to know how to communicate effectively in speaking and writing. The most successful employees are excellent at communicating with their managers, coworkers, and customers. Moreover, they are skilled in communicating on multiple platforms, may it be online, through emails, over the phone, or face to face.

Candidates with spectacular communication skills know how to use their tone and body language to support their message, knowing it’s crucial to listen to their clients’ and coworkers’ ideas or concerns.

Written and verbal communication skills are one of the most important to have in the workplace as this will set the tone for how people perceive you. It will improve the chances of building relationships with colleagues.

Communication skills will boost work performance as they help employees extract clear expectations from managers, thus helping them deliver excellent work. Employers look for these particular traits because employees are more productive when they know how to communicate with their colleagues and managers. For employees who can clearly express the 5 Ws and 1 H (who, what, when, where, and why) of projects, they’ll be able to garner success for companies!

Some communication skills include ensuring all projects and organization initiatives are going smoothly, actively listening to colleagues, and the willingness to engage in conflict resolution to lessen the effects of miscommunication.



Anyone can go through hurdles and challenges, but it will take an engaged employee to bring passion into their job position. But unfortunately, there isn’t much engagement in today’s candidates. When hiring, you should look for someone who isn’t just after the paycheck but cares for the company’s mission and has the drive to further it.

You’ll want to find candidates who believe in what the company does and want to be part of the vision.


Takes Initiative

If a problem arises, will your candidate get up to correct them or wait until someone notices and asks them to do something? Ask candidates if they have ever identified a problem at work independently and corrected it.



One of the most beneficial and elusive candidates a candidate would possess is robust leadership skills. Excellent leaders know how to create tough decisions, excelling at managing people and situations. These people can plan how to reach a goal, effectively motivating their team to work together in order to achieve it.

When hiring managers choose candidates with strong leadership skills, they hire employees who can bolster productivity and morale, potentially moving on to fill the company’s management roles in the future. Employees also benefit from possessing leadership skills, as this means there are opportunities for raises and promotions.

Employees with confidence and a clear vision will help influence their colleagues, getting them on board with ideas today and for the future.



Besides possessing leadership skills, it’s also important to find a potential leader who is compassionate. It’s best to think forward and consider these skills now to gain future company leaders who will help their employees. Teams will thrive when employees trust a leader that cares about them and they will excel at collaboration, another important soft skill employees should possess.

Moreover, compassion is actually a prerequisite for excellent communication, among other soft skills to enhance interpersonal relationships at work. 


Positive Attitude

One of the best things candidates can offer is a positive attitude. If you hire a candidate with a negative attitude, it would affect offices like a plague!

Even just one employee who continues to complain, criticize, or gossip throughout the workday can incite such behaviors around the office. Soon enough, it will wreak havoc on collaboration, motivation, and company morale. As a result, negative attitudes can negatively impact productivity, increase turnover rates, deter top talents from applying, and damage the company’s reputation.



soft skills

Teamwork skills separate people who can accomplish small things from those who accomplish monumental ones. The best employees are aware that individual successes won’t measure up to the success of a group, being willing to encourage cooperation, compromise, and listen to coworkers.

Remember, the success of a company is rarely dependent on just one person doing everything by themselves! Success comes from teams working hard towards common goals. When employees synthesize their talents, everyone will win!

Employees who possess teamwork skills are reliable while being willing to rely on others. Moreover, candidates great at teamwork are usually selfless and excellent communicators. When hiring candidates with amazing teamwork skills, hiring managers can expect less strife in the office, projects completed more efficiently, and healthier company culture.

Employers search for team players because they build a friendly office culture, which helps with retaining employees and attracting top talent. Moreover, team players will collaborate with coworkers excellently, which strengthens the work quality.

Teamwork also goes hand in hand with communication, and unfortunately, they are weak points for numerous companies. The lack of these skills is what causes productivity and performance issues. A report conducted by Gallup’s State of the American Workplace showed that most employees believe their company’s project performances can improve if teams worked more collaboratively.

When both these skills work together, companies can experience successful collaboration and higher-quality work.



Soft skills will help employees manage reality, which is how things don’t go as planned every time. Successful employees know how and when they must be flexible. Rather than digging in their heels, they work hard to adapt, pivot, and find any alternate solutions to issues and changes.

Employers look for this trait because a change in the workplace is a major constraint. They want employees who can adapt to any industry shifts, keeping the company updated for success.


Problem-Solving Skills                                                                                 

When something goes wrong in the company, you have two choices: Either complain or take action for it. When choosing someone to work in the company, you obviously want someone who takes action on issues that inevitably arise. This is what makes an employee indispensable to a company.

Why look for this trait? Because nothing is a given and companies will rely on their top performers, the problem-solvers, to navigate the company and team towards any unexpected challenges.

Problem-solving is kind of like critical thinking. Those who excel in this area will approach problems from different angles, refusing to accept less than desirable results. This shows that a candidate won’t be entrenched in a specific way to do things just because that’s how it’s always done. Problem-solvers will see and strategize to mitigate problems that aren’t even evident yet, and they won’t settle for a “just okay” solution.



Data won’t mean much if you have no idea how to interpret it! You won’t be able to see patterns or know what you must look for. That’s why it’s crucial to find candidates who are critical observers.


Companies NEED critical thinkers. These are people who bring in a fresh perspective, offering intuitive ideas and solutions to help companies go beyond competition and improve any internal processes.


Conflict Resolution

No matter how great a company is, any place with more than one member will mean conflict at one point or another. That’s why you must look for people who are skilled in conflict resolutions, finding ways to resolve issues among team members and employers. As a result, employees can maintain relationships with their peers while working more effectively.

Hiring managers and employers lookout for this trait because an indicator of maturity is being able properly and constructively work through disagreements. Moreover, it shows leadership potential and helps promote a healthier and more collaborative workspace.


Work Ethics

It’s worth putting a bit more effort to identify the candidates who are willing to work hard for the company. Those with a strong work ethic are more likely to go the extra mile and won’t slack off after a few months into the job.

These candidates have grit, are reliable, perseverant, and punctual, thus producing quality work without complaints. Hiring managers look for candidates that possess a strong work ethic, such as those who come to work on time, and complete their tasks in a timely manner while staying focused and organized. Candidates like these are likely to budget and manage their time well, completing work thoroughly.

Furthermore, while these candidates will be able to work independently, they can also follow instructions to accomplish tasks and goals. Some skills under having a strong work ethic include attentiveness, business ethics, competitiveness, dedication, dependability, ability to follow directions, independence, organization, and the like.



Companies usually outcompete one another by outthinking each other. That’s why it’s crucial to hire candidates who think outside the box. Creative employees will offer new ideas for projects, create inventive strategies to go beyond the competition, find solutions to existing issues, and offer ways to make their company work more efficiently.

You can find numerous successful companies like Apple, Google, and Zappos, all of which are known for fostering creative work cultures.

For example, Apple hired magazine art directors to work on marketing campaigns, and Google partnered with Cannes Lions to produce Creative Campus, a program that inspires and hires creative talent. Moreover, Zappos is known for the eccentric interview questions asked during the hiring process to understand their candidates’ creativity levels!

Creativity also goes hand in hand with critical thinking, which is both essential to introducing fresh ideas, products, and services. According to the World Economic Forum, creative and critical thinking skills are ranked 2nd and 3rd on the top skills employees require to thrive in the upcoming industrial revolution!

With artificial intelligence and automation evolving in businesses, it’s vital to find people who possess creative and critical thinking skills to complement machine capability.



Another trait to look out for when evaluating candidates is their dependability. Candidates that can demonstrate they are hardworking, loyal, and responsible are usually the most dependable. With dependable employees, the company will reduce turnover, ensure they pass high-quality work on schedule, and preserve the confidentiality of private clients and company information.


Attention to Detail

When choosing which candidate to hire, strive to hire those exhibiting strong attention to detail. Meticulous people would commit fewer mistakes and take time to catch any errors that save the company money and time in the long run.


The Importance of Soft Skills

Hiring managers would add “communication skills” or “problem-solving skills” as requirements in job descriptions. These are all soft skills that can help to hire managers and employers in many ways, such as:

  • It can identify employees who aren’t only able to do their job excellently.
  • Hiring managers will be able to choose between qualified candidates that meet typical job requirements
  • You get to hire not only for knowledge but for potential
  • Create well-rounded hiring decisions
  • Soft skills can properly evaluate a candidate’s cultural fit


How to Measure a Candidate’s Soft Skills

Now that you know what soft skills to watch out for, the next question is – how can you measure those soft skills or identify them in candidates during the hiring process?

It’s more than just having a gut feeling, don’t worry! Here are some tips to follow:


Know What You Need in Candidates

Before you even begin interviews and the hiring process for open job positions, you must first consider the soft skills crucial for the particular role. That way, you can prepare specific questions to assess such skills and evaluate each candidate objectively.

For instance, you have an opening for a sales role. Obviously, excellent communication skills are vital. When you prepare specific questions evaluating how a candidate will use their communication skills while working, you’ll more likely find someone who will communicate with clients well, rather than hiring someone who just appears to have good communication skills.


Ask the Appropriate Interview Questions

Behavior-based interview questions will help hiring managers identify soft skills a candidate possesses, especially for more technical roles where interviewers would ask more hard skill-based questions. These questions will give hiring managers more of an idea of how candidates will respond to challenges and situations.

Rather than beginning questions with, “do you?”, try starting with, “how would you,” or “what are your thoughts on?”

Here are a few sample questions to ask candidates:

  • What problems have you solved creatively and uniquely?
  • How will you prioritize work when handling multiple projects simultaneously?
  • What’s a time you had to deal with a difficult colleague?
  • How do you usually develop relationships with supervisors and coworkers?
  • Please share a time you needed help or guidance on a project and how you asked for it.
  • Share a time you had communication issues with your coworkers or managers. How did you handle the situation and responses?
  • What are your ideal work environment and communication methods?
  • How do you think your soft skills will help in the job position you’re applying for?

Some of these questions and the candidate’s answers will show how they understand the job position and its requirements.


Observe Their Communication Skills

soft skills

As we repeated above, excellent communication skills are a major indicator of whether a candidate will fit within the company or not.

A major aspect of communication will involve listening, so observe if the candidate is listening properly, and paying attention to the interview. If they interrupt the interviewer or their eyes glaze over, then that’s a red flag.

Verbal cues are also a major part of excellent communication. For instance, when you ask a candidate about a career challenge, do they use “I” or “we?” This will show hiring managers if the candidate is more of a team player or if they take or give credit wherever deserves.

Moreover, ensure the observe whether the candidate asks you questions about the company or not.

Even while primarily testing candidates’ knowledge and hard skills, you’ll also notice strengths and weaknesses in their soft skills! For instance, a candidate may claim to have great attention to detail, only to find many typos and errors in their written assignment. But if a candidate provides clear and well-structured answers, it can indicate they are skilled communicators.

Take everything into consideration so you can form objective opinions about each candidate’s abilities and soft skills. From how they interact throughout an interview to the way they perform job-related tasks, being observant can have you select the most competent candidates that fit into the company and team’s work environment.


Check the References

Reference checks are an important part of corroborating and verifying information about one’s experience and work history. But you can also utilize reference checks to get a candid perspective of the kind of person a candidate is while at work.

One study found that job candidates’ coworkers tend to give more feedback on soft skills while managers focus on task-related skills when asked during reference checks. When checking references we recommend assessing the candidate’s soft and hard skills based on the reference character’s relationship.

You may want to ask questions about the candidate’s soft skills, like:

  • What is it like to work with the candidate?
  • Did the candidate get along with management and coworkers?
  • What advice can you give to manage the candidate successfully?
  • What else should I know about the candidate that I didn’t ask yet?

Employees won’t vouch for someone who would be an unpleasant coworker, which is why it’s best to ask for a thoughtful assessment.


Use Personality-Based Assessments

Other than interviews and reference checks, you may also want to add personality-based assessments into the hiring process. Such assessments will give you more insight into what a candidate is like and how they will likely perform if accepted into the company.

Other than asking behavior-based questions or assessments, we also recommend using hypothetical scenarios, activities, or games to test specific abilities. You can simulate job duties and responsibilities to test the way candidates will approach regular challenges and tasks. Remember, every company, job, and team is different, so you’ll want a candidate to fit into the unique work environment.

For instance, role-playing activities will help companies assess if candidates have the negotiation skills they require for a sales position. Alternatively, hiring managers can use game-based exercises to identify candidates who can solve problems in creative ways. Here are two examples:

  • If you notice a team member underperforming, how would you provide feedback?
  • If you’re facing two crucial deadlines, how will you prioritize the tasks at hand?


Wrapping It Up

While factors like work experience and prior education should be considered as you create hiring decisions, it’s also important to remember that soft skills can make or break one’s future work performance. Some applicants that lack education or experience may still have tons to contribute to work with the right soft skills like a positive attitude, work ethic, and interpersonal skills.

And fortunately, there are many ways you can “measure” soft skills, such as tailoring interview questions or using pre-employment personality assessments.

We hope our list of soft skills to look out for in candidates helped you out! If you would like to learn more about the different tips on hiring the best candidates, check out what more we have to offer here at HireNest.

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