I have great disdain for the term "soft skills" since without them nothing gets done. In a recent post I defined a number of these essential non-soft and non-technical skills, and offered ideas on how job seekers could use them during the interview to improve their odds of being assessed accurately. In this post, I offer a few ideas of how interviewers can assess these same traits in their job candidates.

As you review the list below it's hard to believe anyone would call any of them soft. Especially since collectively they define greatness.

Non-technical, Business and Leadership Skills Essential for Job Success

  1. Proactive in taking ownership of a job and doing the right things without having to be told.
  2. Assertiveness in pushing the status quo.
  3. Courage in challenging bad ideas, bad decisions and bad processes.
  4. Influencing others who are not direct reports - especially peers, people in other functions and executives - to make difficult decisions.
  5. Coaching and helping others especially when they'll get no credit for it and when it takes extra time.
  6. Managers who spend extra time to build, develop and motivate their team members to get better.
  7. Making commitments and taking responsibility for delivering results on a consistent basis and not making excuses when things go wrong.
  8. Collaborating, negotiating and reaching agreement with cross-functional teams on challenging and competing objectives.
  9. Problem-solving, creative and strategic thinking skills to uncover root cause problems and identify best solutions among multiple alternatives.
  10. Organizational and project management skills to ensure complex team tasks are completed successfully.
  11. Taking the initiative and doing more than required with limited direction.
  12. Communications skills to present ideas clearly and distinctly to the required audiences.
  13. Customer service skills including being cooperative, supportive and understanding, regardless of who the customer is.
  14. Cultural fit with the hiring manager's style, the pace of the organization and the values of the company. Part of this is flexibility in dealing with changing situations and different people.
  15. Resiliency in handling the all too frequent setbacks.
  16. Continuous self-development recognizing that if you're not getting better you're falling behind.
  17. Listening and withholding judgment until all of the facts are heard.
  18. Willing to change an opinion based on new facts.
  19. Openly willing to take criticism and be coached and adjusts and improves behavior accordingly.
  20. Having the vision to see what needs to get done, putting a plan together to get it done and then getting it done. When combined with all of the above this is called leadership.

I'm sure this isn't the full list of important traits but no one in the world would ever call any of them soft. What's surprising is that while these skills are obviously important for on-the-job success, most hiring managers aren't too good at assessing them. In fact, asking for examples of when the candidate demonstrated these skills suggests the interviewer isn't too sure how to assess them. To overcome this weakness in behavioral interviewing I suggest the following performance-based interviewing approach which ties these traits directly to real job needs:

  1. Start by preparing a performance-based job description describing the top 6-8 performance objectives required for on-the-job success.
  2. Have candidates describe their most comparable major accomplishment for each of the major performance objectives. As part of the fact-finding many of these traits will be revealed in the actual context of the job.
  3. Engage in a back-and-forth discussion around a realistic problem the new hire is likely to face on the job. This will reveal many of the thinking, problem-solving, vision and leadership traits required for job success.
  4. Complete an evidence-based quality of hire talent scorecard measuring the factors that best predict on-the-job performance. The key here is to use evidence, not feelings or emotions, to make the assessment.

Accurately predicting on-the-job performance is not difficult when the context of the job is defined first. Assessing the depth of a person's technical skills without this context is a valueless as assessing the person's soft skills as independent attributes. This is what Professor Rose describes in his book, The End of Average, as the essential step for hiring the right person. Without it, Rose contends, any assessment will be flawed.

More important, when the soft and hard skills are combined and by observing how they grow and change over time, you'll not only increase assessment accuracy but also discover that it's the person's soft skills that drive success. These soft skills are truly the collective attributes of greatness and why soft is not a good enough name.