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Conducting the Interview: Why Soft Skills Count

Conducting the Interview:  Why Soft Skills Count

By: Melanie Berkowitz, Esq.

While a strong cover letter and resume may help you identify the best job applicants to call in for interviews,  if you don’t conduct your interview effectively, you won’t be able to determine which candidate is the best fit for your company. The right candidate will have the soft skills that match your company culture.

Before you start sifting through a pile of resumes to fill an open position, take the time to think about your company and exactly what it needs in a new employee as part of your interview process.  

Know your Company’s Personality
While you must take care not to define your company branding in terms that might violate the equal employment laws (for example, calling your workforce “young and energetic”), there are ways to think about the work environment that can help you pick employees who will be a good fit.  

  • Is the atmosphere at the office formal or relaxed — for example, is everyone on a first name basis?  
  • What is the dress code?   
  • Are projects completed collaboratively or do most people work by themselves? 
  • Is there an undercurrent of competition, such as for sales, customers or who gets selected for certain projects? 
  • Do people tend to work “9 to 5” or at odd hours?

The answers to these and similar questions will create a company profile that should guide the employee selection process. Being able to effectively characterize a company’s personality to prospective employees can help identify candidates that will mesh well with your workforce — and those who should probably continue their job search.

When the HR manager of ABC Corp. schedules in-person interviews, she makes a point to describe the company’s relaxed atmosphere, which includes telling the interviewees that they do not need to wear a suit to their interview. She and the other interviewers take into account which candidates arrive for their interview in casual attire and note how comfortable each person appears in the company’s laid-back environment.

Identify the Soft Skill Job Attributes
When thinking about the position you need to fill, don’t forget to determine the subjective skills a successful employee will have. There may be a dozen candidates who meet the job’s technical criteria, and only by considering the job’s soft skills can interviewers decide between otherwise equally qualified candidates.  Use the position’s subjective needs to frame effective interview questions.  

Factors to consider include:

  • Amount of interaction with customers or clients
  • Frequency of discord and conflict from customers or clients (such as in a customer service position)
  • Amount of collaboration with co-workers, subordinates or superiors   
  • Whether individual achievements are recognized and rewarded 
  • Length of deadlines and number of projects to be handled at one time

HiTech Co. needs to hire a new technical manager who is highly skilled in developing new computer products. Five candidates have the education and experience needed to perform the job.  However, the position also requires that the manager be able to resolve particularly complex problems called in to HiTech’s call center.  As part of the interview process, candidates are asked to resolve a mock question from an irate client whose system has crashed. They are judged both on how well they walk the client through the steps to correct the problem and how diplomatically they handle the client’s anger.

Pick the Right Interviewers and Train Them!
Think critically about the employees you select to conduct interviews at your company.  Some people are just not skilled at interviewing — they fail to elicit useful information or do a poor job of “selling” the position or the company. Improving interview skills can help even weak interviewers add value to the hiring process.  Some things to think about include the following:

  • When interviewing a number of people for the same position(s), have at least one employee meet with every candidate. He or she can best compare and contrast all the applicants.
  • If necessary, include both “technical” and “character” interviewers. The first type should assess the candidates’ experience and ability to perform the job and the second should focus on the “softer” requirements of the job or work to “sell” the company as a great place to work.  
  • Conduct regular training for all employees on proper and legal interview techniques and questions. Review rules for avoiding unlawful questions or subjects.
  • If possible, have interviewing teams meet ahead of time to review resumes and plan the interview process.
  • Consider having more than one interviewer at a time meet with each candidate.

EarthGoods, Inc., a “green” products company needs to hire a new scientist in its cleaning supplies division.  The head of the division, to whom the new employee will report, is a great product developer but is not a strong conversationalist. He needs to be involved in the interviews to assess each candidate’s knowledge of “green” science.  EarthTech’s HR department pairs him with an outgoing and talkative marketing manager during interviews and they divide up the subjects to be covered during the interview.

As you learn how to interview candidates, you’ll realize that there is no one right way to conduct an interview; what works for one company may not for another, depending on size, industry or company atmosphere. What is common for all employers, however, is the importance of planning your team’s hiring decision. If you don’t think about what you need in a new employee ahead of time, you will have a much harder time knowing when you find him or her.