Reading Between the Lines: What a Candidate’s Skills Really Say About Them

We all know that when it comes to interviews, phone screens, or even resumes, soft skills–the abilities most closely related to a candidate’s emotional intelligence–are the first things that come up. You know, those things like time management, communication skills, or leadership abilities. iCIMS chief marketing officer Susan Vitale noted in an interview with Fast Company that, “hard skills are what you do, soft skills are how you do it.”

We’ve all thrown these competencies on our resumes; it’s what Google tells us to do, and when Google says to do it, we do it. And Google isn’t alone in this. According to an article from Business Insider, 57% of business leaders said they believe soft skills are more important than hard skills because they can translate to any career path.

But the question remains: What do these skills really mean and how can recruiters decode them?

Let me break it down for you, skill by skill.

  1.  Leadership ‚Äì Leadership as a soft skill is much more than just a title or position. When a candidate says they have leadership abilities it means they not only lead people, they also exude the persona of a leader. They do so by listening actively, showing up, dressing the part, and demonstrating their leadership ability through nonverbal signals as well as their verbal ones. Leaders also know how to think strategically and create solutions to daunting problems. 

    But, a good leader is not a dictator, a good leader listens to their constituents. Check your candidates by asking about their leadership style, how their previous team would rate them as a leader, and how they handled real disputes in the past.

  2. Time Management – This doesn’t just mean showing up on time; that should be a given. It means the candidate knows how to prioritize their workload and meet deadlines. It may also allude to their organizational skills, because if you can manage your time, you can usually keep things organized–I said usually. One way you can check a candidate on this skill is to ask them what tools they use to manage their time or if they’ve ever missed a deadline–hopefully they haven’t.
  3. Communication – If you don’t have “excellent communication skills” on your resume are you even looking to be hired? Though this one should be simple, it can sometimes get complicated. Communication skills mean that you know how to speak to your peers, your higher-ups, and others that you interact with verbally, nonverbally, and virtually every day.

    A great way to see if a candidate truly has communication skills is to see how they interact with you via email or over the phone –proper email etiquette mixed with a little personality is usually a great indicator. Another way to test their communication skills is to ask about a time when they’ve had a miscommunication and how they handled it/what they learned from it.

  4. Collaboration – We all know this one is important, but how can you really tell if a candidate is a solid collaborator? One way is to talk to them about projects they’ve been on and how their team worked together, and how their role contributed to the team’s goal. I’m sure we all remember those days in science class when the teacher paired you up with a classmate to do a project. Remember that feeling of relief when you were paired with one of the smart kids, and the complete feeling of despair when you got paired with the kid who spent most of the class picking their nose?

    Finding a good collaborator is essential to making a team work. Collaborators are typically effective listeners, good at building relationships, and understand that each role is essential to the overall operation of the company.

  5. Problem Solving – We all got problems, it’s how we handle them that sets us apart. A problem solver uses their resources to reach a solution, they don’t just push others away and try to deal with things themselves. When screening a candidate, you can check them on this skill by asking not just about the work, but about the problem that was solved by the work they were doing. Problem solvers help their teams see past the problem and to the probable solutions–toss them a curveball behavioral question about a made-up problem and see how they handle it.

All of these skills are important for any person in any role, and when a candidate has all of these skills you better not let them slip away. Another skill not mentioned in this list that’s often overlooked is affability. It’s not one you hear too often, but it’s just as important as the others. I mean, who doesn’t want to work with someone that describes themselves as friendly? And I’m not just saying this because it’s what I use to describe myself in job interviews–but I’m proof that it works!

So next time you’re screening a candidate and you’re unsure if they’re just fluffing up their resume, ask them about specific instances of when these skills were used–it will not only help you understand them better, it will also make sure you aren’t passing a bad candidate along to your leaders.

Now go get ‘em, tiger!

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