Interview in IT Company: Soft Skills

Usually IT companies spend the majority of the assessment process focusing on technical skills, hoping that your potential new hire will be able to hit the ground running with minimal hand-holding. But focusing entirely on that often results in a poor hire, not from the perspective of saving on training time, but from the way that the new hire interacts with your existing team and other key stakeholders.

Each interview should answer one main question. “Is it a right person for the job?” Not a candidate. A person. “Right” usually means a person whose typical behavior matches the job requirements, and whose personality fits the team. To give a proper answer on this question you need to check both technical and soft skills.

What exactly are ‘soft skills’?

Soft skills are those behavioural competencies, related to a person’s EQ (Emotional Intelligence quotient), those make possible good interaction and collaboration with other team members.

Soft skills are:

  • Interpersonal
  • Communication (both oral and written)
  • Negotiation
  • Conflict resolution and problem solving
  • Teamwork

Soft skills can also be more intangible like sense of humour, optimism, diligence, common sense, loyalty and good manners.

Do you know what you’re looking for?

Take a look at a typical job description: a list of detailed and well-written tasks and responsibilities. However, when it comes to personality or behavior related qualities the language becomes very general, full of meaningless cliches (for example “team player” without any special details).

The challenge is to bring more details in job description.

What kind of a person would you like to see in this job? What special skills do you want this new member to add to your existing team? These are the examples of specific attributes which define a “team player”

How do you assess soft skills?

There are more than a dozen ways to check technical skills. However, how can you test for “soft skills,” such as teamwork and empathy, during the interview? Evaluating soft skills is more difficult than determining whether someone can perform a particular task. There’s no magic formula, but essentially you need to look for two things: self-awareness and instincts.

The following open-ended questions can help you to sniff out the good people to add to your team:

“Can you tell me about a time when you worked as part of a group?”

The red-flag answer here is,“ The group was useless until I came and brought a lot of brilliant ideas.” The “I’m smarter than everyone else” response indicates both low self-awareness and poor propensity for teamwork.

A person who works well with others will tell the story differently. The person would discuss the other members’ contributions as well as his or her own solutions.

“Can you tell me about a time when you had to ask for help?”

The red-flag answer here is, “I can’t really remember the last time I had to ask for help.” This person thinks the only way to make a good impression is to be perfect. She could be a dangerous hire because when she makes a mistake she may not be comfortable telling anyone.

A second-rate answer would be one that includes a “fake” example. This would be something like: “I had a solution to a problem, and then I reached out to supervisor. Unfortunately, solutions didn’t work for the company. Then I realized that I did have the best answer all along, but seems they are not ready for it yet.” This person gets points for reaching out to someone else when she needed a help, as well as having the ability to take a step back when things weren’t working, but she still isn’t comfortable admitting to making a true mistake.

The best answer is one in which the person analyze a mistake she made and how she learned from someone else. Why? Because it takes learning experiences in prior.

These two questions answer only 50% of required information. More specific set of questions can be asked in order to determine whether the skills you are looking for are present in a person:

  • Q: What’s an example of a specific problem you had that took you a long time to resolve? (point out initiative and perseverance).
  • Q: Describe an example of a time when you had to alter a project in mid-stream? (shows flexibility and ability to work under pressure).

Obviously technical skills are vital for IT jobs: how to use a certain type of software or how to write code using high-demanded programming language. However, IT is a matchup of technology and people to produce products that run the company’s business. Therefore, checking for soft skills early in the recruiting process dramatically enhances your chances of identifying a suitable person as well as reduces the time spend on the process.

Feature readings: