These Soft Skills Matter Now More Than Ever. Here’s Why.

Right now, there’s only one thing justifiably on everyone’s mind: the COVID-19 pandemic.

As the world enters a recession, much of the workforce now starts their work days at home, and companies run planning scenarios for a completely unpredictable landscape, it can feel like everything is irrevocably slowing down.

And yet, across multiple industries, there are open, active job requisitions recruiters are trying their best to fill for hiring managers eager to find amazing talent. Hiring remotely presents its own challenges but surprisingly, evaluating technical skills in our new paradigm isn’t so hard with the right tools and interview protocols in place. What’s more difficult? Assessing those soft skills. But in an age when working from home is our foreseeable future, those qualities are more important than ever to ensure your team can connect, communication and collaborate.

Here’s what to look for.

Communication ability

In a remote world, communication becomes even more critical at every level. As you’re conducting interviews via phone and on Zoom or Hangouts, consider how your candidates are coming across. Are they personable and straightforward? Do they maintain eye contact? Do they interrupt or talk over you - or do they listen and respond thoughtfully? Ask yourself if you can see this person responding well during a code review with the team - or representing your org to senior leadership - using these remote tools.

Make sure to ask some specific questions around how they’ve handled a miscommunication in the past. How did they untangle the issue? Were they proactive in addressing it? Taking ownership in resolving it - without placing blame - is an excellent signal.

Empathy

The current pandemic situation lends itself to some good questions that could surface a candidate’s ability to empathize. A newly at-home workforce, working remotely out of necessity and not choice, is one that’s naturally going to struggle a bit at first. If the role you’re hiring for is managerial, probe on that. How would they help their team adjust? What initial challenges do they perceive as necessary to overcome in the first thirty days - and then further out? How would they set expectations in a time that’s so fluid?

For individual contributor levels, ask how they might handle a situation in which a teammate fell short of their commitments because of some work from home issues. How would they handle it? It’s a great sign if the candidate expresses some sympathy for the colleague (“It’s a hard situation”, “These things happen,” “What’s important is getting the work done”) and then surfaces practical ways to pitch in. The best teammates are those who don’t miss a beat when a challenge comes their way and keep their focus on getting the work done for the end user or customer.

Adaptability

Some people adapt to changes in their circumstances more quickly than others, rapidly accepting a new normal and figuring out how to make it work. Resilience, grit, acceptance - whatever you call it, it’s a useful quality in times of stability and it’s outstanding during periods of uncertainty.

You can certainly lightly ask how your candidate is adjusting to the new circumstances imposed by COVID-19. But it’s so new and unsettling for most people - after all, no one in modern memory has ever truly been through something like this - it may not be a good marker of a person’s adaptability.

Instead, ask about a time when something went suddenly in a new direction and they had to rethink their entire approach to an issue. What steps did they take to adjust? How did they make the best of the circumstances they were given? What did they find hardest about the situation? The more detail you hear around the way they confronted the problem, the better picture you’ll build of that person’s capacity to rebound.

Hiring managers, what soft skills do you think will be critical in the time of #coronavirus?