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Hard Skills vs. Soft Skills

Posted by Jessica Miller-Merrell

Understanding the Difference Between Hard Skills & Soft Skills in Pre-Employment Testing

skills construction 

I remember my first encounter with pre-employment testing. I was terrified and sweating bullets. Having just taken the GMAT, I did not know what to expect, and no one bothered to tell me how, what, or even why I was taking the test. Now, working in the field of human resources, I find that I’m not alone, as frustrated job seekers wonder and worry about the importance, the differences, and the types of testing given during a company’s hiring process. Often times hiring managers are also completely unaware of what it’s all about. Well, I’d like to help change that.

Hard Skills and Soft Skills

hard skills vs soft skills

At first glance, your candidate appears to have all of the outlined qualifications to be considered top-notch. Their resume looks great, and their experience checks all of the right boxes off your position qualification checklist. They understand the right software and possess the criteria of technical experience. They list the proper certifications and have completed the necessary training. But how do you measure the immeasurable?

The easy-to-identify skill sets – like operating machinery, accounting concepts, or software knowledge — are classified as “hard skills.” A review of your candidate’s resume and education can reveal if he or she has the knowledge to get the job done. But, we know there is so much more to the story. However, testing for “soft skills” isn’t as black and white.

Knowing if your candidate has the right soft skills is a gray area, and testing is subjective. Soft skills, sometimes called “people skills,” refer to those qualities that make an excellent employee and can include how they interact with coworkers and build relationships, their workplace professionalism, and their ability to adapt and think creatively to solve problems.

Co-worker Interactions / Relationship Building

co-worker interactions

These skills encompass interpersonal communications and how employees work together and collaborate, their ability to empathize with others, and how they develop and maintain relationships. These interpersonal skills impact efficiency and the ability to meet critical deadlines.

Workplace Professionalism

workplace professionalism

Whether professionalism in the workplace encompasses adhering to written (or unwritten) dress and appearance policies, communication, or work ethics, high levels of professionalism can drive an environment with respect and help develop a positive company repertoire.

Ability to Adapt and Think Creatively

think creatively

It’s nearly impossible to measure the kind of personality that jumps in to tackle an imminent threat to a company, or one that generates new ideas. But these are the skills that will keep your company innovative and energized and can thwart potential disasters.

Soft Skills Testing

soft skills

Asking behavioral testing questions can help the interviewer paint a more holistic candidate picture and assess if, in addition to all the right hard skills, he or she also has the soft skills necessary for the job. However, because there is no easily-discernible right or wrong answer, a poor interviewee or an interviewer having an off day can quickly disqualify the right candidate for the position. While there is no infallible tool for evaluating soft skills, having multiple candidate conversations can provide the recruiter and the interviewer with a better understanding of a candidate’s personality traits than a one-time question-and-answer session.

My first assessment experience was an education, as I encountered both hard skills and soft skills testing. My pre-employment testing involved two tests evaluating my math skills. I nervously pounded and punched the calculator so that I could choose between A, B, C, and D. The second test evaluated soft skills, like my ability to change, ethics, and other decision-making qualities that companies use to help identify the ideal employee.

What type of pre-employment testing have you experienced? Does your company offer hard skills testing like typing or social media competency testing, or do they rely on soft skills as part of the candidate hiring and filtering process?

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About Jessica Miller-Merrell

Author

Jessica is listed as the 2nd most influential recruiter online and as the 8th most powerful woman on Twitter. She is the author of Tweet This! Twitter for Business, a how-to business guide for Twitter users. She also writes for a number of leading publications, including Fortune, HR Magazine, SmartBrief, and HR Executive Magazine.

5 COMMENTS Join the discussion
  • Janise Bington January, 11, 2013

    For our company the person’s desire to work is the first priority. If during the interview we see a spark in applicant’s eyes, in most cases, we accept the applicant for a job. However we do not underestimate some basic required skill (such as computer knowledge). The rest of the required skills a person can learn in the process of working, if a person is willing and able to learn and understand new things.

  • Emily Watson January, 11, 2013

    The first thing I pay attention to is the personal qualities of the applicant, as the skills and knowledge can be transferred, experience comes with time, and personal qualities do not. No one will teach the employee enthusiasm, ability to get along with the staff and customers, and other equally useful qualities that can not be put outside, but which are so necessary in the process.

  • Richard Garett January, 13, 2013

    Interviewing for a job is like a test drive before buying a car: it’s a short test based on which important decisions are made. However, it’s nearly impossible to eliminate subjectiveness. No matter how qualified the applicant is, if you as an interviewer don’t like him – he’s lost his battle.

  • Paul Weller January, 15, 2013

    I totally agree with Richard. No wonder they say first impressions are half the battle! As for me I prefer to pay attention not to what the applicants say, but how they behave. Applicant’s speech can be learnt beforehand, but the way a person behaves in new surroundings cannot be faked.

  • William Brown January, 17, 2013

    Richard, I don’t think that the way applicants look and behave is more important than their professional skills. No one needs just a pretty face, but everyone needs job to be done. A real professional who loves his job will never cause you any problems.

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