How to assess soft skills in a virtual interview

By Robert Half on 22nd May 2020

Finding out whether a company’s mission, values and practices resonate with the candidate's own desired career path and personal values is crucial to creating a positive team dynamic and a cohesive work environment.

Cultural fit is generally one of the hardest criteria to measure in a new recruit since it goes beyond the measurable benchmarks of technical capabilities. Hiring managers, therefore, rely heavily on face-to-face interviews to evaluate whether a candidate’s attitudinal traits and soft skills would fit the corporate culture.

As more companies transition to virtual recruitment processes as part of their work-from-home arrangements, assessing soft skills and alignment with company values the same way as in-person interactions can be challenging.

With a few adjustments, however, you can effectively adapt your existing interview procedures to video or virtual platforms while ensuring you are comprehensively assessing cultural fit to ensure a productive, long-term hire.

Related: Video interviewing takes the reins

1. Create a welcoming atmosphere

Video interviews can be more static than face-to-face interactions, while the sense of distance can make it harder to exhibit or read some of the natural behaviours that you would typically focus on to assess soft skills.

To conduct an effective virtual interview that emulates the atmosphere of an in-person interaction, focus on creating a personable atmosphere. This can break down some of the barriers that a virtual interview can present and encourage the jobseeker to be more expressive in turn.

While these may be second nature in a traditional interview setting, be sure to be present and engaged with every interview by offering a warm introduction, making direct eye contact, and smiling, nodding or using hand gestures as you would in an in-person conversation.

These are undeniably strange times so simply acknowledging the current situation and being transparent about its impact on your own role and the business can create rapport with the candidate. Taking the time to share your own experiences and check how they are managing the situation can be an efficient way to establish trust. Questions like “how have you found the experience of social distancing?” or “have you taken away any positives from this experience?” are engaging without being too personal, and glean an insight into their resilience, pragmatism and mindset in the face of uncertainty.

A virtual interview remains an interview, so you should still use this as an opportunity to assess an interviewee’s behaviour. Easily adapting to an untraditional interview with politeness, enthusiasm and professionalism is a strong indication of emotional intelligence and adaptability, while appearing un-engaged or distant throughout a virtual interview may be a sign of poor interpersonal skills or disinterest in the role.

2. Plan key criteria assessments

Although the nature of the interview process may be different via video interview, particularly for companies who do not regularly conduct remote interviews, the fundamental characteristics that are considered important for any given role should remain the same.

Firstly, when assessing soft skills, clearly define what skills, values and behavioural traits are necessary to succeed in the role in order to ensure that they are sufficiently assessed in a less-familiar interview setting and not overlooked in favour of more easily measurable capabilities.

In the current climate, companies are looking for candidates who are resilient, positive, focused, adaptable to change and calm under pressure. Situational interview questions such as “can you tell me about a high-pressure situation you’ve faced – how did you respond, and what did you learn?” provide real examples of how they manage challenges as well as their level of self-awareness.

Similarly, when assessing soft skills, using hypothetical scenarios is a good way to probe for instinctive behavioural insights so try posing questions that test particular qualities needed in the role. For instance, “a client decides halfway through a project that they no longer agree with the direction you’re taking, despite having signed off initially. How do you respond?”. This question tests their stakeholder and project management skills, adaptability and mindset in adverse conditions outside of their control.

Secondly, prepare a comprehensive set of questions or prompts to drill down into the characteristics that might otherwise have been tacitly expressed in a face-to-face setting. By coming prepared with assessment criteria for each, you can create an opportunity for interview subjects to articulate their capabilities while overcoming any inhibitors that a virtual interview may present.

For instance, while strong interpersonal skills may previously have been self-evident in how an applicant introduces themselves, you can compensate for this in a virtual setting by asking “what is your typical working style?” or simply engaging in small talk about hobbies in order to gauge how they interact with colleagues and conduct themselves in a casual social setting.

Similarly, if the virtual interview is suffering connection lags which slow down the response rate or tone of the respondent, this can create a false impression of their enthusiasm for the role. Instead, questions like “what attracted you to this position?” or “what did you enjoy most about your previous position?” can gauge enthusiasm and engagement.

3. Emphasise the corporate culture

Cultural fit is a two-way street and jobseekers will favour a company whose purpose and values align with their own. While an in-office interview may give a candidate the opportunity to experience the physical working environment, speak with members of the team and get a sense of the company's atmosphere, videos do not allow this.

In order to appropriately capture corporate culture during a remote interview, dedicate time at the beginning of the interview to bring the workplace to life by walking the applicant through the company mission and values, providing some details about the team they would be working with, and sharing more information about what their own role would entail. Including details such as what the dress code is or what social or extra-curricular activities are on offer can also showcase the ‘human’ side of the role.

When assessing soft skills, encourage the candidate to ask questions of their own about the workplace or prompt them with questions such as “what are some of the characteristics of your ideal workplace?” to gain insights into what they are looking for in their next role.

The hallmarks of a successful video interview are that of any other interview and with a few minor adjustments to how you prepare for the interview, engage with the candidate and pitch the organisation, the video interview process can be leveraged as an effective tool to assess a candidate's soft skills, cultural fit, and long-term potential for a role.

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