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

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

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
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
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
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
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
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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