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10 Soft Skills Assessment Practices to Avoid

The job market is continually evolving and changing the way we hire. Two recent shifts currently affecting it are:

  1. The skill gap between job requirements and job candidates’ existing skill sets
  2. The rise of remote and hybrid workforces require another set of soft skills

To adapt to these shifts, companies are now focusing on soft skills in their hiring processes.  But why are soft skills so helpful in successfully selecting the right candidates for a workplace? Because they are the basis for our ability to learn hard skills, to adjust to rapidly changing environments, and to work autonomously at home or in the office. 

With this renewed interest in soft skills, assessing them becomes increasingly important. Here are some red flags to avoid in the assessment process.

1. Measuring too few components

Soft skills are frequently assessed by the personality traits that make them. There are many fun personality quizzes, such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) and the Big 5, that classify your soft skills based on four or five key traits. These quizzes can be very entertaining and helpful in some situations but are unsuitable for predicting job success. 

To perform a job, we need a complex combination of different qualities, and these qualities impact and interact with each other in complex ways. Measuring a small number of traits is simply too limiting and thus unable to reflect this complexity.

2. Asking too many questions

To accurately predict a candidate’s job fit, pre-hire assessments need to reliably collect as much information as possible from candidates. Which usually means asking more questions. However, if the number of questions is too high and the assessment takes too long, your completion rate will inevitably suffer.

Of course, other factors such as your company’s hiring brand, applicant experience, and candidate engagement are also significant factors in the completion rate, but an excessive assessment length is a significant obstacle to overcome. Your best bet is to keep the assessment time investment for applicants under 20 minutes.

3. Scoring with a generic approach

It’s tempting to argue that there is one universal model for success in any given job because it makes data collection and scoring easier. Unfortunately, using one standard model to predict success ignores the unique management, culture, and interpersonal dynamics of every role and organization. These unique background characteristics are critical for understanding who will thrive.

You can never safely assume that a personality that is a good fit for one company’s job will be equally as good for a similar job in a different company. Soft skills assessments that use a one-size-fits-all approach to scoring candidates should be avoided if you’re looking to generate accurate predictions.

4. Categorizing everyone in a few generic groups

Have you taken a BuzzFeed or Facebook quiz that told you what country you should live in or which Disney princess you are? Some soft skills assessments use a similar approach, focusing on assigning candidates one of a limited number of “personas” that are meant to broadly capture the interaction of a range of complex personality traits in an accessible way. However, in striving for accessibility this approach sacrifices accuracy.

As fun as these quizzes are for entertainment purposes, using this concept as a pre-hire assessment technique will hurt you more than help. In reality, people don’t fit in neat boxes. Reality is complex. To assess someone’s ability to perform a specific job, a much more nuanced picture is required.

5. Displaying more than one score

The purpose of an assessment is to give an unbiased, data-driven recommendation rather than have a recruiter or a hiring manager interpret the results using their preconceived notions. Without a consistent measure, you run the risk of allowing unconscious biases into the process.

When candidates are scored on the results of their soft skills assessment, you should get only one relevant score indicating their level of fitness for any given job. This will allow for a quick, easy interpretation of the candidate’s fit that is not open for interpretation and is consistent across offices, recruiters, locations, and more.

6. Failing to eliminate bias

Human biases can be pervasively embedded into the hiring system if proper attention isn’t given to the data that an AI-based pre-hire assessment learns on. Assessing soft skills using subjective data, like keywords in resumes or body language and facial expressions in video interviews, leads to a systematic disadvantage for underrepresented groups.

In the race to adopt AI technologies in HR-tech, sometimes proper attention is also not given to how ethical these solutions are. This can allow things like bias to leak into the process and spread. An unethical solution will typically lack transparency about its results, methodology, and recommendations.

7. Conducting the assessment as the last step in the hiring process

Some soft skills assessments are given either to a select few finalists or as the last step to vet potential new hires. This is typically done either to cut costs due to a high per-candidate charge, or because the assessment is seen more as a stamp of approval than a useful screening tool. However, letting humans do the screening and filtering at the top of the funnel lets implicit biases into the hiring process.

Instead, a predictive assessment should be conducted as the first step (or as close to it as possible) in the hiring process. This way you can use more objective criteria to narrow down your applicant pool to a smaller number of higher potential candidates. Of course, this can only be done if:

  1. The assessment has a proven predictive validity
  2. There are no baked-in biases in the scoring algorithm
  3. The result of the assessment is a clear-cut recommendation that is easy to interpret

8. Asking demographic questions at the beginning

Demographics are great to collect. They help you understand your candidate pool and where you may be losing diversity in your funnel. They also help keep you EEOC compliant. However, when in the process you ask those demographic questions matters. For any historically disadvantaged or underrepresented group, if you ask them too early it changes the other answers that come after. For example, when women are asked to specify their gender before an exam, they tend to perform worse than when women are asked after the exam.

Collecting demographic information is a vital step in ensuring your assessment is fair and bias-free. It just needs to be done in the right place, which is at the end of the process.

9. Creating a device-specific assessment experience 

Among candidates applying for jobs, about 50% will complete their application on a mobile device and the other 50% on a computer. In some cases, the difference in user experience can be drastic and introduce mismeasurement into the process.

The best example of this is gamified assessments that require an installed app on smartphones. Usually, such tools may not support desktop applicants at all, which drives applicants without a smartphone out of the process, or they create a web-based version of their mobile app which is often slower and more limited. As expected, the applicants taking the assessment through the alternate experience will score lower, which is not a factor you want in your screening process. 

10. Asking for pictures

People are hardwired to judge other people by looking at their faces. This method of judgment served us well in the past. But in today’s world, seeing people’s pictures as part of a job screening process is not just “not helpful” – it’s harmful. Yet many soft skills assessment products disregard this important practice.

Needless to say, sooner or later, you will have to see the faces of your candidates by meeting them virtually or in person. However, by this point, the assessment step should already be behind you, and interacting with a person rather than seeing a still picture will paint a much fuller picture of their personality.

Using a soft skills assessment in your hiring process can bring many benefits – from more efficiency to reduced bias. Use this list to help you find the right assessment for your company so you get the most from your solution.  

For more information on how Cangrade can help you find the right fit for your open roles, contact us today.