How can we identify whether candidates have future-critical soft skills?

PWC’s 2017 CEO Survey found that 77% of CEOs struggle to find the creativity and innovation skills they need to be successful in an ever-changing, increasingly fast-paced and boundary-less business environment. And in my 20+ years of working as a Human Resources professional, this was always one of the greatest challenges I experienced.  We can argue that it’s easy to identify “hard” skills, and there are plenty of methods and good assessments to enable this, but it’s those particularly elusive soft skills that are hard to define (and even harder to identify), that make or break an effective senior hire.


Organisations are transforming at a rapid pace; we know that. Automation and digital technology will require people and machines to work together, and the way this integration is managed will be critical.  According to the PwC CEO survey, business leaders are concerned about identifying talent that can adapt to the changing environment. The qualities that make us human – our ability to connect with others, effectively communicate, build relationships, develop strategies, collaborate and innovate – will never be replicated by machines. These skills, and our capability to be agile and move with change are increasingly important to business.


In my experience, most businesses have a good understanding of the need for more than just technical expertise, experience and qualifications in their new hires, with the focus on personal attributes and cultural fit becoming the new norm.  However, these capabilities that will shape the future of work are often difficult to identify in recruitment processes and can be challenging to develop through traditional training programs or in the workplace.


So, how can we assess these attributes and capabilities effectively?


Traditionally, we might have relied on assessment centres to allow us to observe people attending to their usual workplace tasks and interacting with others. But they can be problematic: evaluators could be biased, candidates might not get proper feedback, and – I believe this is the biggest challenge – the awkward presence of an observer in the room can mean that candidates feel like they’re role-playing, rather than being their real, authentic selves.


Psychometrics are another option – when properly developed and validated, they can give us an accurate and scientific understanding of each person we’re considering: their values, their behavioural preferences and so on.


There’s also what I believe is a very interesting and promising new approach: immersive simulation experiences based on real workplace scenarios. And it’s all about putting people in situations that require innovation, flexibility, and the application of new thinking and agility.


In a properly designed immersive simulation experience, participants are stretched outside their normal comfort zone in a safe environment, where they can demonstrate their capabilities and discover personal insights regarding what they need to develop in order to be successful in the future organisational landscape.


There are a number of key advantages to this:


  1. It enables Leaders to observe a candidate’s natural behavioural responses to a given situation and increases the reliability of the selection process.
  2. It provides a powerful learning experience for individuals combining a theoretical and practical element.
  3. The combination of an immersive experience alongside psychometric assessments ensures HR Practitioners and Leaders are better equipped to tackle the challenge of identifying the uniquely human capabilities that are important, hard to find and essential in our changing environment.


I am excited to see what the future holds. HR practitioners have an important role in shaping the businesses of the future through innovative and progressive selection and development initiatives.  From what I can see, we are in a great position to help business leaders meet the challenge of bringing in the human talent that has what it takes to thrive in the dynamic workplaces of the future. Maybe that soft skill identification might not be so elusive after all.



About the Author


Lisa HarveyLisa Harvey is the Director of Ignite Capability and a Capability Specialist at Real: Immersive Capability Experience.  Lisa is an energetic and results oriented Human Resources Professional who is passionate about building credible relationships with clients to enable the delivery of exceptional people practice.  She has a strong background as a Generalist HR Business Partner along with specialist experience in the areas of talent assessment and management, building capability, recruitment, coaching and team effectiveness. Lisa has significant experience in designing and delivering leadership development programs using experiential learning methodologies with a focus on the delivery of impactful feedback and coaching.


Accredited in several Psychometric and Behaviour Models, Lisa is particularly passionate about working with leaders to identify, grow and develop capability within their teams to increase engagement and embed organizational culture change.