How Do I Interview for Soft Skills?

My last post in this series responding to questions asked by participants in our recent PM Skills Webinar (the webinar recording itself is here, registration required) covered whether employers were really looking for leadership and business acumen. The next question came from a PMO leader, asking for:

Suggestions on interview techniques or questions to find those “soft skills” from a PM applying outside of your organization?       

First, formal talent assessment tools will refine and focus your new hire interviews. We are deploying an assessment for a technology firm to give tailored answers to this question. If your organization struggles to hire the right project management talent, PM College assessment services are just the ticket.

I gave a few questions in my last post, so here I will focus on technique. My experience is that behavioral techniques are the best way to get to soft skills. For example, ask the candidate to put himself or herself back in a situation: “How did you resolve a situation when you didn’t have enough resources?”

In this case, how candidates answer that question gives a feel for how they approach stakeholder engagement and influence without authority. How did the person work the stakeholder plan to drive buy-in to the need to provide resources? Did he deploy influencers to drive that buy-in, or did she reach for the escalation stick too quickly? How would this person’s approach match your organization’s culture?

Also, look at the quality and depth of the answer. Another suggestion is to have multiple people ask the same question. See if the person can give multiple examples for the same question. Was the answer crisp and concise, with appropriate detail, or did the candidate hem and how his way through an unfocused reply?

If she addresses these questions to your satisfaction, then you have some comfort that the candidate has strong command of the topic and its techniques.

One last note: hypotheticals sound like a good technique, but they are problematic. Hypothetical situations often demand or introduce domain knowledge that is not relevant. In some cases, people are good as confecting plausible scenarios for imaginary problems. Those people, however, may not be so good at crafting a solution to a real world challenge.

NOTE: This post is adapted from a series posted on the PM College blog.

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