Spot the Right Soft Skills Before You Make the Job Offer

Hiring managers can easily verify that a finance and accounting job seeker has completed the degree requirements for a position. The same is true for checking whether applicants have completed the continuing education needed to maintain certifications and licenses. But what's not so easy is assessing whether they have the appropriate soft skills to fit the position and your workplace culture.

What are the interpersonal skills that your finance and accounting employees need? And in what context do they need these soft skills? Well, like many managers, you probably expect some of the following:

• A team that's able to interpret as well as maintain large datasets. Thus, business knowledge, analysis and critical reasoning likely top your list of soft skills for new hires.

• Employees who are able to understand questions from nonaccounting personnel and to answer inquiries with a customer-friendly attitude. This takes good communication skills — both written and verbal.

• Team members who have the confidence to speak in front of groups, because they are often called upon to present to other areas of the company, including managers. You might suggest those in need of practice consider Toastmasters International.

• Employees who care about multicultural awareness, especially if your company is global.

Knowing that, what steps should you take to make sure you find finance and accounting job seekers with the soft skills you need?

1. Read their applications closely

Once you’ve narrowed down your stack of resumes to people who meet the technical requirements, how can you refine the list to make sure you've included those who are likely to have the soft skills you’re seeking? 

• Assess the basics. Is the tone of the cover letter and resume consistent? Does the presented background and experience seem tailored to the job opening?

• Read for "story." Have the applicants gone beyond simply listing skills and credentials? Is there a narrative that describes how they solved a problem, or a case study of how they helped their teams succeed?

• Seek specifics. Do they provide concrete details of their achievements? How do they describe their contributions to the team?

The elements you look for may differ depending on experience levels. It may range from a recent staff accountant who sought opportunities to speak in front of an audience versus an experienced candidate who worked on a cross-functional team or presented at a large conference.

2. Ask questions to assess soft skills  

Once you've compiled your short list, it's time to invite candidates for interviews. Advice from Robert Half Finance & Accounting’s Interview Tips that Work can help you assess soft skills at this stage of the process.

One suggestion is to ask questions designed to encourage applicants to talk about what motivates them, what work culture types they thrive in, and their ethics. For these, you should get more than simple yes or no answers.

3. Make observations

Take a look at your interviewees' dress and demeanor. Are their clothes appropriate for your office environment? What impressions did their handshakes and posture give you?

If candidates volunteer information about a challenge in another job, ask them to reflect on how they handled it, and if they would approach a similar situation the same way now.

During the interview, pay careful attention to the responses, but look for more. For example, how well do the job seekers articulate their thoughts and think on their feet? What message does their body language convey? Do they maintain sufficient eye contact and exhibit a friendly nature, demonstrating an ability to quickly build rapport and function in a group setting?

Your observations in these critical areas will help you further gauge applicants’ soft skills. In the process, you’ll gain a fuller understanding of how well each person fits the job description and your organization.