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I know what you’re thinking: Soft skills don’t actually matter. They’re just the buzzwords you sprinkle throughout your resume when you can’t think of any other key competencies that are worthy of that precious real estate.
But, here’s the thing: Soft skills actually do carry some weight with employers. In Deloitte’s 2016 Global Human Capital Trends Report, a whopping 92% of respondents rated soft skills as a critical priority.
So, while they might not be quite as tangible or quantifiable as your more technical qualifications, employers are still going to attempt to gauge your soft skills throughout the hiring process.
Don’t panic yet. While soft skills interview questions will obviously differ depending on your unique circumstances, we’ve pulled together some common ones that employers rely on to get a better feel for the less tangible qualities candidates bring to the table—as well as what you need to know to craft your own impressive answer.
1. Can you tell me about a time when you successfully led a team through a sticky situation?
The relevant soft skill: Leadership
Even if you aren’t interviewing for a formal leadership role, there are still times when you’re going to need to step up to the plate and inspire other people in the office to follow your example.
Your interviewer might toss out a question like this one to not only understand how you inspire others to get behind you, but also how you navigate through challenging circumstances.
How to answer: With any behavioral interview question (and, trust me, there are plenty on this list), you want to be sure to provide enough detail. No, you don’t need to describe the weather and what you were wearing when that situation occurred, but it’s important that you set the scene for your interviewer so that he or she has enough context to truly appreciate your answer.
For this response in particular, make sure you pick a scenario that actually was both challenging and meaningful (no, your crusade to change the brand of coffee in the break room doesn’t count) and then provide two or three tactical things you did to navigate your team through it. That could look something like this:
Our design team received some rather brutal feedback from a client, and everybody was feeling pretty disheartened about the amount of work we had already put in.
Instead of allowing my peers to continue to wallow, I organized a meeting where we could all sit down and hash out the client’s revisions together and make sure we were all on the same page about what was being requested.
Prior to that meeting, I also created a more digestible breakdown of the client’s requests and gathered the relevant resources to ensure that we had everything we needed to knock those changes out. Everybody left that meeting feeling far more accomplished and satisfied with our progress.
2. How do you cope when you have too much work on your plate?
The relevant soft skill: Organization/Time Management
Let’s face it—there aren’t many times in the office when your plan for the day pans out perfectly.
Emergencies crop up and fires need to be put out. Potential employers want to feel confident that you have the know-how to successfully prioritize, organize, and manage your own time and workload when those things happen.
How to answer: Resist the urge to launch into a long-winded rant about how your current or previous employer repeatedly overworked you. Instead, make it your goal to stay focused on the positive things you did to take control of your own to-do list. Try something like:
My previous role often required me to juggle numerous different projects at once. I won’t deny that it was stressful at times.
But, it also taught me a lot about the importance of writing things down, using my peak productivity hours for deep and focused work, and taking the initiative to re-evaluate priorities with my supervisor when necessary—to ensure we focused our energy and efforts on the most impactful projects.
3. Can you tell me about a time when you had to work with someone you weren’t compatible with?
The relevant soft skill: Teamwork/Collaboration
Nobody works in a vacuum. And, while teamwork can be awesome when you get along well with your colleagues, it presents a real challenge when you need to collaborate with people you don’t necessarily mesh with.
A question like this one will help an employer assess just how much of a “team player” you really are (despite what your resume might say).
How to answer: Again, this is another situation when you’ll want to keep things positive. Make sure that you don’t spend so much time focused on the conflict itself that you don’t get to the information about what you did to make the situation better. After all, that’s the piece that your interviewer really want to know.
What could this look like in practice? Here’s an example:
I generally get along with the people that I work with. But, in those rare cases when a team member and I do have a conflict or incompatible working styles, I find that returning to the basics is the best way to ensure that we’re able to have a beneficial working relationship.
That means setting clear goals and expectations from the get-go and even outlining some ground rules for how we can work together more effectively. It can seem a little rigid or formal in the heat of the moment. However, I’ve found that having those tough conversations from the outset can really help to mitigate any further issues down the line.
4. Can you tell me about a time when you overcame a significant challenge?
The relevant soft skill: Problem-solving
Chances are, you’ve dealt with a very similar question to this one in an interview before. It’s one that many employers rely on time and time again, because it can be especially revealing when it comes to a candidate’s level of perseverance and problem-solving capabilities—two traits that are undeniably important in your professional life.
How to answer: You haven’t made it this far in your career without encountering a single roadblock. So, thinking of a specific example shouldn’t be the hard part.
If you want to score some bonus points with your response to this question, don’t just think of a time when you overcame a challenge—think of a time when your ingenious way forward actually resulted in something impressive for the company, like this:
I was working as part of a marketing team, and we were supposed to have an entirely redesigned company website launched by the end of the second quarter. The graphic designers and developers were at odds about what was possible and what wasn’t, which was significantly slowing the project down. We soon ended about two weeks behind schedule.
At that point, I decided it would be most efficient to get everybody in the same room to talk about their different goals and challenges. As it turns out, both of those were similar for each side of the argument. We were able to reach a compromise fairly easily and actually completed the website ahead of schedule.
5. Can you walk me through your process of how you’d explain a complex topic to someone who was unfamiliar?
The relevant soft skill: Communication
When you need to work cross-functionally in the office, things that seem totally second-nature to you are going to need to be explained effectively to people in other departments. That’s not always easy.
While there are plenty of communication-focused interview questions that employers could ask, this one helps them figure out just how skilled you are at communicating effectively in even the trickiest of circumstances.
How to answer: Interview questions about communication are tough, because you need to effectively communicate about a time when you communicated effectively. Is your head spinning?
Rest assured, the example you utilize doesn’t need to be ridiculously complicated. You just need to be able to describe a tactic or two that you used to make your message easier to understand. For example:
As a member of the accounting staff, I needed to illustrate to our sales team how important it was that they submitted their sales data to us by the assigned deadline.
Rather than boring them with the details of my own workflow, spreadsheets, and what happened after they submitted those numbers, I found that the most effective way to do this was to relate my problem to something they could better understand and sympathize with.
In this case, I asked them to remember how frustrated they feel when their clients are late on payments (and thus slow down their commission checks). From there, I made it clear that I feel that same way when I don’t get what I need on time.
When in doubt, I always relate complex subject matter to something that my audience already understands.
6. Can you tell me about a time when things didn’t go according to plan? How did you cope?
The relevant soft skill: Adaptability
We all know what happens to the best laid plans, right? Sigh. They have a tendency to fall apart.
Employers aren’t looking for people who crumble under the sometimes-standard pressures at work. They want candidates who can roll with the punches and adapt quickly, and that’s exactly what this question is getting at.
How to answer: This is another opportunity where—if you can—you want to draw attention to not only how you coped with unexpected changes, but also how you used those shifting circumstances to bounce back even better than before.
Admittedly, that can be tough to do. But, here’s a peek at what that could look like:
I had spent months planning the details of my company’s golf outing, which is our largest fundraising event of the year. So, needless to say, when a last-minute thunderstorm forced everybody inside, it was tempting to panic.
Fortunately, I pride myself on my ability to think on my feet. The golf course moved us to their indoor event space. Using any supplies I could find—like golf balls and plastic cups—I whipped together a nine-hole course full of challenges that resulted in a ton of laughs.
People loved it so much, it’s now been a staple at the golf outing for the past three years—along with the normal golf, of course.
Ready to ace your interview?
Unless you have a crystal ball at your disposal (in which case, can we borrow that sometime?), there’s no way for you to know exactly what your interviewer will ask you. However, it can be helpful to prepare some polished and professional answers to common interview questions that employers frequently toss out.
Make sure you’re armed and ready with fitting examples for the above six questions, and we’re confident that you’ll knock that interview out of the park.
If you’re looking for an extra edge, brush up on your public speaking, body language or leadership skills with our soft skills courses before your interview.
Eager to prepare even more for that upcoming interview of yours? Check out our other helpful resources for specific industries. They’re no crystal ball, but we like to think they’re the next best thing:
Ace the interview
Craft your responses with our handy worksheet.