Understanding the Difference Between Hard Skills & Soft Skills in Pre-Employment Testing

I remember my first encounter with pre-employment testing. I was terrified and sweating bullets. Having just taken the GMAT, I did not know what to expect, and no one bothered to tell me how, what, or even why I was taking the test. Now, working in the field of human resources, I find that I’m not alone, as frustrated job seekers wonder and worry about the importance, the differences, and the types of testing given during a company’s hiring process. Often times hiring managers are also completely unaware of what it’s all about. Well, I’d like to help change that.

Hard Skills and Soft Skills

hard skills vs soft skills

At first glance, your candidate appears to have all of the outlined qualifications to be considered top-notch. Their resume looks great, and their experience checks all of the right boxes off your position qualification checklist. They understand the right software and possess the criteria of technical experience. They list the proper certifications and have completed the necessary training. But how do you measure the immeasurable?

The easy-to-identify skill sets – like operating machinery, accounting concepts, or software knowledge — are classified as “hard skills.” A review of your candidate’s resume and education can reveal if he or she has the knowledge to get the job done. But, we know there is so much more to the story. However, testing for “soft skills” isn’t as black and white.

Knowing if your candidate has the right soft skills is a gray area, and testing is subjective. Soft skills sometimes called “people skills,” refer to those qualities that make an excellent employee and can include how they interact with coworkers and build relationships, their workplace professionalism, and their ability to adapt and think creatively to solve problems.

Co-worker Interactions / Relationship Building

co-worker interactions

These skills encompass interpersonal communications and how employees work together and collaborate, their ability to empathize with others, and how they develop and maintain relationships. These interpersonal skills impact efficiency and the ability to meet critical deadlines.

Workplace Professionalism

workplace professionalism

Whether professionalism in the workplace encompasses adhering to written (or unwritten) dress and appearance policies, communication, or work ethics, high levels of professionalism can drive an environment with respect and help develop a positive company repertoire.

Ability to Adapt and Think Creatively

think creatively

It’s nearly impossible to measure the kind of personality that jumps in to tackle an imminent threat to a company or one that generates new ideas. But these are the skills that will keep your company innovative and energized and can thwart potential disasters.

Soft Skills Testing

soft skills

Asking behavioral testing questions can help the interviewer paint a more holistic candidate picture and assess if, in addition to all the right hard skills, he or she also has the soft skills necessary for the job. However, because there is no easily-discernible right or wrong answer, a poor interviewee or an interviewer having an off day can quickly disqualify the right candidate for the position. While there is no infallible tool for evaluating soft skills, having multiple candidate conversations can provide the recruiter and the interviewer with a better understanding of a candidate’s personality traits than a one-time question-and-answer session.

My first assessment experience was an education, as I encountered both hard skills and soft skills testing. My pre-employment testing involved two tests evaluating my math skills. I nervously pounded and punched the calculator so that I could choose between A, B, C, and D. The second test evaluated soft skills, like my ability to change, ethics, and other decision-making qualities that companies use to help identify the ideal employee.

What type of pre-employment testing have you experienced? Does your company offer hard skills testing like typing or social media competency testing, or do they rely on soft skills as part of the candidate hiring and filtering process?

Assessing quality of hire is key to hiring good employees. Read this infographic to learn why.

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Jessica Miller-Merrell

Jessica Miller-Merrell, SPHR, is an author, speaker, Human Resources professional, and workplace social media expert who has a passion for recruiting, training, and all things social media. She is the president and CEO of Xceptional HR, and a leader in the HR community with more than 12 years of industry experience. The author of Tweet This! Twitter for Business, Jessica was named by HR Examiner as the second most influential recruiter on the Internet and the seventh most powerful woman on Twitter. She is a columnist for both SmartBrief and The Huffington Post, in addition to Blogging4Jobs and Human Resources One on One. Jessica has been interviewed for professional articles in CIO Magazine, Entrepreneur Magazine, SHRM’s HR Magazine, and on CBS. Jessica earned a Senior Professional in Human Resources designation in 2008, and holds a bachelor’s degree in Anthropology and Business from Kansas State University. Originally from a small town in Kansas, Jessica currently lives near Oklahoma City with her husband, Greg and daughter, Ryleigh.


  • Avatar Janise Bington says:

    For our company the person’s desire to work is the first priority. If during the interview we see a spark in applicant’s eyes, in most cases, we accept the applicant for a job. However we do not underestimate some basic required skill (such as computer knowledge). The rest of the required skills a person can learn in the process of working, if a person is willing and able to learn and understand new things.

  • Avatar Emily Watson says:

    The first thing I pay attention to is the personal qualities of the applicant, as the skills and knowledge can be transferred, experience comes with time, and personal qualities do not. No one will teach the employee enthusiasm, ability to get along with the staff and customers, and other equally useful qualities that can not be put outside, but which are so necessary in the process.

  • Avatar Richard Garett says:

    Interviewing for a job is like a test drive before buying a car: it’s a short test based on which important decisions are made. However, it’s nearly impossible to eliminate subjectiveness. No matter how qualified the applicant is, if you as an interviewer don’t like him – he’s lost his battle.

  • Avatar Paul Weller says:

    I totally agree with Richard. No wonder they say first impressions are half the battle! As for me I prefer to pay attention not to what the applicants say, but how they behave. Applicant’s speech can be learnt beforehand, but the way a person behaves in new surroundings cannot be faked.

  • Avatar William Brown says:

    Richard, I don’t think that the way applicants look and behave is more important than their professional skills. No one needs just a pretty face, but everyone needs job to be done. A real professional who loves his job will never cause you any problems.

  • Avatar placement training in chennai says:

    Thanks for your informative article. Recruiters always look for talented and skilled professionals to work in their organization. Placement training will assist students to learn various aspects and techniques to eligible for a job. Make use of soft skill training to be successful in competitive job market.

  • Avatar capt sanjay chakravarty says:

    Preliminary level of investigation for professional people how they are ready to take challenges

  • Avatar harshit sharma says:

    Thank you for the article , Its all about you and you perception.
    I have recently join a training institute in Banglore i.e, Indian Institute of mind power training

    But i don’t think that learn soft skills and NLP just for the profession .
    If you want to recreate your soul then its also a good part of your life.
    you can also in touch with spirituality.

  • Avatar Sanya says:

    Really nice & interesting article on Soft Skills, The concept of “Hard and Soft Skill” is a new learning for me. Keep updating in the same . I learn a lot from this article.

  • Avatar Chris Pehura says:

    Hard skills means you have the capability of doing something. Soft skills is having the competency of doing something well.

    If you are hiring a long term employee, you should be interviewing for their potential of being both capability and competency.

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