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STARR INSIGHTS: Soft skills for techies

By Ian Bailey

Getting a job in technology should just be about how good you are technically, right? I’m afraid not.

Cultural and environmental fit are increasingly important for firms’ technical teams – constant improvement and evolution are the only way teams can continue to be the best they can be, so hiring someone who is a technical wizard but who has little or no ability to interact with the team around them is going to have a negative impact, no matter how good they are at coding.

I’ve written a number of articles on technical testing and the many ways that technical candidates skills can be tested, but how do firms go about testing a candidate for ‘soft skills’?

The majority of interviews for development roles will follow a fairly similar script: the screening telephone call up first may cover some light technical questioning, but the purpose is generally to assess the candidate’s communication skills. Smart firms will always have some sort of interaction prior to diving straight into a technical assessment, so the candidates are engaged and enthused to invest their time into taking the test, that is generally up next.  This technical test, or a technical face-to-face interview that will incorporate a test, puts the ball in the candidates’ court to show the interviewers what they can do. Then follow up interviews will delve further into the candidates’ technical skills to really find out what they’re working with.

If a candidate gets through the technical grilling, many can be fooled into thinking they’re home and dry. Not so fast…

Competency-based interviews, often conducted by HR, allow the firm to assess how a candidate has conducted themselves in non-technical environments and situations. If a technical candidate isn’t prepared for this type of interview, it can go very wrong indeed because these scenarios are almost always going to revolve around negative situations where the interviewer will be looking for a positive resolution and a demonstration of ‘social skill’. Candidates are required to recall how they’ve reacted in a certain situation, how they’ve dealt with a particular individual and of course, this all needs to be answered with a positive and constructive tone that shows ‘social skills’.

Examples of these types of questions are:

– Describe a time when you were a member of a team and witnessed a conflict within the team. What did you do? What were the results? What could you have done better?

– Give an example of how you’ve dealt with a difficult or sensitive situation that required extensive communication.

– Give an example of a problem you have faced in the past, either as part of a team or as an individual. How did you solve the problem?

The STAR (Situation, Task, Action, Result) that’s included in all of our Good Interview Guides is, as always, the best way to answer these types of questions. If you’re a technology candidate with an HR interview ahead of you, please feel free to call me any time to discuss what’s going to lay ahead.

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