What are soft skills for an engineer in 2020, why and how companies test them in interviews

Recently, one of my fellow engineers took a job at Facebook. He successfully completed several rounds of interviews, he was called for an interview at the office, and already there, at the leadership and drive stage, something went wrong. As an acquaintance later admitted, he was not very ready to answer questions like “how did you work with a difficult colleague” or “how did you achieve your goals in a toxic environment”.

It is these questions that make it possible to assess the so-called soft skills of engineers. I was very interested in the history of interviews on Facebook, so I decided to study the topic of soft skills, check them and train in more detail. As a bonus, I attach a list of useful resources and articles that I came across in the process of preparing the material. Go!

What are soft skills

On the Russian-speaking Internet, and especially on Habré, many have at least heard of such a concept. Usually the following meaning is put into it: “This is all that is not directly related to the code – the ability to communicate in a team, etc.” This is partly true, but this concept is too general.

Here is a good description What soft skills really are: Soft skills require interpersonal adaptability to different people, problems and situations. For example, leadership and communication are interpersonal skills that help engineers be more successful because they complement their hard skills, such as knowledge of a particular programming language.

According to researchby LinkedIn, the following soft skills are most valued by employers in 2020:

  • creativity – as in 2019, employers are looking for those who can find non-standard ways to solve work problems.
  • persuasion ability – as in the previous year, employers appreciate those who not only offer solutions and ideas, but can explain them.
  • ability to interact – the management of companies understands that loners are not as effective in the long term as a high-quality team.
  • skills to adapt to change – the current year has fully demonstrated the need for this skill, in 2019 the LinkedIn survey also showed its relevance.
  • emotional intellect Is a new skill that was not in last year’s report. It implies the ability to perceive, evaluate and respond to one’s own emotions and those of others.

Soft skills are tested in so-called behavioral interviews. There are more than a dozen aspects that recruiters can analyze during them, among them:

  • Propensity to take action, ability to self-motivation.
  • Ability to adapt to changing conditions.
  • Communication skills.
  • Ability to resolve conflicts.
  • Creativity and the ability to generate ideas.
  • Decision making process.
  • Ability to set goals.
  • Skills for communicating a position, convincing oneself in the rightness.
  • Planning, prioritization, time management.
  • Solution of problems.
  • Teamwork.
  • Work under pressure.

How it all works

Companies analyze soft skills in different ways. For example, Amazon also uses its famous Leadership Principles for this, and some of them to the candidate “try on“Already on a telephone interview.

Some people start checking already at the stage of applying for a vacancy. For example, we developed a bot @g_jobbotthat allows candidates to receive vacancies relevant to their experience directly in Telegram. Companies sometimes post a vacancy not only in the bot, but also on other sites, but in the end they give preference to those who came through g-mate – this is a fairly new way of finding a job, those candidates who use it show themselves as people who do not are afraid of experiments and open to new technologies.

For many projects – for example, startups – having these qualities is critical. According to the companies’ reviews, the sample of candidates who came through the bot significantly exceeds the quality that can be obtained through ordinary job boards.

In large IT companies, especially in the United States, it is common for behavioral interviews to become part of the so-called onsite loop – a series of conversations in the company’s office for a candidate who has undergone telephone screening.

In these interviews, soft skills are tested using questions like:

  • Tell me about the situation in which you ..
  • Share an example of how you …
  • Imagine that you are in a situation where you need …
  • Remember how you acted in a situation when …

Such open-ended questions allow the recruiter to get a description of a specific situation, action, task that the candidate faced. At the same time, it is considered good practice among recruiters to ask additional questions during the story.

Below is a record of a useful webinar on soft skills with practical examples in Russian:

For example, the ability to communicate can be tested by asking: “Tell us about a situation when you had to tell a person who is far from IT and does not speak slang about a complex technical problem? How did you make sure that the interlocutor understood you? “

And the answer to this question will tell a lot about the ability to work in a team: “Has it ever happened in your practice that one of the team members did not work effectively enough? What did you do in this situation: discussed it with a colleague, a manager, how the conversation went, and what were the results? “

It is clear that for many, if not most engineers, such questions do not always seem comfortable and even meaningful. But for the company, the answers to them are important, because they allow you to understand how comfortable the candidate himself will be and how quickly he will get used to the team. This ultimately affects how quickly a new employee emerges at maximum productivity, and whether or not at all.

In some rather rare cases, soft skills testing can be extreme. For example in this thread on Quora, one of the respondents shared their experience of conducting behavioral interviews with engineers. Before these stages, he gave a difficult test task, and then, during a conversation with those who successfully completed it, he said something like “everything is fine, only it does not compile” – and then looked at the reaction. If the candidate immediately began to be indignant and say that this could not be, this was considered a minus. Those who were embarrassed, but did not try to clarify what exactly went wrong, seemed to the interviewer insufficiently proactive, and most of all they liked those who tried to figure out the problem he invented.

How to prepare for a soft skills test in an interview

If you want to prepare for a behavioral interview, there are several steps to follow:

  • Collect more information about questions that may be asked – there are many collections on the Internet with questions about behavioral interviews (several of them are listed at the end of the article). Read them carefully, think about whether the situations described in the questions have happened in your career, how you reacted to them.
  • With this knowledge, review the job description again – Consider what soft skills questions you might be asked based on the position you are applying for. Pay particular attention to preparing the answers to these questions.
  • Use the technique when preparing your answers STAR – Many American companies, for example, Amazon, love her very much. It works like this – at the beginning there is a description of the situation and the task (ST = Situation, Task), then the actions (A = Actions) are described, everything ends with the results (R = Results) – its alternative is the SCORE framework.
  • Particular attention should be paid to the results – to raise the numbers, what and how improved in the project as a result of your work.
  • Practice answering – Answers to soft skills questions are more like a presentation, so you have to practice. You can start by saying the answers in front of the mirror, then it is better to invite a colleague or one of your relatives, and if you ask no one, use a service like Prampwhere engineers practice interviewing.
  • Be brief – the fact that you don’t need to write code in such an interview, but just tell something, does not mean that the stories should be very long. Try to make sure that the answer to any question from your list does not exceed 2-3 minutes. Timed with a stopwatch is helpful.

Conclusion: links and tools to prepare for behavioral interviews

Finally, a selection of useful links to help you better understand and prepare for behavioral interviews:

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