Soft skills : 8 essential characteristics to look for in new hires

Soft skills : 8 essential characteristics to look for in new hires

When looking for your next hire, what’s the first thing you can for on a CV? Is it the candidate’s previous job titles, what university they went to or the qualifications they achieved? Or do you look for soft skills too? Standard practice has taught us that experience and qualifications are most important of all, yet today’s continually changing world requires a little more than a top degree from a Russel/Ivy League University and a stellar line-up of experience.

While these things are very important, the evolving complexities of the world; including the way we communicate with others and remote working practices, require employers to take a more holistic view of the candidate’s suitability for a role.

Below, we’ll take a look at 8 of the top soft skills that are often just as important as qualifications and experience.

What are soft skills?

Soft skills are character traits and interpersonal skills that characterise the relationships a person makes with other people. In addition to hard skills like a degree, industry certifications, professional experience, foreign language or computer skills, a candidate should also possess a range of soft skills to be able to effectively carry out the role.

This leads us on to the top soft skills to look out for in a candidate.


soft skills. - A chameleon adapting to its surroundings

If adaptability to new environments and changes in the workplace wasn’t essential before, it certainly is now! Over the past year, many people’s working lives have significantly changed. Face to face meetings have been replaced with Zoom alternatives, the 9-5 has transitioned into self-disciplined flexible working, and teamwork requires more dedication.

A candidate who can adapt well in new situations should be able to demonstrate that they’re self-motivated and can get on with the job alone, as well as being able to effectively communicate through virtual tools, is open-minded to new ideas and ways of working and can handle change without feeling overly stressed.

Interviewers can ask:

  • Describe a time when you’ve had to complete a task outside the scope of your job role and the way you approached it.
  • How did you adapt to remote working conditions over the past year?
  • How do you cope with changes to your work environment?


soft skills -  a man leading a group in a classroom environment

Potential Leadership attributes are an essential aspect to look out for when hiring a candidate who you’d like to progress and take on more responsibility in the future. While ownership and accountability are a major part of senior roles, leadership is also about being able to influence and support others and to continually learn and adapt your behaviours to reflect the changing needs of your organisation and teams.

People who show budding leadership skills usually portray the following traits early on: amicability, empathy, creativity, flexibility, and strong social skills.

Interviewers can ask:

  • Describe one of the hardest decisions you’ve had to make in a previous role.
  • Describe a time you lead by example
  • Sometimes colleagues can have a difference of opinion to yourself. How would you handle this?

Work ethic

soft skills - a man fist pumping at his computer

A good work ethic is essential in contributing to a positive and driven workforce. No employer wants to have to continually look over the shoulder of their employees and experience shows that micro-management can be the downfall of healthy work culture.

Therefore, it’s essential to identify that the candidate already has a good work ethic instilled in them. A good work ethic included being punctual, productive during working hours, using initiative, appearing professional and showing a desire to continually improve.

Interviewers can ask:

  • Can you share a time you put in extra effort at work?
  • How do you stay motivated? 
  • What does having a good work ethic mean to you?


soft skills - a team of people collaborating on a project

Even senior team leaders need to know how to effectively work as a team, in which it only takes one person’s poor teamwork skills to have a negative effect on talented but more introverted colleagues. A good team player embraces collaboration, holds themselves accountable, are committed to their team and are opportunistic and future-focused.

Interviewers can ask:

  • How do you feel about working in a team?
  • Give some examples of a time you demonstrated teamwork.
  • What skills do you bring to a team?


a lady daydreaming at her desk with colourful doodles above her head

Creative employees are invaluable to any organisation as they continually offer new ideas for projects, solutions to complex problems, and innovative strategies for getting ahead of the competition.

Some of the leading global companies put a focus on valuing creativity as a driving factor for their success. Squarespace is an excellent example of this in which one of their company values is to ‘protect creativity’. Squarespace claims that ideas are fragile and require space to develop and grow, in which they seek to guard and nurture employee ideas.

Another great example is Google, which has recently partnered with Cannes Lions to create a ‘creative campus’. The creative campus acts as a training programme that promotes data-driven creativity and diverse and inclusive teamwork.   

Interviewers can ask:

  • What was the last gift you gave someone?
  • What do you do to keep yourself motivated and interested in your work?
  • Describe a time when you took an existing process and used your own creativity to make it better.


A team doing trust falls with each other blind folded

Dependability is always important but especially in the current climate where employees are working remotely and have a greater amount of autonomy. Dependable employees are responsible, loyal, and hard-working. They can show up on time, get their work done and keep confidential company information discrete.

Not only are dependable employees able to work responsibly remotely, but they also reduce the risk of a data breach or any other kind of legal proceedings and help to keep the staff turnover rate low.

Interviewers can ask:

  • Tell me about the most difficult decision you had to make recently.
  • Tell me about a time you were right but still had to follow instructions. 
  • Tell me about a time when personal issues pulled you away from work and how you handled it.

Critical Thinking

A lady thinking while looking at a transparent ideas board

Critical thinkers can actively solve problems, implement solutions and find new ways of working. This is incredibly important in the current climate where remote working requires new ways of carrying out activities that would otherwise happen face to face.

Critical thinkers are also able to work independently and be left to make good judgement calls when needed, without the need for extra support.

Interviewers can ask:

  • Which is heavier, 100 pounds of feathers, or 100 pounds or iron?
  • Describe a time where you had to make a snap-minute decision without all the information available at the time.
  • Can you describe a time when you anticipated a problem in advance and took steps to stop it from becoming an issue?
  • Describe a time when you needed to convince the team, managers, or senior leaders in your organisation to try an alternative means to solve a problem.


A man working on an Ipad in an office

In today’s world, most job roles are filled with several high priority responsibilities that are time-sensitive and require candidates to be able to work in a pressurised environment. Employees should effectively make prioritised decisions to meet deadlines and achieve individual and team objectives.

Interviewers can ask:

  • If you're reporting to more than one manager, how do you prioritize your duties?
  • How much time do you spend per week on X task?
  • How do you organize your work when you have to juggle multiple projects/clients at the same time?

Hiring soft skills

Organisations that hire people rather than technical skill sets or qualification status can grow and nurture their workforce much more efficiently as employees have the right qualities to learn and adapt. It can be much easier to upskill an employee by investing in training, over hiring an employee with a top-notch degree and a bad attitude. 

When working in a niche area like Innovation Incentives, Leonid consultants must have a keen eye for finding candidates with the above soft skills as the pool of available talent is often smaller than other sectors. We are experienced in encouraging candidates with top soft skills to look into other industries where their skills are highly transferable, enabling our clients to benefit from a more diverse pool of talent.

Want to discuss an upcoming job brief with us? Get in touch with us at or give us a call at +44 (0)20 3984 5217