March 3, 2023

How to Properly Assess Critical Executive Soft Skills

By: sanjay sathe

Few things are as important as the accomplishments of your leadership team. This success allows your organization to flourish. When you’re looking to bring a new executive into your company the accomplishments of the candidates represent key points of interest. This blog takes a behind the scenes look at the soft skills leaders utilize to underpin their impressive accomplishments.

How to Properly Assess Critical Executive Soft Skills

We celebrate executives for their outstanding accomplishments. Whether an executive spearheaded a successful merger or acquisition, developed a new product, or transformed a struggling division, they deserve a big round of applause. That said, numerous factors needed to converge for this success to come to fruition. An often overlooked aspect, executive soft skills, are instrumental in the effective and efficient bolstering of accomplishments. Continue reading to learn how to assess these soft skills properly as you review executive accomplishments during your interviews.

What are Soft Skills?

Soft skills represent interpersonal (or people) skills, such as active listening, effective communication, leadership, time management, and critical thinking. Contrary to technical abilities, these are about how a person interacts with their team, colleagues, and environment. 

Although technical skills typically have a more direct and immediate impact on job performance, soft skills aren’t any less critical since they affect one’s professional success and progress just as much.

A Harvard University study found that 85% of job success comes from having well-developed people skills. No wonder 89% of recruiters say that when recruitment doesn’t work out as planned, it’s typically due to a lack of soft skills. 

Why is it Crucial for Executives to Have Soft Skills?

A company where executives approach employees’ questions, concerns, and mistakes with aggression and a lack of understanding will likely lead to a hostile work atmosphere and low employee morale. It would turn into a workplace where people are afraid to make errors or to let managers know when they don’t understand something, making learning and development a challenge.

This means that workers are more likely to stay with a company for a long time if executives are empathetic and skilled communicators capable of maintaining a positive work environment. Otherwise, they risk losing current employees to another company’s executive job opportunities. 

According to a 2021 Yale University study, employees with emotionally intelligent supervisors, those who are sympathetic and self-aware – were more innovative, creative, and happier. On the other hand, 70% of people whose managers had lower emotional intelligence had negative feelings toward work. 

Besides helping leaders maintain a healthy work atmosphere, soft skills help executives leverage clear communication to align goals within different roles and departments, driving positive change. These abilities also promote efficient decision-making thanks to active listening and ensuring everyone’s voice is heard. 

When active listening, critical thinking, and effective communication come together, executives are better at problem-solving, forecasting bottlenecks, and fostering a proactive approach. Being good at negotiating and understanding other people’s pain points helps increase sales and maintain high employee retention. 

The Soft Skills That Set Successful Leaders Apart

Interacting and communicating with others is a must-have soft skill for everyone in a leadership position, making effective communication one of the top soft skills leaders need. Executives should be well-spoken, persuasive, able to turn their thoughts into words effectively, and capable of setting clear expectations and deadlines. However, they should know how to adapt to different types of individuals and personalities. 

Regardless of their title, executives will work with teams, multiple subordinates, stakeholders, and customers, making it essential to collaborate effectively. They should be capable of putting their ego aside and prioritizing what’s best for the team and company. 

Experienced and well-rounded leaders always combine good decision-making with excellent problem-solving skills. These two abilities go hand in hand, as it’s necessary to be solution-oriented to make well-thought-out decisions. 

Executives should be creative in finding innovative and effective solutions to various business and workplace problems. They should know how to mitigate risks, apply strategies that align with business goals, and reduce logistical concerns. 

Successful executives are also skilled in helping two or more parties find middle ground in order to resolve conflict. Their excellent emotional regulation, composure, and stress management enable them to respond to provocations thoughtfully and guide people to find agreeable solutions.  

Another critical soft skill for leaders is well-developed emotional intelligence and compassion. Even though this quality is often disregarded in the business world, empathy is among the key requirements for executive roles. These professionals should be able to empathize with others, approach people kindly, and show they also have vulnerabilities, thereby making them more relatable. 

7 Ways to Evaluate Key Executive Soft Skills

Implementing the following tips can significantly improve your company’s ability to evaluate executive candidates based on their soft skills. These techniques will help you gain deeper insight into a candidate’s communication, collaboration, leadership, and emotional intelligence capabilities. After all, finding future-ready executives who possess the soft skills necessary to lead teams, drive innovation, and achieve success represents your top priority.

  1. Leverage Relevant Pre-Employment Tests
    Try credible pre-employment personality tests, such as skills assessments, job knowledge tests, personality tests, cognitive tests, emotional intelligence tests, and physical capability tests. That will help you discover valuable information about a candidate’s management style, leadership style, character traits, organizational approach, and how they interact with their team and work environment.

    Use the answers of current and past successful executives to benchmark each candidate’s responses and identify those who share similar successful characteristics. For instance, if your top performer has demonstrated excellent negotiation capacities and solution-orientedness, pay attention to job applicants showing the same potential.
  2. Dive Deeper Into Each Candidate’s Background Story
    Scratch beneath the surface of each candidate’s resume, cover letters, and background assessment data. Understand how each accomplishment and ability could help a job applicant perform well in the job role you’re hiring for.

    That information can reveal a lot about their integrity, capacity to learn, collaboration with past employers and teams, and how they approach employees and stakeholders. For instance, candidates who regularly share their industry-related thoughts, works, and expertise and interact with other professionals show their passion and commitment to their field.
  3. Ask Behavioral and Situational Interview Questions
    Combine situational and behavioral questions to assess soft skills and understand how your executive candidates would behave in similar real-world situations. Present on-the-job problems and pay attention to their problem-solving and conflict-resolution skills, as their answers might reveal potential red flags.

    For example,  ask candidates to describe a time when they encountered difficulties in getting their team to collaborate on a project and how they solved it. That should help you understand how each candidate approaches problems with teammates or employees.
  4. Encourage Executive Candidates to Share What Soft Skills They Consider Essential  for Leadership Roles
    Nudge executive candidates to share their opinion on what soft skills are vital for successful leadership, and specific situations they’ve been in that have helped them come to that conclusion. It’s recommended to focus on the executive position you’re hiring for and encourage them to elaborate on what abilities can help them be a better leader, achieve positive results, and connect with their team. Because of this, you should understand what soft skills are essential for each executive role in your company and how to identify individuals who possess them. 
  5. Ask Executive Candidates to Rank Their Soft Skills and Support Their Opinions with Real-Life Examples
    Encourage candidates to rank their own soft skills. This will help you understand what they consider their strong and weak points. But some candidates might try to answer according to what they believe you want to hear or what fits well with the executive role, even though they don’t possess these abilities.

    As a counter weight, add a spin to this question and ask them to give an example of when they understood that a specific soft skill is among their strongest traits. Observe their behavior when answering to understand which candidate genuinely resonates with the ability they highlight as their virtue and whether they’re confident about their capabilities.
  6. Pay Attention to Social and Physical Cues During the Interview Process
    Observe candidates’ body language during the interview process and focus on understanding whether they confidently answer questions or try to remember scripted responses. However, some people are nervous during interviews, leading to fidgeting or inability to keep eye contact, which isn’t a red flag.

    On the flip side, a sudden behavioral shift might indicate something isn’t quite right. Also, pay attention to how candidates treat assistants, other job applicants, and others they interact with, as their attitudes might hint that you’re dealing with a distracted or rude person. 
  7. Ask for Candidate References to Discuss Their Soft Skills
    Check each candidate’s references and ask them how they would rate your job applicant’s soft skills when talking with them. They can tell whether the candidate expressed strong leadership skills, took on additional responsibilities, and got along with the team and personnel. That information will give you an idea of how the candidate might perform in the role and whether they fit with the company culture. 


Today we learned that soft skills play a crucial role in every executive’s success at your organization. However, measuring and tracking these skills represent a challenging task. Relying solely on human assessment can lead to conscious and unconscious biases that can limit diversity and hinder innovation, ultimately affecting executive accomplishments. Alternative methods such as looking towards accomplishments to evaluate soft skills will provide a more objective and comprehensive assessment. Keeping that in mind, you can identify and enhance the soft skills necessary for executive success, which will lead to a more diverse, innovative, and successful organization.

Remember to  leverage a modern executive search & recruitment platform to complement your company’s hiring process. By harnessing cutting-edge technology, these platforms will provide you with powerful data-driven insights, enabling you to identify and evaluate candidates effectively.

Ready to Boost Your Executive Career?

Join SucceedSmart for executive coaching, peer support, and a lifelong career platform.

Transform your Executive Recruitment Process with SucceedSmart

Fast, Affordable, and Predictable Executive Search at your fingertips