Hiring Programmers: Soft Skills Vs. Technical Skills Assessment

So, you’ve found the perfect candidate for your tech position! Their resume is outstanding. They have experience in exactly the position you need. Their credentials are impeccable, and their degree in software engineering indicates that they’re competent as a developer.

But what if their resume is too good? How do you know they can really do all the things their resume says they can? And if they can do all those things, is it really enough to make them the perfect fit for your company?

What kind of assessment is best?

Technical skills assessments such as those available from CodinGame help you evaluate developers’ coding skills and make sure candidates are a good technical fit before committing to a hire. However, technical skills assessment doesn’t necessarily help you evaluate soft skills. So, which should you go for? Tech skills or soft skills? Or, tricky as it sounds, a bit of both?

Obviously, you want someone with excellent tech skills, but you also require a team player who can be supportive and open to coworkers’ ideas as well as able to come up with innovative ideas of their own.

You’re not alone in your requirements; according to LinkedIn’s 2019 Global Talent Trends, 91% of HR professionals think soft skills give job candidates the competitive edge in a job search. A June 2019 Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) article placed “focusing on soft skills” #8 out of the “Top 10 Workplace Trends for 2019”.

What exactly are soft skills?

Soft skills are “people skills” critical to job performance and a candidate’s fit into your company culture.

These are skills that, in general, must be learned, but are not necessarily part of an official education. There is no degree or certification for a soft skill. Soft skills include difficult-to-measure attributes such as attitude, work ethic, adaptability, time management, flexibility, problem-solving, critical thinking, and personal motivation.

For example, the ability to communicate effectively is a key soft skill: the ability to share your ideas, listen to others’ ideas attentively and respectfully, and respond appropriately so you can work together successfully with team members and management. Soft skills are important to an employee’s ability to accomplish work independently and for successful interactions with others.

The Society of Human Resource Management‘s (SHRM) “2019 State of the Workplace” indicates the top three soft skills missing in today’s job candidates revolve around the ability to solve problems, think critically and creatively, and communicate effectively.

These are clearly skills any developer needs. Arguably, a developer working alone on a project may not need to be Mr. Geniality, but at some point, in his or her career, he or she is undoubtedly going to have to collaborate with other techs on projects or coding problems. So unless you only need one tech or developer who will anticipate and fulfill the needs of your entire company – without needing to be able to communicate with them about their problems and needs – then you will need a candidate with the ability to listen, understand, and explain information to others.

In Medium.com’s The Startup article, “Critical soft skills for software developers,” author Bruce Flow advises:

“Soft skills are as important, if not more important, than technical skills.” – Bruce Flow

He believes developers have a much more difficult time advancing their careers if lacking the necessary soft skills.

What soft skills to look for in a developer

Hackernoon’s “10 Soft Skills Every Developer Needs” describes several soft skills you might consider important for your technical team to have. It also emphasizes the same three skills SHRM warns today’s job candidates are missing. Below is a condensed summary of these important non-technical qualities:

Authentic and effective communication

Developers need to be able to communicate effectively and successfully with team members, other teams, management, and clients. They must be able to listen to product expectations, ask clarifying questions, outline difficulties and obstacles to development, and explain reasons, specifications and directions to tech-ignorant personnel, clients, marketing agents, etc. Furthermore, the ability to share, criticize, and listen to others in an acceptable manner is important to completing and fulfilling project requirements successfully.


A developer creates and fixes. A good coder may not encounter problems right away – but when he or she does, he or she must be able to find the root of the problem and figure out how to correct it. Programmers must be able to debug coding issues that seem to defy logic. In other words, spend weeks, if necessary, figuring out what is causing an error and finding a way around it – without undue frustration.

Talented developers have excellent problem-solving skills


Creativity allows a developer to search for solutions to problems outside normal protocols and from different angles. These skills are necessities for success in coding, debugging, and other technical work.


No matter how good your tech is, they can’t know everything. They must be willing to listen to and implement other’s ideas and be open to new ways of doing things. They need to be accessible to team members with questions and willing to help them with any issues they encounter while working. If colleagues feel comfortable asking questions of someone, problems are often resolved before becoming costly issues.


At some point, developers are going to have to work as part of a team. For successful collaboration, they must be able to work well with others. Since there are many ways to achieve similar results, developers may not always agree on the best route to the end result. They must be able to disagree amicably with team members/colleagues to work through a problem to an acceptable and successful solution for all. Even better, this diversity of vision often results in better development for your company.

Time management

Companies have deadlines. Managers have milestones to meet, meetings with clients and committees and project teams that are expecting them to have ideas and prototypes ready to present. Your developer must be able to successfully manage his or her time to meet these expectations. You need developers who can realistically manage their time and workload, avoiding frustration and rushes that can result in skipped code reviews or bugged code.

How are soft skills assessed in a candidate?

63% of hiring managers say that interviews alone fail to accurately assess a candidate’s soft skills. As with tech skills assessment, you can improve your soft skills assessment process and prescreen candidates with a combination of online tools and focused interview questions.

There are scientific approaches that enable you to get a more rounded view of a candidate’s skills. Online tools like Koru and Pyrometrics can help you evaluate candidates’ soft skills.


Koru offers a 20-minute soft skills assessment. By selecting statements that best describe themselves, seven key skills are scored objectively, providing employers a better idea of which candidates may best fit the company’s desired profile.


Pyrometrics takes a different approach, relying on well-validated “games” that have long been used in neuroscience research to measure close to 100 emotional and cognitive traits. Pyrometrics believes theirs to be a more valid approach than relying on a person’s self-reported traits.

Both platforms allow you to share limited results with candidates. This makes the interview process more interesting and enlightening for them, without making them privy to data concerning the standards you are looking for in a candidate.

Both platforms also encourage you to have current employees take the soft skills assessment. You can then use their data to build an “ideal profile” of the soft skills you would like a candidate to have.

Structured interviews with focused questions

If you use online soft skills assessment to narrow down the candidate field, you will still want to do a little pre-planning for the interview. Asking specific, focused questions in structured interviews can help you discern a candidate’s values, ethics, temperament, etc. You may reduce the number of interviewees through online technical assessment (saving lots of time…), but whether you do or don’t, you can certainly gauge many of their personal qualities through your interview questions.

Depending on the specific values you are looking for, you can create or borrow questions that will help you delve into a candidate’s character. For example, HR Toolkit provides a large variety of job-specific interview questions, including many designed to elucidate a candidate’s soft skills. You can find questions geared to reveal a candidate’s behavioral traits, emotional intelligence, values, methods of responding to situations, and much more. A brief Google search will reveal many more that can be incorporated into your interview to help you find a candidate with the best fit. Asking the right questions will allow you to see a candidate’s soft skills in action.

Are soft skills really necessary for a tech position?

Consider this hypothetical case:

A company hires an outstanding developer. Let’s call him Bob.

Meet Bob. Bob the developer

Bob can code quickly and efficiently, trouble-shoot unerringly, and design and create fabulous programs. Then one day, he is asked to work with an emissary from another company on a joint project. He first refuses, because he prefers to work alone. After being made to understand that is not an option, he proceeds to work with the new colleague. Shortly thereafter, the other company cancels the contract.

Why? Their representative was made to feel inferior and incompetent.

Was it anything the developer said? No, it was his attitude and tone of voice when communicating with the envoy. He didn’t intend to mistreat the other company’s representative; he just wasn’t equipped with the personality or communication skills to cooperate equitably with a stranger.

Does your company have a particular culture that requires a good fit from a new tech hire? Or can any qualified tech fill your position? You will not have any needs or expectations for your developer other than the ability to pump out code? He or she will not need to know how to explain problems to the project team; accept criticism or redirection in a project; analyze, re-evaluate and reconstruct solutions from new angles…? Unless that is the case, you will want to include soft skills evaluation as part of your recruitment process.

The best of both worlds: evaluate soft skills and technical skills to find your “best fit” hire

Bottom line: not all candidates in today’s job market possess the soft skills needed to be successful in their job.

Therefore, we don’t recommend hiring developers based solely on the results of their technical assessment. 

We recommend a technical test to evaluate developers’ coding skills and make sure they have the skills you’re looking for. Technical assessments save you time to get to know developers who fit the technical bill.

Once you’ve validated their coding skills, you can invite them to take a soft skills assessment and/or invite them in for a face-to-face interview. Good interview strategies can help you identify candidates with the soft skills you are looking for.

Even better, have them spend time with your existing technical team.

Good recruitment practices improve your company’s employer brand

Finding the right candidate – with the right balance of technical and soft skills – can not only fill a needed position but improve your company’s employer brand as well. Interviewees will know that you are making every effort to find the right candidate with the right qualifications using modern, engaging methods. The right hire will help make your organization a coveted place to work where everyone fits in and feels comfortable.

Consider your company’s needs. Its culture. Its infrastructure. Its goals. Is it time to add soft skill assessment to technical skill assessment in your recruitment program?


There’s a better way to test coding skills.

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Nathalie Figuière

Nathalie is Content Manager at CodinGame. When she's not busy creating quality #techrecruitment content, chances are she’s watching Friends or snuggling her little grey cat, Moon.