Assessing Soft Skills

What are "soft skills?" In brief, the Wikipedia answer is that "soft skills" are a combination of people skills, social skills, communication skills, character or personality traits, attitudes, mindsets, career attributes, and more. By contrast, the "hard skills" tend to be the technical knowledge or administrative competence in performing a task. For instance, hard skills include baking a cake or filling out a job application. The soft skills in those situations would be your ability to sell your baked goods to a wide audience or to market yourself to an employer as a good fit for their company. Soft skills are increasingly important in various professions. In some cases, they may be even MORE important--a lot of hard skills are easily trainable, but quality soft skills are very difficult to train to a high degree of proficiency.

Assessing Soft Skills

Soft skills are very difficult to properly assess. It's not as simple as giving people a multiple-choice quiz and seeing how they perform. Instead, a proper assessment of soft skills may require multiple layers of assessment to derive an accurate picture of soft skill performance.

For instance, group projects are often an area where students are able to work on both hard skill and soft still development. They need technical ability to perform the required tasks, but they also need to work with other members of their teams as the project is too big for any one person to complete. All students have to come together to complete the project. A proper evaluation of this project might include an general rubric to assess the hard skills demonstrated by each student. Then the students might do a self-and-peer evaluation of their role in the project. Finally, they may do a group presentation where the instructor rates their performance of technical knowledge and presentation skills. Other students might also rate the presenters, and the combined scores become part of the final score.

Assessing soft skills can be a very complex process, but can yield positive results. Students who strengthen their soft skills in higher education will find themselves very desirable candidates by employers, even if their technical skills may be lacking. You could be the most proficient engineer in your class, but if you cannot communicate your ideas to others, then your career path may be limited.

More Resources

  • Wikipedia - Basic definition of "soft skills" and related information. As with all Wikipedia articles, it should be viewed with some measured skepticism, but it's also a good introduction into the topic and explains why soft skills are so important.
  • VALUE Rubrics - The Association of American Colleges and Universities (AACU) has compiled a list of 16 basic soft skills, along with rubrics you can use to measure these skills. The rubrics are free to download, but you do need to register with the AACU website in order to download them.
  • 12 Effective Ways to Assess Candidates' Soft Skills - LinkedIn has quite a few articles on how employers view soft skills. This article lists several ways in which candidates' soft skills can be assessed prior to being hired by an employer. 
  • Peer-Tested Approaches to Teaching and Assessing Soft Skills - This is representative of many online articles that explain soft skills, as well as some helpful suggestions on how to measure them. The author uses a backwards design approach to assessment: What do you want your students to be able to do by the end of the course? And how can you model the behavior you want to see?

If you are interested in learning more about how you can incorporate soft skill assessment into your course, please feel free to schedule a consultation with CAFE using the link below.