How do you assess soft skills?

At the British Academy of Management (BAM) conference in Portsmouth this week and amid many interesting sessions, I was struck by one question that was thrown out to the audience and for which there were no tangible answers from the audience of academics.

The background to the question was employability and research with CEOs that had identified soft skills (eg communication, teamwork, negotiation, persuasion, people skills, positive work ethic and attitude etc) as key requirements for employers.  The CEOs had reported that they could send a graduate on a training course to learn the hard skills but that they looked for evidence of soft skills in new employees which they saw as more important than hard skills.

It is relatively straightforward to design an assessment to test for the presence of hard skills.  For example, in my area of project management, I can prepare some sample data and ask students to perform network analysis and create a critical path and Gantt chart representation.  It is less easy to create an assessment of their soft skills which is where the conference attendees floundered.

So my question is, how can you assess soft skills in a meaningful, authentic, objective and equitable way?

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