Skipp is looking for development teams all around the world. We analyzed 150 interviews our clients have had with candidates, we learned through questions they asked, and now we know which soft skills are most wanted among them.
Who do we work with
For the last 6 months we’ve built developer teams for dozens of startups all over the US and Europe, with staff numbers from 50 to 200, on different evolving stages — from seed to $50 million B round.
We also work with larger enterprises, but this article is all about the startup method of soft skills evaluation.
Introduction: soft skills evaluation in Europe and in other countries
According to our experience, European IT companies, no matter how big they are, usually look much more closely at the technology experience and the ability to work with the databases needed. They pick candidates for technical skills specifically, through CVs screening, test tasks, and interviews. Soft skills are assessed as well, but they don’t get that much attention.
It is different in the US for example. Companies, especially brand new ones (in need to get new developers quickly), check first soft skills, and those may affect the hiring decision even more than the candidate’s technical skills level. The idea is that a developer with improved social skills has a higher ability to learn, so hard skills can be improved over time. Larger European companies pay more attention to technical skills, but they are very interested in soft skills as well.
Soft skills are revealed during a conversation — by using special behavioral questions. And now we will tell you about 5 key skills: analyze the kind of questions asked in order to check them, and how to answer them correctly.
In any startup, first of all, they will try to understand how comfortable they will be working with the new developer. They want to understand if the candidate is able to adapt and solve problems with the right positive attitude. It’s safe to say that, among many other things, the ability to adapt is the major one.
❓ What questions are about. It could be anything related to a situation when a candidate had to give in to others and prove himself as a team player. For example:
“Have you ever adapted to a colleague’s work style in order to complete a project? How did it help the team achieve the goal?”
✅ How to answer. Describe, one by one, the situation, the task, your action, and the result (it’s called STAR model).
❌ What not to do. Criticize ex-colleagues actions or attitude, mention your own weak role in the team communication and action.
? Real Skipp case. A British startup contacted us at the seed round to find a Full-stack developer, QA engineer, and UX/UI designer.
It was important for them to find people who were able to adapt to the team quickly. So, they asked every candidate what he would do first, if he would get the job. And those who said they would get to know the team first had an advantage over those who promised to get to work right away.
Modern IT teams often work remotely or in hybrid time, so every developer should be able to plan his tasks independently. Many startups interviewers during the process of hiring remote developers pay much attention to the candidate’s self-organization and discipline level.
❓ What questions are about. They ask how the candidate manages the obviously impossible deadlines. For example:
“Why do you think it is important to manage your time and prioritize? Have you ever had a task with an unrealistic deadline, and how did you manage it?”
✅ How to answer. Share your urgent work approach, give some examples. Also, you can explain the way you’ve prioritized, or maybe reconsider the deadline with the client.
❌ What not to do. Blaming the ex-client or manager for the wrong deadline.
? Real Skipp case. For those who are looking for part-time developers, the time management issue usually is the key one.
One UK development and design agency specializing in betting and game development was looking for a rust developer. And they’ve been asking a lot of time management-related questions. Such as, “how will you build your working day, given the part-time job? How exactly will you prioritize tasks?”
The team hired a developer who had proved that he could adequately estimate the time for each task, synchronizing with the customer. Also, since then he’s been receiving extremely positive feedback.
The interviewer wants to understand the way a candidate thinks and shares his opinion. The ability of showing initiative is one more indicator of an ability to adapt and get involved.
❓ What questions are about. Communication skills are easy to test through the not-about-work conversation — it could take 15–20 minutes of an interview. Also, the interviewer can ask about the expectations the candidate has. For example:
“What is important now for choosing a job and a future project? What would you like to work with, and what you are not interested in?
✅ How to answer. Be short, pay attention; explain your decisions and opinions.
❌ What not to do. Have troubles with your thoughts expression.
? Real Skipp case. An American blockchain startup was preparing to enter the B round and came to us for hiring a senior blockchain architect.
During the interview they were talking a lot about the company’s mission and their desire to make the world a better place. Also, there were many questions about life values, attitudes towards crypto, and personal forecasts in this area. Through the conversation they wanted to see if candidates shared their values and were able to communicate fluently.
Of course, candidates with similar values and the ability to discuss non-work-related issues got their advantage.
In startups, it is important to learn new technologies or apply hybrid low-code solutions to save time. It is also important to follow the “fail fast — learn fast” principle to get results quicker by learning from mistakes. That’s why it is important to know how a candidate will react in case of failure.
❓ What questions are about. All kinds of questions about failures check how a person manages his mistakes and if he is able to think critically. For example:
“Give an example of when, due to your mistake, you could not solve the problem as planned. What lesson have you learned from the situation?”
✅ How to answer Choose a failure that you can tell a story about and build the answer on the PARLA model (Problem, Action, Result, Learned, Applied). At the end, it is important to highlight conclusions that were drawn from the failure and explain the way you apply them in your work now to prevent the situation from repeating.
❌ What not to do. Say that there were no failures. For the interviewer it will be an indicator of insincerity or lack of experience. Also, another important mistake is not to say anything about how the situation was resolved, showing the interviewer your passiveness.
? Real Skipp case. A large African startup raising a B round in 2021 came to us for the team of a senior product, a senior engineer with experience in customer data platforms, two devops, and two full-stack developers.
During the interview, they were asking about past projects in detail, about the challenges met, and decisions made.
We first closed two leadership positions for them anyway. A senior engineer from Africa and a senior product manager from India explained in detail what problems they’ve had and what they’ve learned. Now we are recruiting the teams to work under them.
It is important for the interviewer to understand a candidate’s ambitions and find out if he is interested in taking on more responsibility over time.
❓ What questions are about. If the candidate has some kind of mentoring experience, in an interview, he will be asked about it. Also, he probably will be asked about his contribution to work. For example:
“Tell us about a successful project, and your contribution to its success?”
✅ How to answer. Use the CARE model (Content, Action, Role, Effect) to explain your contribution.
❌ What not to do. Exaggerate your contribution to someone else’s work.
? Real Skipp case. A large startup from New York raising an A round in May 2022 turned to us with a request to find a QA specialist. We picked four candidates and conducted three-stage interviews with the client.
At first stage, it turned out that the startup prefers candidates with leadership experience. In order to evaluate it, they asked the following questions: “Let’s say we don’t have a QA team yet, and you need to organize its work from scratch. What information do you need to do this? What else will help you build a team? What will you do first?”
At the final interview we had one candidate who was able to explain in detail how he would build a team and lead it, based on his past experience. The client appreciated the structural approach to the answer, and by the fall 2022 this QA specialist entered the project.
Summary: how do international startups evaluate developers soft skills
For the last 6 months, Skipp has built developer teams for dozens of startups all over the US and Europe, and even in Africa. So we analyzed 150 interviews that our clients have had with our candidates; we learned through questions they asked, and now we know which soft skills are most wanted among them.
❓ Question example: “Have you ever been adapting to a colleague’s work style in order for a project to succeed? How did it help the team achieve the goal?”
✅ Good answer: describe, one by one, the situation, the task, your action, and the result (it’s called a STAR model).
❓ Question example: “Why do you think it is important to manage your time and prioritize? Have you ever had a task with an unrealistic deadline, and how did you manage it?”
✅ Good answer: share your urgent work approach, give some examples, explain the way you’ve prioritized, or maybe reconsider the deadline with the client.
❓ Question example: “What is important now for choosing a job and a future project? What would you like to work with, and what are you not interested in?”
✅ Good answer: be short, pay attention, explain your decisions, and opinions.
❓ Question example: “Give an example when, due to your mistake, you could not solve the problem as planned. What lesson have you learned from the situation?”
✅ Good answer: choose a failure that you can tell a story about and build the answer on the PARLA model (Problem, Action, Result, Learned, Applied).
❓ Question example: “Tell us about a successful project, and your contribution to its success?”
✅ Good answer: use the CARE model (Content, Action, Role, Effect) to explain your contribution.