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Assessment of soft and hard skills

Ikram Gagaoua |

The human resources of a company are one of the major factors in its development. As human capital is a fundamental element for any company, its quality profoundly affects the results it can achieve [8]. It is therefore crucial for an organization to identify and evaluate the essential skills required for the jobs that the company offers, but also the deployment of a strategy for the continuous upskilling of their employees [1]. However, there are different ways of assessing a skill, depending on its type and the expectations of this assessment.

Skills Assessment: The Miller Pyramid

The Miller Pyramid [5] is a means of assessing skills, both in education and in the professional world. It establishes a structure of levels of mastery of a skill, distinguishing between fact-gathering and application at lower levels and demonstration and practice at higher levels. 

Competency-based assessment has many advantages, including high perceived value, as it relates directly to important aspects of the job in which the employee is assessed [2], the evaluation and potential improvement is a traceable metric that can be followed.

Miller's Pyramid

Miller [5] also mentions the most appropriate type of evaluation for each expected skill level. In the case of practice, it is preferable to evaluate the employee via a direct review of the results of the action. The implementation of this level framework will allow for a faster evaluation and a more transparent definition of the level expected of an employee in each skill. However, the evaluation cannot be done only through expectations since not all competencies can be evaluated in the same way. There are two main types of skills, hard-skills and soft-skills, which cannot be evaluated in the same way [6]. 

Assessing hard skills with quantifiable data

Hard skills include both knowledge and skills acquired during training and often validated by a diploma or certification. Also called professional skills or work skills, they are used to define the main requirements of a job and are often restricted to certain areas of activity. These hard skills can be mastering software, a foreign language, a computer language, a specific tool, a machine, or any other operational “task” [6].

Professional skills are easier to track and measure because they are represented by hard data, such as test scores. Indeed, they are tangible and often binary, on an assessment an employee has either mastered the skill or not.    

Here are some methods of assessing hard skills:

  • Questionnaires: The evaluation through questionnaires allows us to evaluate the knowledge related to the evaluated competence, the result of this evaluation is purely quantitative.
  • Use Cases: It allows an evaluation of the ability to demonstrate the skill in each scenario, the employee indicates how the skill is applied. The result of this evaluation can be binary, depending on the conclusion of the simulation.
  • Certifications & diplomas: They can be a guarantee of knowledge, but also of the application of skills in a real situation. In the case of technical certifications, it is sometimes required to be re-evaluated after a certain period to ensure that you are still up to date [1]. The result of this assessment is also binary, the employee either gets the certification or not.
skills assessment

What about soft skills?

Behavioral competencies or soft skills are the subject of increasing interest in lifelong learning, as their mastery is essential for personal development, social participation and professional success [3]. However, a precise measurement of these competences is almost impossible, it is more correct to speak of an ability or capacity to act in a certain way in each situation. It is therefore necessary to define three aspects of the assessment of soft skills in order to guarantee its effectiveness [8]:

  1. The context of the assessment
  2. The content of the assessment
  3. The expectations and results of the assessment

Soft skills can be assessed through the following methods:

  •  Questionnaire: Questionnaires can offer a quantitative assessment of the soft skills of employees. A questionnaire is defined as a set of questions designed to extract specific information. The questions and sample answers are designed to collect information about the respondents’ attitudes, preferences and factual data [4].
  • Self-assessment: This consists of assessing one’s own level of competence within a predefined framework. This ability is essential for employees to be able to judge their own work. Without this reflection, it can be difficult for them to distinguish what they have done well and what they need to improve [4]. Self-assessment is most beneficial, in terms of performance and learning, when it is used in a formative way and supported by training [9].
  • External observation and evaluation: This consist of an external individual (manager, colleague, or other) observing a person performing a particular task or professional activity in a controlled or uncontrolled situation and recording his or her observations in a formal or informal manner. The observation may be supplemented by questions to the employee being evaluated. It is crucial for this type of assessment to frame the context of the assessment [2][4]. 
  • Serious Games: A game-based, or in-game, assessment can provide more detailed and reliable information, with the employee relieving more potential stress during the activity. Greater engagement and motivation to close have also been reported in this type of assessment. The growing interest in this area reflects the need for alternative and/or additional assessment tools to overcome the limitations of the standard assessment approach. However, chanllenges related to the definition of serious games and proper player evaluation require additional research in this area in the coming years [7].
  • Case Study: This assessment is a real-life problem presented in the form of a story (narrative), where participants must identify and analyze the given case based on quantitative and qualitative data. They must then become familiar with the case and may be asked to find additional relevant information. At a later stage, each collaborator should be ready to present and discuss an interpretation and solution to the problem [2].  This approach assesses skills and competencies such as problem identification and definition, decision making, critical thinking, mutual learning, organizational and time planning skills, group work, written and verbal communication, independent learning, etc. [4].


Competency assessment is thus a crucial subject for the development of a company’s employees, and it is more important to equip oneself with the most appropriate tools, like our Adaptive Learning platform “Hub”, which offers 3 types of positioning options: an external assessment by a manager or colleague, a self-assessment, and a positioning via an adaptive quiz.


  1. Carol E. Kasworm; Catherine A. Marienau (1997). Principles for Assessment of Adult Learning. , 1997(75), 5–16. doi:10.1002/ace.7501
  2. Potgieter, T. E.; Van der Merwe, R. P. (2002). Assessment In The Workplace: A Competency-Based Approach. SA Journal of Industrial Psychology, 28(1), –. doi:10.4102/sajip.v28i1.31
  3. Stephen Gibb (2014) Soft skills assessment: theory development and the research agenda, International Journal of Lifelong Education, 33:4, 455-471, DOI: 10.1080/02601370.2013.867546 
  4. Skills4Employability Consortium (Ed.). (2021, September 29). Soft Skills Assessment Guidelines. Skills4Employability. Retrieved November 8, 2022, from
  5. Miller, G E (1990). The assessment of clinical skills/competence/performance. Academic Medicine, 65(9), S63–7. doi:10.1097/00001888-199009000-00045 
  6. Dennis R. Laker; Jimmy L. Powell (2011). The differences between hard and soft skills and their relative impact on training transfer. , 22(1), 111–122. doi:10.1002/hrdq.20063
  7. Francesco Bellotti, Bill Kapralos, Kiju Lee, Pablo Moreno-Ger, Riccardo Berta, “Assessment in and of Serious Games: An Overview”, Advances in Human-Computer Interaction, vol. 2013, Article ID 136864, 11 pages, 2013.
  8. Cimatti, Barbara. (2016). Definition, development, assessment of soft skills and their role for the quality of organizations and enterprises. International Journal for Quality Research. 10. 97-130. 10.18421/IJQR10.01-05.
  9. Andrade HL (2019) A Critical Review of Research on Student Self-Assessment. Front. Educ. 4:87. doi: 10.3389/feduc.2019.00087