1. Hanging down -- When growing, the fig sticks out at a right angle from the branch. When it's close to getting ripe, the neck starts to relax and the fig will eventually hang straight downward when ripe.
2. Soft texture -- The fig starts out rock hard, but gets softer as it swells and when it's ripe it will be very soft to the touch. Be careful to squeeze gently and not bruise it.
3. Skin cracks -- When the fig is getting ripe, the skin may crack slightly to show the white rind underneath. I'm not talking about it exploding inside-out; that's a sign that it got too much water (happens when it rains just at ripening time). Just look out for a few small cracks, when the fig is so swollen that it can hardly contain all the lusciousness inside. Note that some figs ripen up without developing any cracks, but if they do then it's a definite sign to keep your eye on them.
4. Colour change -- The fig changes colour from normal green to a distinctive yellowish tinge. At the same time, the bloom covering the fig will disappear. For me the colour change is the most important sign. A fig can hang down, be soft and have cracks, but if it's still green I know it's not really sweet and juicy inside.
5. No latex -- when you cut off the fig, it shouldn't bleed any latex. If it does, it's definitely unripe.
Five steps? Perhaps I made it sound complicated but it really isn't! After you try harvesting a few this year, you'll develop a feel for what the signs are. In my experience, figs don't ripen once they're off the tree. If I cut them too early, they may get softer sitting on the kitchen counter, but not sweeter. I'm pretty sure that almost everyone has been soooo excited about their figs that they harvested a few too early sometimes. I know I have. So now I try to be more patient and wait for them to get really ripe before bringing out the knife.