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Assessing Interpersonal Skills

“I’m a people person.”

“I can hold a conversation with anyone.”

“I love making genuine connections with others.”

Such statements are often made by job applicants to showcase their interpersonal skills. However, people tend to overestimate their communication abilities. When evaluating potential team members, it can be difficult to decipher whether an applicant’s self-promotion is accurate. No matter what stage of the hiring process you find yourself—whether it’s reviewing resumes, conducting interviews or doing reference checks—we have tips to evaluate interpersonal skills.

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What are interpersonal skills?

Interpersonal communication is the verbal and nonverbal exchange of ideas, information and feelings between two or more people. So what are interpersonal skills? The interpersonal skills definition encompasses the tactics and strategies individuals use during their interactions with other people.

At a basic level, interpersonal skills can be appraised based on two things: accuracy and appropriateness. Effective communication should get the intended message across; after all, the ultimate goal of any interaction is mutual understanding.

However, proficient communicators can do this while following cultural norms and situational expectations. In the workplace, this involves showing respect for team members, accommodating customer needs and exuding a sense of professionalism that aligns with your company’s values.

Why are interpersonal skills important?

Social skills are often taken for granted. While all people communicate in their daily lives, far fewer people can actually do it well. Interpersonal skills have become even more valuable in our modern virtual world. As people engage in less face-to-face communication, habits such as maintaining eye contact and using expressive body language don’t come as naturally to the average person.

A team of competent communicators is necessary for any organization to succeed. Professionals with education and expertise in communications are highly sought after because they understand how to form connections with people. Human relationships, including those with customers, among team members, within the community and with other potential stakeholders, help keep our businesses afloat.

Benefits of evaluating candidates for interpersonal skills

Choosing someone with strong interpersonal skills can help your business as a whole. Some benefits include:

  • Improved camaraderie and teamwork
  • Fewer misunderstandings, which can prevent mistakes
  • Increased productivity
  • Greater ability to understand and meet clients’ needs
  • Growth in trust
  • Potential leader who can advance through your organization 

Examples of interpersonal skills

Interpersonal skills examples make it easier to understand what goes into effective communication. When considering new candidates, it’s helpful to identify the most important interpersonal skills so you know exactly what to look for. This is not a comprehensive list; however, it highlights a few abilities that come in handy at any workplace.

Clear and concise communication

The most basic interpersonal skill is the ability to articulate ideas in a way that others can comprehend, also known as communication accommodation. For example, professionals may use industry jargon among themselves, but when engaging with less experienced individuals, they should break down complicated concepts into simpler, more digestible terms. This skill becomes increasingly important when dealing with people from diverse cultural backgrounds and demographics.

Listening

Listening is different from hearing. A good listener pays close attention to what’s being said. They’re empathetic, they absorb and apply constructive feedback and they give signals to ensure the other person knows they’re being listened to. These can be nonverbal, such as nodding or taking notes, or verbal, such as asking the speaker to elaborate or clarify their ideas.

Influence and persuasion

It can be difficult to strike a balance between confidence and modesty, but those who do are typically regarded as both credible and trustworthy. People with these leadership skills have a way of impacting those around them, and you know them when you see them. These are the individuals who get the team fired up or the staff members everyone looks to for new ideas during meetings. They may also have a way of captivating customers and consistently making sales.

Conflict management

Conflict is bound to arise in the workplace. It may take the form of tension between coworkers, an unsatisfied customer or negative forces from the outside. Handling clashes and disputes with grace is an invaluable skill. A person with this ability may act as a mediator or voice of reason when others are in conflict. If they’re personally involved, they’ll react with composure and seek out solutions that have everybody’s best interests in mind.

Nonverbal communication

Nonverbal communication is a broad category that encompasses many aspects of a person’s self-presentation. It’s not about what they say but how they say it. Nonverbal communication includes body language, such as facial expressions, gestures and posture. A person’s appearance is also a medium of nonverbal communication. “Looking the part” can be indicative of a candidate’s level of professionalism and often results in positive perceptions from others.

Empathy and emotional intelligence

Being empathetic and having strong emotional intelligence means you can understand things from someone else’s viewpoint. This helps employees interact successfully with one another and adjust how they work with different people to avoid unnecessary conflict and accomplish tasks more effectively. 

How can you assess a candidate’s interpersonal skills throughout the hiring process?

There are a few steps you can take to get a sense of your candidates’ interpersonal skills, starting with the application materials.

Review the cover letter and resume

First and foremost, assess their writing skills. How does this person sound on paper? Is the document easy to read and free from grammatical errors? A polished cover letter demonstrates strong writing skills, a fundamental qualification for nearly any position.

If you sponsor a job on Indeed, you get access to our matching and hiring platform where you can efficiently and effectively find the right people for your business. Indeed’s matching technology provides a list of candidates with the necessary skills, experience, and qualifications based on your job’s criteria. You can identify interpersonal skills on a resume by scanning through the candidate’s previous work experience. Look for job titles and keywords that indicate interaction with others, such as “manage,” “collaborate” or “customer service.” Do they mention any major accomplishments they achieved as part of a team?

Conduct an interview

The next step is meeting the candidate in real time. You can start assessing their interpersonal skills upon first glance by taking note of:

  • What they are wearing
  • If they appear professional
  • If they make a good first impression

During your interview, take note of how they interact with you and anyone else who might be present. Some questions to ask yourself include:

  • Do they communicate effectively and appropriately?
  • Do they demonstrate engagement through eye contact, smiling and asking questions?
  • How does this person make me feel?

Make a point to discuss what you found in terms of interpersonal skills on the resume. You might ask them about their role on a team, the group dynamics and how they overcame challenges.

Another tactic that can be helpful during this stage of hiring is the use of structured interviews. Create a list of hypothetical scenarios related to interpersonal skills and ask how each candidate would handle the situation. By giving everybody the same questions, you can compare and contrast their answers and decide whose approach is most suitable for your team, goals and organizational culture.

Incorporate tests

You might think of grammar and math skills when you think of testing, but you can also find many assessments that evaluate soft skills such as interpersonal communication. These assessments ask questions with different scenarios to help you judge a candidate’s people skills. While you shouldn’t rely solely on these tests, they can be a part of the overall assessment. 

Conduct reference checks

Be sure to do a reference check for a more objective take on your candidate’s interpersonal skills. Ask about their relationship with the applicant, how they would describe their personality and any experience working with them. If interpersonal skills are a top priority, include questions about the applicant’s communication styles.

Remember: Skills can be learned

Like most other skills, interpersonal communication can be learned and improved upon through practice. If you have a qualified candidate who’s not quite up to par, placing them in a supportive work environment could allow them to gain confidence and emotional intelligence. You might even find it useful to implement communication training for existing employees. 

Frequently asked questions about assessing interpersonal skills

How can you help your employees improve their interpersonal skills?

Consider holding a training on different interpersonal skills, such as conflict resolution or effective communication. Set specific goals related to these skills and encourage your employees to work on them every day. You can help individuals identify the interpersonal skills that are most difficult for them so they know where to focus their attention. 

Which interpersonal skills are most important?

All interpersonal skills are important and valuable. Effectively communicating with colleagues and clients is necessary for most positions. The specific skills you look for can vary based on the role. Strong written communication skills are essential for someone who responds to email support submissions for your company. Conflict resolution is important for mediators, school administrators and law enforcement personnel. 

What other soft skills are important in job applicants?

Many soft skills are important for the workplace and can help a candidate succeed. Examples include teamwork, negotiation, networking, motivation, positivity, time management, problem-solving and critical thinking. When deciding what to look for in applicants, consider which soft skills will help the new hire handle the job duties well.

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