What are interpersonal skills?
Interpersonal skills are the skills we use to communicate, work alongside, support and build relationships with others, and navigate social situations effectively. They're essentially what we know as our people skills and are a key requirement in most professional environments.
When we refer to interpersonal skills we do so in the plural because we're referring to a set of skills rather than a single ability. To put it another way, the term interpersonal skills is an umbrella term for things like:
- Active listening
- Verbal communication
- Body language
- Emotional intelligence
- Conflict management
These skills are intrinsically linked, so when an individual possesses one they tend to possess them all. They're also hard to identify on paper and so difficult to assess in the early stages of recruitment.
Despite these difficulties, it's important that employers look to find ways to measure these traits, as a candidate with strong interpersonal skills brings many benefits to an organization.
How do great interpersonal skills make an employee more effective?
Great interpersonal skills make an employee more effective at an individual level, as well as making them a valuable addition to a business as a whole.
1. They make good team players
Interpersonal skills help employees develop supportive relationships with co-workers, discuss and develop ideas and encourage others in their efforts. With a workforce built of good team players, you'll see increased productivity and innovation.
2. They're open to feedback
Employees with good interpersonal skills understand that feedback is not meant as a criticism. Instead, they're able to take constructive comments on board and use them for personal development. They're also able to give feedback in an effective manner.
3. They're a good face for your business
If you operate in a customer or client-facing industry, employees with good interpersonal skills are an incredibly valuable asset. When working in a customer-facing capacity they put forward an approachable, relatable persona for your brand and enhance your reputation.
4. They create a positive environment
People with good interpersonal skills typically know how to bring out the best in others and boost team morale. They're able to control their own emotions and positively influence the emotions of others, which in turn has a positive impact on the working environment.
5. They have strong leadership potential
The skills that contribute to good interpersonal abilities are the same skills that contribute to effective leadership. When you seek these skills out in the hiring process you not only identify the best candidates in your applicant pool, but you also invest in future leaders for your organization.
What jobs benefit the most from great interpersonal skills?
Most professions require employees to work with others to some extent. Even those individuals who primarily work alone will contribute to team projects from time to time, will need help themselves on occasion, and must have the skills to effectively communicate with those senior to them.
That said, there are some roles for which a candidate's interpersonal skills carry far greater weight. In particular, those positions where the employee must interact with members of the public in challenging or sensitive situations. Those roles include:
- Registered nurses
- Nursing assistants
- Social workers
- Probation officers
- Security guards
- Police officers
Interpersonal skills should also be considered essential for any role where the employee is involved in people management. This does not refer only to supervisory or managerial posts within an organization, but also those where the employee must maintain strong relationships with external third parties, like supply chain managers and project managers.
Great interpersonal skills are also vital for any type of customer-facing role, including:
How to hire for great interpersonal skills
The benefits of hiring a candidate with great interpersonal skills are clear, but the practice of assessing these skills in recruitment is not so straightforward.
Unlike an applicant's technical skills, interpersonal skills can't be evidenced through academic qualifications or a list of past employment. This makes them impossible to judge through resume screening.
Interviews can give you a little more insight but it's impractical to progress every candidate to that stage.
The most effective way to hire for great interpersonal skills is to use a combination of techniques that allow for practical assessment and a comprehensive view of a candidate's abilities.
Use an interpersonal skills test
An interpersonal skills test covers the practical assessment side of the hiring process and is an effective way to shortlist the most promising talent.
These tests are expertly designed to measure the abilities, behaviors, and social awareness a candidate must demonstrate to show strong interpersonal skills. They do so by presenting a range of hypothetical scenarios you'd likely encounter in the workplace.
For each candidate that takes the test, you'll receive an insightful score report that shows you how they are likely to behave in a professional setting and whether or not they have the required people skills to be successful in the role you're hiring for.
You can then progress those that do meet the required standard through to the next round to further evaluate their skill set.
Be specific with reference checks
Reference checks are all too often overlooked in recruitment, typically used only to verify a candidate's work history. When used to full effect, however, they can prove very insightful when it comes to an applicant's interpersonal skills.
Ask for contacts that have direct experience of working with the candidate - ideally a manager or supervisor - and where possible, ask to speak with them in person. A referee's answers to your questions are likely to be more genuine in conversation than they are written down on paper.
Questions that you might consider asking about interpersonal skills include:
- How would you describe the employee's approach to workplace conflict?
- How did the employee typically respond to feedback?
- How would you rate the employee in terms of their leadership potential?
Ask relevant interview questions
For those applicants that do make it to the interview stage, you now have the opportunity to question them directly on their interpersonal skills. The best way to go about this is to ask structured, behaviorally focused interview questions.
These ask a candidate to reflect on their experience and describe a scenario in which they put their interpersonal skills to good use.
A strong response will explain the situation, the actions the candidate took and why, and how this resulted in a positive outcome. It should show the candidate understands what interpersonal skills are and how to use them effectively.
Remember though that they are likely to be nervous and may need a little prompting. One or two follow-up questions are fine, but avoid steering their answer in a particular direction - it's their understanding of interpersonal skills you're looking to obtain after all.
Here's an example of a behaviorally focused interview question you might ask a candidate to assess their interpersonal skills:
"Describe a time when a colleague was going through a difficult or stressful time. How did you approach your interactions with them?"
How testing for interpersonal skills can benefit your company's hiring process
The cost of a bad hire can be significantly detrimental to a business, not just in terms of money but also lost time and productivity.
Pre-employment aptitude tests help prevent bad hires by eliminating candidates that simply don't have the required skill set.
They are particularly important for things like interpersonal skills, which are so crucial to so many roles, but so difficult to measure.
By using an interpersonal skills test in conjunction with quality reference checks and structured interview questions, you get the most comprehensive measure of this highly valuable skill set.