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10 must-have interpersonal skills

Sitting at desk smiling at the camera

Put yourself in the shoes of a hiring manager for a moment…

You’re looking for someone with a solid resume.
Once you weed through the virtual mountains of resumes and call in a few candidates for interviews, what’s next?
When a candidate walks through the door, what is going to differentiate this candidate from the one who came before and the one who comes next?

It’s all about interpersonal skills.

You’re most likely to need to consider these questions:

  • What kind of energy am I getting from this person?
  • Is this person a good fit for our culture?
  • Would I be happy to see this person each day?
  • Would our organisation’s clients feel the same?
  • Is this person able to build rapport?

Too often, when graduates or professionals are looking for jobs, they tend to focus solely on the technical competencies and skills they have acquired through their education and other experiences.

However, it is critically important to focus on the interpersonal skills that can set you apart. We’re going to explore what interpersonal skills and how they can help you hire well, and take your career to the next level.

What are interpersonal skills?

Interpersonal skills are the traits you demonstrate when interacting and communicating with others. They are essential for both personal and professional scenarios where communication and cooperation are necessary.

Interpersonal skills are those “people skills” that enable you to develop relationships and communicate more effectively.

Some components of interpersonal skills are intangible, like nonverbal communication, or body language.

But other components are quite straightforward, including:

  • Motivation
  • Responsibility
  • Dependability
  • Leadership
  • Active listening
  • Teamwork
  • Flexibility
  • Patience
  • Empathy

To optimise their interpersonal skills, most people call upon innate personality traits, skills acquired through various experiences, and continuous learning.
In other words, you might be born with natural fabulous interpersonal skills. But for those who need a bit of extra work, the good news is that the possibilities to develop interpersonal skills are infinite.

Why are Interpersonal Skills Important?

Interpersonal skills go a long way during a job interview and have a significant influence on future career advancement opportunities.

In any work environment, challenges arise on a daily basis.

  • Change is constant.
  • Very few people work in a silo in today’s environment.
  • As such, collaboration and teamwork are essential for professional success.

No profession or job search is immune to the importance of interpersonal skills.

Even for those professions, like programming, where the majority of the work is done independently, there is always some degree of personal interaction:

A programmer will spend much of his or her time coding, but then will need to collaborate with the operations or sales department in order to provide the right outcome to successfully bring the end product to market.

How Do Employers Assess Interpersonal Skills?

Interpersonal skills are critical to survive and thrive professionally. Employers know this and actively seek applicants with strong interpersonal skills.

When reading your resume and then during the interview, hiring managers will be imagining you working with the current team and with current clients.

  • They will be thinking about how you might interact with each person in various scenarios.
  • Hiring managers have access to pre-screening tests that enable them to efficiently eliminate applicants who don’t appear to have the skills they are seeking.
  • Indeed has a resume feedback questionnaire that evaluates how effectively you have represented your interpersonal skills on your resume.
  • Personality tests and other assessments leverage data analytics to help hiring managers determine which candidates seem like a good fit for the organisation.
  • During the job interview, the hiring manager will evaluate your nonverbal communication including eye contact, body posture, etc.
  • They will note how clearly you can communicate your ideas, authenticity, energy level, and a variety of other “soft skills” that are often best assessed in person during an in-depth conversation.

The interpersonal skills or “soft skills” that are most important to one hiring manager for one particular job can be slightly or significantly different for another hiring manager or another particular job.

Which 10 Interpersonal Skills are Most Important?

We touched on a few examples of interpersonal skills above. Here is another list of 10 skills we think are the common denominator for most hiring managers.

1. Confidence

Are you confident that you are the best person for the job?

If the answer wasn’t an immediate “Yes!” then you have work to do. When you demonstrate that you are confident in the interview, you prove that you will operate with confidence when hired for this position.

  • Do your homework about the organisation.
  • Anticipate what types of questions they might ask and be prepared with specific examples to discuss.

“Communicating with confidence is key to successful leadership. Developing self-confidence in your communication skills enables you to lead with healthy authority. Note that there is only a thin line between communicating confidently and being perceived as arrogant. Being an active listener and someone who is open to feedback will keep you on the right track.”

– Daniel Hussem, Director of Marketing, Troparé Inc.

2. Emotional Intelligence

  • 71% of employers value emotional intelligence in an employee.
  • 75% are more likely to promote those employees who demonstrate emotional intelligence.

Emotional intelligence is your ability to understand your own emotions and the emotions of others. In an interview, you can demonstrate emotional intelligence by asking good questions of the hiring manager and expressing genuine interest in the company.

“Emotional intelligence is a highly valuable skill to be successful as a communication expert. Knowing how to manage your emotions helps you devise a strong communication strategy, resolve conflicts and manage high-pressure situations along with responding to constructive criticism.”

– Haseeb Tariq, Director of Marketing Automation, The Walt Disney Company

3. Agility

Today’s workplaces are growing increasing agile. Flexible working arrangements have steadily increased over the past 5 years, according to The Australian Bureau of Statistics. Agility is a two-way street. As employers respond to the desire for flexible work arrangements, they are seeking employees who can be just as flexible.

Agile learning and responsiveness are highly valued by employers.

  • Employers have little patience for employees who tend to express an attitude of “That’s not my job” when asked to take on a new role or assignment.
  • Instead, agile employees can easily bend to modify expectations and ways of working to benefit and respond to the unique demands of each particular situation.

Be prepared to provide examples of how you have demonstrated flexibility, whether at university when working with a group of with a previous employer. Below are a few ideas:

  • Learning complex new software to drive efficiency
  • Making adjustments in response to constructive criticism during a performance review
  • Realigning priorities in order to work extra hours to meet a deadline
  • Offering to cover the responsibilities of a teammate with an unexpected emergency
  • In today’s rapidly changing environment, the skills and experiences that made you a successful student or entry-level manager are not going to be the same that will make you a successful leader and executive.

4. Diplomacy

Diplomacy and tact are becoming increasingly important in today’s workforce.

According to training and development professional Pam Soden, “Over my decades of training and coaching individuals to success, many clients have shared their stories of feeling absolutely lost after missing out on something they had worked hard to obtain. One client said his team was having issues with him and the way he approached them. He was getting resistance, not results. Another client’s manager said he couldn’t give him a plum overseas assignment because his facial expression would offend the customer.”

In short, diplomacy is about having a filter. It’s about considering how you appear in the eyes of others and how an interaction with you makes them feel.

Some of the highest performers lack diplomacy and tact. They call things like they see them and don’t feel there is anything wrong with that. Then, they are left wondering:

  • Why don’t I get respect from my co-workers?
  • Why didn’t I get that job?

Be prepared with examples of situations where you acted with diplomacy. Anticipate that interview question about how you handled a difficult situation.

Weave in the following specifics as you prepare your answers in advance:

  • Gathering all the evidence. To operate with diplomacy, it’s important to show that you thought before you spoke or reacted. When was a time where you gathered all the necessary information to see things from all angles and successfully diffuse a difficult situation?
  • Take some time. Operating with diplomacy is not just about what you did or said, but when you chose to do or say it. Giving a situation some time allows all involved to cool down.
  • Choose the right words. Show that when the time was right and you felt adequately prepared, you thought about “I” statements versus “you” statements. Demonstrate you understand that, for communication to be effective, it must be received and accepted by the listener. “You were unprepared for the meeting” is received very differently than “I would like to see you spend more time preparing this specific aspect for our next meeting with that client.”

5. Empathy

Empathy is seeing a situation from another’s point of reference and trying to feel what they might be feeling. As technology evolves and connects the world in certain ways, it is also disconnecting us from each in many ways.

  • Social media can easily create an empathy deficit if we’re not careful.
  • It’s easy to only interact with those who look like us, vote like us, think like us, etc.
  • Recognising the tendency toward such homogeneous circles can help you recalibrate before stepping foot into an interview.

Those looking for work in today’s environment should recognise this fact and perform some introspection to ensure they are still able to effectively demonstrate empathy. Research shows that empathy makes people better managers and employees. The hiring manager will ultimately want to know that you will be able to empathise with colleagues and clients.

Don’t just stand in someone else’s shoes, as the saying goes, but take a walk in them, said Helen Riess, a psychiatrist at Harvard Medical School and chief scientist of Empathetics, which provides empathy training for health care practitioners.

Here are some tips from Dr. Riess, the Harvard psychiatrist:

  • Use your body language to show that you’re open to listening: uncross your arms, lean slightly forward, make eye contact.
  • Pay close attention to the speaker’s facial expressions and body language, which can convey more emotions than their words.
  • Don’t interrupt.
  • Ask open-ended questions.
  • Put away your phone.

“Empathy is always critical for communicators, but it’s especially important amid our temporary shift to remote work. Most employees are juggling much more than usual, attempting to balance unfamiliar obstacles at work with life at home. Leading with empathy fosters a more supportive and collaborative environment, allowing your team to tackle change — and the challenges that come with it — together.”

– James Freeze, Interactions LLC

Talking and listening to your colleagues

6. Written Interpersonal Skills

Since so much of today’s work is transacted virtually, a lot of back and forth can be avoided with effective written communication. As such, written communication is critical in any list of must-have interpersonal skills.

Written skills are critical in the following situations:

  • Research and Analytics: Life and business are moving at an ever-increasing speed in today’s landscape. More often than not, you will be learning about new technology and concepts on a daily basis in whatever job you decide to accept.
  • Being able to communicate what you have researched and analysed is critical in obtaining buy-in for ideas from co-workers and upper management. This type of written communication also enables you to set yourself apart from your peers and others vying for the job.

Being organised, clear and concise in your writing is essential for interpersonal communication in today’s technologically driven world. Writing skills are critical for effective communications in the workplace. We increasingly work and live in a digital marketplace and work environment.

7. Positive Attitude

The author of the Power of Positive Thinking, Norman Vincent Peale wrote, “There is a real magic in enthusiasm. It spells the difference between mediocrity and accomplishment.”

Demonstrating positivity is critical. Employers are looking to hire people who make the organisation a better place. Everyone likes to be around and work with friendly and positive co-workers. Positive people are different than social butterflies. Professionalism comes first, but you can operate effectively with a positive attitude – in good times and bad.

  • A positive attitude is especially important to maintain in difficult situations.
  • To convey positivity, begin with your resume, cover letter and application. A smile and good attentive body language can go a long way in the interview.
  • A good rule of thumb is to avoid saying anything negative about your current or past employer.
  • Always find a way to frame a difficult situation as a learning experience and an opportunity for self-improvement.

As you practice maintaining a positive attitude, you’ll enjoy some mental and physical health-related benefits too! Studies have found that a positive attitude improves outcomes and life satisfaction. This type of satisfaction can make all of the other interpersonal skills much easier to come by.

8. Intellectual Humility

Benjamin Franklin was a big proponent of open-mindedness, which is essential what intellectual humility is all about. Franklin himself was known for being open-minded and reflective. He allowed his observations to guide, shape and change his opinions. Franklin’s many achievements were a direct result of his lifelong desire to understand and improve the world around him.

Although Franklin was smart and often the smartest person in the room, he knew he wasn’t perfect. As such, Franklin made a habit of prefacing his statements with

“Maybe I’m wrong, but …”.

This simple phrase served to positively predispose the listener toward a more open attitude. The phrase also served to mentally prepare Franklin himself to remain open-minded so he could effectively listen to new ideas, some of which were completely contrary to his own.
Such a comment from such an intelligent person is a clear demonstration of what is called intellectual humility.

Intellectual humility, partially defined as the willingness to change, in today’s climate is rare and those who demonstrate it at work set themselves apart.

  • Social relationships become easier to facilitate when people operate with intellectual humility.
  • People feel safe discussing ideas and opinions when they know the listener will respond with an open mind.
  • Better business outcomes are the result.

Psychologists from the University of Pepperdine indicate that intellectual humility is constructed of several elements, including:

  • Respect for the points of view of others
  • Keeping intellectual confidence in check
  • Separating the ego from the intellect
  • Being open to reconsidering one’s own point of view

Interview process- it’s important to provide examples of situations in which you demonstrated the ability to be coachable. Expressing curiosity and demonstrating a growth mindset shows the hiring manager that you are open-minded.

Feedback and review process – criticism, even if constructive, can sometime be a difficult pill to swallow. Fight the temptation to react defensively. If you are able to reframe constructive feedback that indicates you still have work to do, you might be able to see it as a growth opportunity.

Everyday opportunities to collaborate – highly effective professionals know they can always learn and improve. They know how to maintain an open mind when working with others. There is no sign of a defensive attitude when different ideas are suggested.

9. Resourcefulness

We all know someone who is great at pointing out problems. Problems with the workplace, problems with clients, problems with co-workers.
Anyone can complain about what is not working, but few people are able to provide solutions for processes they find to be broken. A resourceful person might not have all the answers all the time, but they know how to research and find what they need.

  • Employers want to hire people who don’t shy away from responsibility and accountability.
  • They love candidates who can see the big picture and demonstrate a willingness to take ownership of tasks and challenges.
  • They like people who admit they are wrong, brush themselves off and try again.

In order to develop such a resourceful mindset, you must be committed to constant self-improvement. Being open to new things and learning experiences will enable you to be agile and prepared for anything that comes your way. This is extremely important in today’s ever-evolving technological landscape.

In today’s environment, resourcefulness means thinking way outside of the box to get the job done and reaching beyond a “can-do” attitude to strive for a “will-do-at-any-cost” attitude. In other words, be as scrappy and innovative as possible.

To demonstrate resourcefulness, be prepared to discuss situations where you:

  • took the first step in a project without overthinking
  • were a critical team player who was deeply involved with forward momentum and problem solving

10. Persistence

A characteristic that separates those who succeed from those who do not is persistence. Persistence is the ability to remain determined to do or achieve something regardless of setbacks.

Many professionals have the ability to outline goals and establish plans for success, but only few truly follow through – despite failure, uncertainty, discomfort, obstacles and difficult situations – to the end.

Organisations value employees who demonstrate persistence.

  • Anxiety and frustration provide motivation rather than discouragement.
  • Persistent people are disciplined to push through challenges to ensure a desired outcome.

Throughout the interview process, be sure to convey your commitment to persistence.

  • Maybe the tenth “no” in your sales process motivates you to keep going because you know you’re getting closer to the “yes” you have been working toward.
  • Or maybe you can discuss how positively you handled the fifth revision request for a report you thought was complete.

Now what? Interpersonal skills inventory

If you think you might lack one or many of these interpersonal skills, what can you do?

The first step is this: relax. Very few candidates can honestly say that they possess every one of these interpersonal skills..

What you can do, however, is spend a bit of time being introspective:

1. Make a list. Rank the skills above in order. Start with those you have all buttoned up and make your way down to those that need work.

2. Brainstorm examples. For the skills you have mastered, jot down some notes about professional situations in which you have demonstrated these characteristics.

3. Set a few goals. For the skills where you know you need some work, brainstorm a variety of ways you can begin developing these skills.

4. Practice being a good person. Make an effort to learn about other people, offer to help when you can, put yourself out there to make connections, stay positive and be yourself.

Learn more

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