What Employers Want: Interpersonal Skills

Today’s post continues the discussion of some of the most common skills that employers say they want by giving you some ideas about what is meant by “interpersonal skills.” Sometimes called “interpersonal communication skills,” this is one of the more self-evident topics as it truly means your ability to interact—talk, work, play—with other people. It’s the rare job that is done totally in isolation, so employers want to know that you can get along with the other people in the organization.

But there’s more to it than just “getting along”—you have to be able to work well on a team, communicate with both internal and external audiences, argue persuasively, compromise graciously, and solve problems jointly. Obviously much of this is closely tied to the communication skills that were discussed in these pages last week, so you may want to go back and look at the post from last Tuesday (12/23/14) that discussed those skills in some detail. Today, we’ll talk about the aspects of interpersonal skills that go beyond communication.

Specifically, you should be thinking of ways that you can demonstrate your teamwork experiences. If you’re a recent college graduate, you may need to rely on course assignments that required you to work as part of a team when you’re asked about this in job interviews. If you’ve been out of school and working for a while, you shouldn’t have any problem describing times when you have worked with others. To get you started thinking about teamwork skills, I’m going to pose a few prompts and questions that you might hear in a job interview:

  • Tell us about a time when you disagreed with other members of your team about how to accomplish a task.
  • Tell us about a time when you succeeded in motivating others to do something your way.
  • What would you do if your coworkers refused to follow your lead on a project?
  • Have you ever been in a situation where someone you were working with wasn’t doing their part? If so, how did you handle it and what was the outcome?

Another aspect of interpersonal skills is knowing when to be assertive and when to let someone else take the lead. It’s good to plan anecdotes that you can use in job interviews that demonstrate both your leadership skills and your ability to recognize when someone else has a better (or at least an equally good) idea. While many employers are interested in your leadership skills, there are going to be lots of times—especially when you’re new at a job—that you’re going to be expected to follow directions or take orders.

One final point about interpersonal skills: Everything you do and say in the job interview is demonstrating some aspect of your interpersonal skills. The way you ask and respond to questions, the way you listen when others are speaking, the language you use–even the clothes you wear—all of these things show your level of respect for the prospective employer, your recognition of the importance of the interview process, and your ability to present yourself in the best possible light. This is not meant to intimidate you, but rather to suggest that you prepare carefully for every aspect of each job interview. If you have the opportunity to participate in practice interviews with a career counselor on your campus or with a friend or family member who is knowledgeable about interviewing strategies, take advantage of that opportunity. The more time you spend preparing for your interviews, the more comfortable and confident you will be when sitting across from prospective employers!