How to screen for interpersonal skills
In 2017, 74 percent of state and local agencies planned to hire additional employees, according to a survey done by the Center for State and Local Government Excellence. With the economy continuing to do well and the employment rate remaining low, applicants may be difficult to come by. Recruiters who work with local government will want to focus on specific traits that are most in demand. For example, 65 percent of employers at this level are looking for candidates with strong interpersonal skills.
What are interpersonal skills and why are they important?
These are, in short, people skills. How a person interacts with others, takes feedback and communicates ideas all fall into this category. Generally, individuals who are thought of as a “people’s person” and are widely well-liked will rank high in this category.
Having a team of employees who are all pleasant to work with can create a more effective, enjoyable work environment. In small offices at the state and local level, this is especially important as one negative person can effect the satisfaction of the entire group.
A lack of these soft skills can also lead to high turnover. In one study published by High Speed Training, 89 percent of employees who failed in the first 18 months were rated as “bad hires”. Of those, 66 percent were judged to be a poor choice because of a lack of interpersonal skills. Not only can that make it difficult to work with others, but it can also lead to a person’s dissatisfaction if they bristle against a social company culture.
Most important skills
Interpersonal skills can cover a broad array of abilities. Before entering interviews, the employer or direct manager for the role may be able to shed insight on which of these areas is most important for the job. According to The Balance, here are some key traits to keep in mind:
- Active listening
- Conflict management and resolution
- Giving and receiving constructive criticism
- Creative thinking
- The ability to encourage and support coworkers
- Natural inclination to help others
- The ability to network
- Body language
- Public speaking
- Respectful of others
- Strong verbal communication
How to test for them
A face-to-face interview is one long screening process for these types of skills since you’re directly communicating with the candidate and can judge the abilities of the person.
The first step is to make sure you include information about the company culture and soft skills requirements in any job listing or initial email with applicants. People who do not interact well with others will probably stay away from jobs that put a heavy emphasis on teamwork and collaboration.
Once the interview starts, encourage employees to tell stories rather than list their personal characteristics. Questions like “tell me about a time when you worked on a team to solve a problem” tend to reveal more than questions like “list your top three traits.” When individuals are asked to recount a story, it’s more difficult to lie since they’ll need to fill in the details about an experience.
Another tactic is to describe a problem that requires interpersonal skills to solve. For example, what would the person do if a coworker was interrupting the workday with loud or inappropriate behavior. Ask the candidate how they’d handle the situation to see how they’d deliver feedback and approach another employee.
If that still doesn’t give you the information you need, bring in other parties to judge the abilities of the candidate. For example, have a receptionist or secretary greet all people before the interview. How they interact with him or her can say a lot about their personality.
By choosing well, you may be able to increase retention rates for local and state government positions and also help improve the satisfaction levels of both employers and new hires.