How Interpersonal Skills Can Give You the Competitive Career Advantage You Need
When most people think about the skills they need to successfully compete in the workplace, there is a natural tendency to focus primarily on technical and other hard skills they will use to perform their job duties. Too few consider another important type of skill that employers look for when they are building their teams: interpersonal skills. More commonly known as people skills or “soft” skills, interpersonal abilities can often be the deciding factor in hiring decisions, promotions, and overall career success.
In this post, we will explore a range of interpersonal skills, examine why they are so important in any workplace, and offer some insight into ways that you can develop your own people skills to give you a Competitive Career Advantage!
What are interpersonal skills?
One of the easiest ways to think about interpersonal skills is to recognize how they differ from hard, technical skills. Hard skills are those learned abilities that can help you to perform daily job duties. They include things like technical proficiencies, writing skills, accounting knowledge, analytical abilities, and similar competencies. Most people learn these skills in school, through an accreditation process of some sort, or via hands-on experience.
Interpersonal competencies are different kinds of skills that are not generally acquired through any formal educational process. Instead, they are traits that flow from your own personality and your experience in dealing with people in social settings. As a rule, they tend to involve specific skill sets that help you interact with others, such as the ability to effectively communicate ideas, collaborate as a team, and navigate through complex and evolving social environments.
For jobseekers, interpersonal skills can be one of the most important assets for landing a new position. While your hard skills will demonstrate that you have the qualifications needed to warrant an interview for that new position, your interpersonal abilities will often set you apart from other candidates and help you land the job. Most interviewers are looking for candidates who can not only perform their designated job tasks but also work with others to help achieve the company’s mission and goals.
Why are interpersonal skills important in the workplace?
Four centuries ago, John Donne wrote: “no man is an island” in a poem that noted humanity’s need for community. Donne’s point was that each of us can only truly thrive when we work with others to accomplish great things. That sentiment is true in the workplace as well. While it is important for each employee to have the skills needed to do their job, no employee can ever make a company successful without acting as part of a larger whole. Those interpersonal relationships and interactions help to make a company stronger, more productive, and better able to achieve its mission.
The people skills that you bring to any organization can help you be a better communicator, enable you to quickly adapt to any new situation, and make it easier for others to relate to you as a co-worker and human being. Whether you are a subordinate or supervisor, strong interpersonal abilities can ensure that you earn the trust of your co-workers, deal more effectively with customers, and make a positive and meaningful contribution to your team.
What are the different types of interpersonal skills?
Your interpersonal competencies may take many different forms. Interpersonal skills in the workplace can encompass a wide range of abilities that can ensure that you have what it takes to add value to any organization. Examples of interpersonal skills can include:
Both written and verbal communication skills can be vital for working in any team environment. To be an effective member of any team, you need to be able to communicate in a clear and easily understandable manner. You can demonstrate these communication skills to any interviewer by presenting a clear and concise resume, and an equally clear and engaging verbal presentation during your interview.
Active listening is about more than just hearing what the other person is saying. It requires thoughtful consideration of the other person’s words, meaning, and intent. Active listeners are focused on understanding other people and they are genuinely curious and interested in hearing their thoughts and ideas. It is important to practice active listening during any interview to demonstrate this skill to the interviewer.
Human interaction always presents an opportunity for conflict. Whether it is a disagreement with co-workers, clients, or vendors, you are almost sure to encounter some type of conflict on virtually any job. Your ability to resolve those disputes in a way that satisfied everyone involved can be one of your greatest assets as an employee. A good conflict manager is always a good listener, counselor, and mediator with the ability to find creative solutions to almost every problem.
In team settings, the ability to negotiate an agreement can be vital for getting things done in an efficient and timely way. Effective negotiators listen to others, work to find areas of common ground, and devise creative solutions that enable the team to move forward toward its goal. Genuinely great negotiators are also highly skilled in areas like research and persuasion as well, making them an invaluable addition to any work environment.
Much has been written and said about the important role that leadership plays in any business enterprise. Unfortunately, many job candidates underestimate the value of their own leadership traits and only emphasize them when applying for management roles. But those traits are of immense value even in subordinate positions, since your ability to make decisions, inspire those around you, and serve as a positive mentor can strengthen any organization or team.
There are very few job roles that do not involve some level of teamwork. As a result, your ability to collaborate with others can be critically important for your success in the workplace. Teamwork requires a combination of skills, including many of those listed in this post. To be a real team player, you need to have strong communication and listening skills, a talent for conflict resolution, and leadership skills like the ability to motivate others.
Are you flexible and quick to adapt to new situations and processes? If so, then your adaptability may be a highly prized asset during the hiring process and throughout your career. The workplace is constantly evolving, as new technologies and shifts in the economy require companies to be more agile than ever before. Employees who can quickly acclimate to change are in high demand, so be sure to include some examples in your resume of how this trait helped you to be successful in previous job roles.
Throughout your career, your ability to solve problems will be vital for advancement and overall success. Given the rapid pace at which the world is changing, it is no longer enough to just have the skills needed to perform your assigned tasks. New problems arise every day, and successful employees need to be able to solve those challenges in creative ways. If you are a true problem solver who enjoys those types of challenges, then this interpersonal skill will likely serve you well throughout your career.
How can you develop your own interpersonal competencies?
While you don’t usually acquire interpersonal skills through the same formal processes used to learn hard skills, that doesn’t mean that you can’t develop and enhance your people skills. You can and should continually work to improve your interpersonal competencies. Below are some key steps you can take to hone your people skills:
Identify weaknesses in your interpersonal skill set
This requires self-awareness and reflection but can yield powerful results. Once you identify areas where you can improve your interpersonal abilities, you can begin to focus on strengthening those traits.
Start with communication
Communication skills, including active listening, can always be improved. More importantly, as you develop those skills you will also find that your other interpersonal abilities improve. So, start to think more about the words you use, the nonverbal cues you send while communicating with others, and just how carefully you are considering the words that you hear from others. Becoming a better communicator can take time, but that time can yield a tremendous payoff over the course of your career.
Gain better control over your emotions
In the workplace, emotions can sometimes be an impediment to sound communication, teamwork, and productivity. Those who can control their emotions and approach people and problems in an empathetic and even-tempered way always seem to have an advantage when it comes to finding solutions and common ground.
Focus on being positive
A positive mindset can be contagious, so focus on improving your outlook on life, work, and interpersonal relations. Positivity makes communication more effective, draws others to you, and enables you to be assertive without becoming overly aggressive. People tend to view positive individuals as self-confident leaders who can be trusted to get things done.
Practice, practice, practice
Make a conscious decision to practice your interpersonal abilities everywhere you go. Hone them in your interactions with family, when communicating with others while you are out and about in town, and throughout your day at work. Every situation and interpersonal interaction can be a learning opportunity that can improve your people skills. This constant practice can help to make your interpersonal skills almost instinctual.
Include strong interpersonal skills in your resume
Since interpersonal skills can often be the deciding factor differentiating you from other job candidates, it is important to highlight them in your resume. As a general rule, it is usually best to include just a few of your strongest people skills in the “skill” and “experience” sections of your resume. Here are some tips to help you with that process:
Begin by reviewing the job description so that you can determine which people skills best match the job requirements.
If possible, try to select skills that can be verified by your references.
Include no more than three to five of these people skills in your “skills” section.
You can include more detail about your people skills in your resume’s experience section by offering examples of how each skill helped you to add value to your previous job roles.
For example, “Strong collaborative and leadership skills helped me to build a team of project developers who effectively increased our company’s client base by 12% while boosting sales revenue by more than 20% in the first year.”
You can also include one of your most important people skills in your cover letter. Again, try to provide detail that explains how the skill helped you be more successful in a previous job.
Finally, make sure that you use all your interpersonal skills during your job interview. Listen attentively, focus on the interviewer, and make sure that your responses are courteous and informative. Remember, the interview is your best opportunity to really showcase your people skills and make the best possible impression.
Interpersonal skills may not always receive the attention they deserve, but they can often give you the edge you need to land a great job and enjoy greater success in any job endeavor. By recognizing your own interpersonal strengths and weaknesses, you can more effectively develop and enhance the people skills you need to achieve all your career goals.
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Ken Chase, Freelance Writer
During Ken's two decades as a freelance writer, he has covered everything from banking and fintech to business management and the entertainment industry. His true passion, however, has always been focused on helping others achieve their career goals with timely job search and interview advice or the occasional resume consultation. When he's not working, Ken can usually be found adventuring with family and friends or playing fetch with his demanding German Shepherd. Read more resume advice from Ken on ZipJob’s blog.