Interpersonal skills

There are certain technical skills and competencies you need to secure a job and do it well. Additionally, you’ll probably want to hold one or more formal qualifications to ensure you’re a top candidate.

But what about interpersonal skills? They are equally as important to success in roles spanning all industries, but they are rarely asked for specifically in a job description. Here’s some insight into what they are, how to improve them, and how to show prospective employers you excel at them.

The range of interpersonal skills

Interpersonal skills are diverse and form a central part of working with other people. Here is a list of interpersonal skills that are valuable across all roles, industries and levels of seniority. It includes, but is not limited to: 

  • Communication
    Arguably the most important of all interpersonal skills, communication skills are at the core of engaging with colleagues, stakeholders, prospective clients and senior leaders. This skill can be continuously developed throughout your career and will be valuable to every role you hold. A key part of good communication is being a good listener, knowing how to consider and empathise with what others are saying and feeling. 
  • Problem-solving
    Being able to approach a complicated task and engage your problem-solving to work through it is a highly sought-after quality in candidates. Problem-solving demands analysis, critical and lateral thinking or logical reasoning, and will always require initiative and persistence.
  • Adaptability
    You don’t have to be far into your working life to know that things don’t always go as planned. Being able to reassess, reflect and reset when projects or strategic direction change is an interpersonal skill that will help maintain momentum and reduce frustration throughout your career. Knowing you’re flexible will also make your colleagues feel confident and comfortable working around you.
  • Positivity
    Do you regard yourself as an optimist? Are you good at seeing the silver lining in a project that didn’t deliver the expected outcomes? Being positive in the workplace is an excellent skill that has the ability to impact the morale of entire teams. It doesn’t mean being naïve or ignorant about the realities of a situation, but it does mean seeing the best in work challenges and people. 
  • Collaboration
    There exists few roles in which you would work in total isolation, which means that collaboration makes the list of interpersonal skills that are highly prized in the workplace. Understanding how to incorporate various ideas, manage expectations and share the ownership of both successes and failures are key to strong collaborative ability. It’s a skill that can be developed and applied in a variety of ways throughout your career.
  • Honesty 
    Whether it’s owning up to a mistake or being honest about the difficulties you’re facing at work, employers want to hire and work with honest people. Being consistently honest and upfront will also assure colleagues and stakeholders that you’re reliable, and that the promises or deals you make can be kept. 
  • Work ethic
    Qualities like loyalty and commitment constitute work ethic, and it is an important interpersonal skill to have. Showing an employer that you possess strong work ethic and drive inspires trust and confidence in them, and you’ll be seen as reliable, independent and able to self-motivate. 
  • Ability to manage stress
    Every job comes with its periods of stress, some more than others. While not often the most pleasant parts of a career, knowing how to manage your time, emotions and relationships during periods of stress while still meeting deadlines is an incredibly important skill to have in the modern workplace.

Developing your interpersonal skillset

Given the range of interpersonal skills and the frequency with which they are applied in personal and professional contexts, every interaction can be seen as an opportunity to develop your interpersonal skills. However, there are also more specific ways to work on your interpersonal skills, and it’s best to start by writing a list of the skills you excel at, and those that could be stronger.

Once you’ve got your list, seek out people who excel at those skills, and ask for guidance from colleagues, managers or mentors. Learning from other people means noting how they present themselves and engage with others, but also how people respond. Is your manager able to deliver criticism in a way that leaves staff still feeling positive about their work? Do you marvel at your colleague’s ability to adapt to changing work tasks with optimism and without complaint? Whatever the skill, seek it out it those around you and never be afraid to ask for advice.  

There are also apps, online portals, classes and seminars that provide interpersonal skills training. The best thing about more formal or structured skills training is that often you’ll develop several skills at once. Interpersonal skills aren’t mutually exclusive, and often skills are most effective when applied together. For example, communication and positivity, or collaboration and adaptability complement and enhance each other.

Include them in your resume or job application

While not as simple as listing your technical skills or qualifications, it’s best to weave references to your interpersonal skills into your resume and cover letter when you detail your career accomplishments. Use the below examples as a guide:

  • “I used my exceptional communication skills to research and deliver an engagement strategy that led to 11% growth in clients over two years. I also collaborated with the customer service team to collate feedback and integrate it into the strategy.”
  • “In making our office a waste-free space, a strong work ethic was required. Over a mere three months, I applied a high-level of dedication to source and implement all the resources needed, and acquired certification from the environmental board.”
  • “Problem-solving skills were drawn on to establish a new way of managing incoming cash flow and producing consolidation reports. I took initiative to lead this project while managing the daily demands and responsibilities of my role.”

All interpersonal skills play a role in enabling you to manage most enjoyable and most challenging parts of your work life, and can be finessed throughout your career. Seize every opportunity to improve your interpersonal skills to ensure you’re the best candidate and employee you can be.