‘Excellent’ interpersonal skills are overrated

August 14, 2020

Read over most job descriptions and aside from a healthy list of exhaustive technical requirements, most companies are making it an essential requirement that candidates have “excellent interpersonal skills”, “upstanding communication skills” and that they must be a “a good team player”, all of which play as vital a part in the hiring manager’s decision-making process as the technical skills. But why?

If a candidate is proficient with all aspects of the technical side of the job and has a proven track record to back it up, then why is it a requirement to also have stellar soft skills?

It is fair to say that the need for excellent interpersonal skills and demonstrable soft skills are dependent on what the job is. For a Client Service Officer, an Events Coordinator or a Business Development Manager clearly interpersonal skills are an essential attribute to be able to undertake these types of roles. Most work places and workplace cultures promote collaboration and team orientation whether it is a specific requirement of the role or not. It could be by promoting team/company socials, group projects or job swap initiatives reinforcing that being able to work well with others is an expectation. Although this isn’t always the case, it’s typically the norm.

Without being able to build rapport and demonstrate good people skills, your chances of securing most job opportunities are significantly reduced.

Why? It goes back to the very first interview. An impressive skill set only gets you so far. Yet without the ability to effectively articulate essentially get along with the interviewer/s to give them the necessary reassurances around team/culture fit, they rarely make it past the first stage interview. Traditional interview approaches focus employers on areas such as body language, ability to give and maintain eye contact, the firm handshake, the interviewee’s ability to fill the gaps with small talk and comfortably chat about what they like to do outside of work.

But here’s the thing, most recruitment and selection practices are inadvertently negatively impacting candidates who lack the typical interpersonal skills that can come naturally to most. This includes neurodiverse people like autistic people since they often struggle to understand unstated communication and social norms. The result? An entire talent pool of capable workers are disadvantaged and either unemployed or underemployed.

Aside from the exclusion of skilled workers who suffer from neurological social and/or communication issues being ruled out, even neurotypical candidates who may just be a lot more introverted may be ruled out of an interview process based on their inability to demonstrate a natural ability with building rapport.

So how can we avoid missing out on top talent?

It’s simple. Make interview processes more flexible. Be open-minded about the requirements for the position. Consider the interview setting, style and format. Research and implement accommodation strategies to help neurodiverse people and make your job opportunity open for all and not just those that are able to show the typical “excellent interpersonal skills”, “upstanding communication skills” and be a “good team player.” Yes, these are valuable skills to any business but when will we begin to realise that communication comes in many forms, shyness does not always mean incapable, directness does not always mean aggressive and collaboration does not always have to come in the form of ice-breakers and attending work socials.

I’d like to see a world where employers do less box ticking and more inclusive interviewing to really recognize true talent and potential.