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We’re publishing a series of blog posts examining the importance of soft skills in hiring. The first zeroes in on professionalism, and the challenge of knowing what it is, who’s got it, and who’s not.

In this post, we’ll be getting up close and personal with two more key competency areas:

  • Personal value commitment – will your new employee be trustworthy and treat others with respect? Or, will that employee steal from the cash register, sell your IP, or mistreat customers and fellow co-workers?
  • Interpersonal skills – How well will they build effective working relationships with other department members? How effectively will they communicate with co-workers at the construction site? If in healthcare, how sensitively will that new nurse or doctor break bad news to patients?

Interpersonal skills and personal value

Personal value commitment – why it matters

An individual’s ethical and moral values are, by their nature, incredibly personal things—but that doesn’t mean their impact won’t be felt by any organization that gives the individual a job.

Take on someone who’s intolerant or disrespectful towards co-workers, and you risk poisoning your workplace atmosphere, and bringing a previously happy and productive team to its knees.

Take them on in a customer-facing role, and it’s your whole reputation that’s at stake. Your new employees can “wow” your customers and grow your net promoters through their efforts to problem-solve or simply show empathy when they have a problem.

Similarly, hire someone with a dubious sense of right and wrong, and you may be risking them stealing from the stock room, or posting confidential information across Internet and social media channels.

Interpersonal skills – why they matter more and more

In almost all occupations, the ability to manage relationships, and communicate effectively, are essential to success.

According to a three-year study by Leadership IQ:

  • 26% of new hires fail because they can’t accept feedback
  • 23% because they’re unable to understand and manage emotions

And in some industries – like healthcare in the US – interpersonal skills are making an increasing impact on a hospital’s bottom line. Recent legislative reforms have not only driven transparency and accountability—with patients now able to go online, and quickly compare the experience offered by different providers—but have actively tied certain subsidies to patient satisfaction scores.

This means that, for US healthcare providers, employing nurses and physicians with great interpersonal skills is increasingly vital, both to winning patients and staying financially viable.

The questions you need to ask

Just as with professionalism, these two key competencies manifest themselves in different behaviors, depending on the job role.

When you’re hiring, the questions you ask a candidate’s references need to reflect this.

If you’re a university hiring leader and want to know more about  the personal value commitment of a new member of your Adjunct Faculty, for example, you’ll want to know:

  • Are they sensitive to different background, beliefs, and do they treat students, co-workers and staff of gender with fairness and respect?

Whereas for a Financial Controller, you’ll be equally interested in finding out:

  •  Do they act with ethics and integrity, ensuring that the organization’s financial activities and records are compliant with accounting standards?

The same job-specific lens, applies when assessing a candidate’s interpersonal skills.

Here are a few summaries of sample questions taken from our database of over 350 job specific surveys, showing how key interpersonal skills can vary from role to role…


  • Provide a high level of service to all guests that reflects your corporate brand
  • Remain calm and helpful when handling complaints from guests

Registered Nurse:

  • Provide others with medical attention, and emotional support in a caring and compassionate manner
  • Listen carefully to patients and co-workers, taking time to understand and ask appropriate questions

Business Manager

  • Convey goals and timelines clearly to direct reports
  • Collaborate with internal and external stakeholders

The key thing about all these skills is that you can’t just ask a candidate about them – they’ll tell you what they think you want to hear. You need real evidence from past job performance.

Because values and interpersonal skills are things are not things you say, they’re things you demonstrate. Every day.

That’s why the best people to provide feedback about skills like these are the people who worked with your candidate in the past. (Yet, except in certain industries, current hiring practices rarely even ask).

Find out more

If you have not yet checked out our eBook ‘Soft Skills, Hard Benefits’, you can find it here.

The eBook discusses the importance of soft skills across six key competency areas—and explains how references can help you give personal values and interpersonal skills the attention they truly deserve when you’re making your hiring decisions.

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