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Uncover the Candidate’s Communication Skills in the Interview

Uncover the Candidate’s Communication Skills in the Interview

By: Catherine Conlan

Business runs on communication. According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers’ Job Outlook 2016 report, employers ranked verbal communication skills as most important for employees to have.

So how do you assess these skills? “Gauging a candidate’s communication skills is something that is measured -- from the initial contact to the last contact,” says Jessica Meglio, senior recruiter at Turning the Corner, a Denver-based recruiting and career counseling firm. 

“How quickly did they respond to the interview request? Did they provide a one-sentence answer or did they use a few sentences to express their interest and availability? These subtle interactions are very telling of how the candidate may communicate on the job.”

When it’s time to conduct the interview, here’s how to get more details on the candidate’s communication skills.

Compare Real Life to the Cover Letter
Your candidate interactions have been fairly minimal to this point. So when you meet them for the first time, take a moment to assess the first impression they make. Are you surprised by how they communicate, or do you feel like you’re getting what you expected?

“A person's ‘voice’ or way of communicating should be similar, whether they are writing or speaking,” says April Klimkiewicz, owner of Bliss Evolution, a career counseling agency based in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. 

“A big red flag for me is when the voice in the cover letter sounds like a completely different person than the person interviewing for the position.” If everything seems similar, however, that’s a good sign.

Observe How They Listen
Communication is never one way; your candidate will need to be a good listener as well. 

“Someone who struggles with communicating effectively will just answer whatever they think is being asked, without stopping to consider if they have it right or asking clarifying questions,” says Stephanie Troiano, executive recruiter at HireTalent in Brea, California.

Pay attention -- not just to the content of the answers that candidates provide, but whether that information actually answers the question you asked. 

“A huge part of communication is actually listening, and if you find your candidate suddenly veering off with something irrelevant to the question you asked, that’s a red flag,” Troiano says.

Ask Behavioral Questions about Communication
Behavioral interview questions -- those that ask the candidate to provide examples of what they’ve done in the past -- are a great way to get more information about how a person communicates.

These sort of interview questions provide insight into a person’s communication style, says Jana Tulloch, a human resources professional for DevelopIntelligence, a Boulder, Colorado-based company that provides customized technical learning solutions. 

Here are some sample behavioral questions:

•    "Tell me about a time when you had to communicate a difficult concept to someone and what challenges you encountered."
•    "Have you ever had to sell an unpopular idea? If so, what was the idea and how did you go about selling it?"
•    "What was the most significant conflict you had with another employee? How did you resolve it?"
•    "Tell me about a challenging customer that you had to handle. What was their concern and how did you address it?"

Again, listen to both the content of their answer as well as how they communicate that content. Do they tell their story in a clear and logical way, or do they dart off into different directions?

It’s about Role Playing
Interview questions about hypothetical scenarios shed light on how a candidate might deal with sensitive topics or difficult situations they have to communicate, says Joe Campagna, owner of My Virtual HR Director consultants. 

As interviewer, create questions around scenarios that could conceivably happen at your company – especially in the role the person is applying for -- and then evaluate how the candidate responds.

Campagna gives the example of the question, “Please demonstrate how you would tell a high-profile customer that their project was not going to make a deadline.” Answers that are straightforward and clear show the candidate can communicate; an answer that hedges or makes excuses might be an indication that the candidate shies away from difficult discussions.