At this point, I've conducted thousands of interviews, and if there's one thing I've learnt, it's the vital importance of evaluating interpersonal skills.
This might be a blind spot for us in tech — we inhabit a sphere where the ability to code, to understand systems, to nail down quantitative abilities often shadows other key areas of competency. This is especially the case for engineers like me, whose lives are dominated by logic and idea, often leading to a deficiency in interpersonal skills.
The bias also comes from the fact that these technical skills are so much easier to evaluate than interpersonal ones. A factual question has a clear-cut right or wrong answer. Interpersonal skills, however, are a labyrinth of subtleties, shades of gray, and subjectivity.
But ignoring them is a big and common mistake. Research (1, 2) has consistently confirmed the critical role of interpersonal skills in building strong teams that synergize, as opposed to collections of individuals.
This is even more critical when hiring managers — if engineers navigate the world of software, managers traverse the landscape of 'peopleware.'
Assessing these skills isn't easy. But thankfully, our human intuition is a reliable guide. You can sense it in the subtleties of interaction, the smiles, the humor, the sense of connection.
But if you must have a more concrete formula, one strategy has proven useful: asking about conflicts. How a candidate depicts a conflict offers a window into their emotional intelligence and capacity for empathy. Every conversation has two layers: the content, and the emotional dimension. A skilled individual will navigate both, acknowledging their own emotional state and that of the other person.
To delve deeper, I often ask for the name of the person they had a conflict with. Reaching out to this individual or asking how they would describe the conflict adds another layer to your assessment. This strategy, inspired by Jeff Smart's book "Who?", lets you gauge whether the interviewee can validate the other person's viewpoint.
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