How to assess communication skills during an interview

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Have you ever hired someone who seemed perfect on paper, only to find later that they struggle with clear workplace communication? It's a common hurdle. One way to avoid it is to assess candidates’ communication skills during interviews. 

Unfortunately, this can be challenging for various reasons. For example, traditional interview questions don't always reflect everyday communication demands, and some candidates may excel in interviews but struggle in day-to-day workplace interactions.

This guide can help. We explore practical ways to assess communication skills during interviews. Plus, we discuss some typical pitfalls to avoid. This way, you can be well-equipped to use your interview process to identify candidates with the communication skills your team needs. 

What you need to know about communication skills 

Communication skills are the abilities a person uses to effectively understand, convey, and share information with others. They’re essential to the workplace. Here's a general overview. 

  • Verbal communication involves the words you choose, your tone of voice, and speaking style. It's important for expressing ideas clearly and effectively.

  • Non-verbal communication includes body language, eye contact, facial expressions, and posture – which can reinforce or contradict verbal messages.

  • Listening skills don’t involve just hearing information – but also understanding and interpreting it. Active listening involves engaging with the speaker – for example, through nodding or paraphrasing.

  • Written communication is essential for crafting clear, concise, and error-free written messages in emails, reports, and other documents.

  • Interpersonal skills encompass how you interact with others. They include empathy, respect, and open-mindedness.

Roles where communication skills are particularly important include: 

  • Leadership positions: Managers, team leaders, and executives need strong communication skills to motivate and guide teams while resolving conflicts.

  • Customer service roles: Representatives must effectively listen, respond, and resolve customer issues, often under challenging circumstances.

  • Sales and marketing: Professionals in these areas rely on persuasive and clear communication to promote products or services.

  • Teaching and training: Educators and trainers must convey information in a way that’s accessible and engaging to their audiences.

  • Healthcare professionals: Doctors, nurses, and therapists need excellent communication skills to understand patient needs and provide clear instructions or explanations.

Communication skills enable effective collaboration, problem-solving, and relationship-building across various roles and industries.

How to assess candidates’ communication skills during interviews

Below, we’ll explore the types of questions interviewers can ask, observations to make, and the technology you can use to assess candidates as you’re interviewing them. 

Interview questions you can ask 

Traditional interview questions – like "What are your communication strengths and weaknesses?" – often fail to reveal a candidate's true communication skills. These questions encourage rehearsed responses and don't provide insight into a candidate's ability to navigate real-life communication challenges. 

Two types of questions can help you probe more deeply into candidates’ communication abilities, and you can tailor these to focus on different aspects of communication. 

Behavioral questions

Behavioral interview questions ask candidates about their past experiences. Here are some examples of communication-focused behavioral questions you can ask to get a better understanding of your candidates’ communication abilities: 

  • “Describe a situation where you had to adapt your communication style to suit a particular audience.” This explores the candidate’s communication flexibility and their ability to adjust their approach according to their audience’s needs.

  • “Have you ever had to manage a difficult conversation, like giving negative feedback or handling a conflict? How did you handle it?” This question evaluates the candidate’s handling of sensitive or challenging communication scenarios.

  • “Have you ever had to persuade a team to use an idea they were initially resistant to? How did you convince them?” This seeks to understand the candidate’s persuasive abilities.

  • “How do you ensure effective communication in a remote or virtual team setting?” You can use this question to assess remote workers’ communication abilities.

Situational questions

Situational interview questions focus on hypothetical situations. Here are some examples of situational questions you can ask to assess candidates’ communication skills:

  • “Describe [complex idea]. Pretend you’re describing it to someone unfamiliar with the topic.” This assesses a candidate’s ability to articulate thoughts clearly and adapt their language to the audience.

  • “How would you explain our company’s growth trends using a chart or graph?” This evaluates candidates’ skill in using visual elements to enhance understanding.

  • How would you write an email that [describe the purpose of email here].” This question can help you learn more about a candidate’s approach to email communication.

  • “How would you approach a colleague or client who has misunderstood you?” This explores a candidate's ability to clarify misunderstandings.

Observations you can make 

Assessing candidates' communication skills in interviews involves close observation. Pay attention not only to answers to communication-specific questions – but also to responses to other topics and casual conversation. These observations can provide insights into a candidate’s overall communication proficiency.

  • Observe non-verbal cues: Pay attention to body language, eye contact, and facial expressions. A candidate who maintains appropriate eye contact and has a relaxed posture is likely comfortable with interpersonal communication.

  • Listen to the clarity of responses: Assess how clearly and concisely candidates express their thoughts. Are they able to articulate their ideas effectively without excessive use of filler words or going off-topic?

  • Evaluate listening skills: Ask open-ended questions and notice if they fully understand the question. A good communicator listens actively and may paraphrase your question or ask clarifying questions before responding.

  • Analyze problem-solving responses: Present a scenario relevant to the job and ask how they’d handle it. This evaluates their ability to communicate complex ideas or solutions clearly.

  • Check for empathy and understanding: Inquire about a past conflict or challenge and focus on how they communicated during the situation. Did they show empathy and understanding, or were they overly defensive?

  • Test written communication: If the role requires written skills, include a brief, on-the-spot writing task. This could be summarizing the conversation or writing an email response to a hypothetical situation. You can use this task to check their writing for clarity, tone, and grammar. (You can do something similar for roles requiring visual communication.) 

Software you can use 

You can also use software to simplify the interview process, interview more candidates simultaneously, and better assess candidates’ communication skills. 

One-way video interview software

TestGorilla’s video interview software simplifies your interview process by enabling you to do one-way interviews. You can use these interviews to screen and select candidates for the next round of face-to-face interviews. 

With this software, candidates can record their responses to preset interview questions using a computer or smartphone whenever they have time. Then, you can review their responses at your convenience. This method provides flexibility for both parties. In addition, it’s a great way for you to better understand candidates’ communication skills, as you can see their verbal and non-verbal communication in action.

You can even use custom questions based on your needs, including the interview questions above. This means you can directly assess candidates' role-relevant communication skills.

Communication skills assessments

TestGorilla also offers communication tests you can use to pre-assess candidates before inviting them to face-to-face interviews. These science-backed tests objectively assess candidates' abilities, ensuring you formally interview only those candidates who can prove their skills. This can save you tons of time.

Here are some specific tests you might use:

  • Communication Skills test: Evaluates candidates' clear and professional communication skills, including written and verbal abilities, non-verbal cues, and active listening

  • Communication (Intermediate) test: Assesses candidates’ written, verbal, and interpersonal skills in business settings, as well as their active listening and nonverbal communication skills

  • Verbal Reasoning test: Evaluates candidates' capacity to recognize word relationships and draw accurate conclusions from text, measuring their analytical language skills

You can combine five or fewer of these tests to create custom assessments perfect for your communication needs.

Common mistakes when assessing communication skills during interviews 

Steer clear of these common pitfalls when evaluating your candidates' communication skills.

1. Focusing solely on verbal communication

Some interviewers may overemphasize a candidate's verbal communication during the interview, which can lead to a skewed assessment. While verbal skills are crucial, overlooking active listening, non-verbal cues, and written communication can lead you to hire someone without the communication skills needed for your role. 

This oversight is particularly critical when hiring for roles primarily involving written communication, such as content creation or positions with lots of email communication. In such cases, assessing role-specific communication skills – like writing proficiency – is essential for ensuring a well-rounded evaluation of a candidate's abilities.

2. Lack of behavioral questions

Another mistake is not using behavioral questions that require candidates to provide real-life examples of their communication skills in action. 

Relying on general questions like "Tell me about your communication style" may lead to vague or rehearsed responses. Behavioral questions help candidates demonstrate how they've applied their communication skills in practical situations, providing more accurate insights into their abilities.

3. Relying solely on interviews to assess communication skills

Relying solely on interviews for communication skills assessment is also a mistake. Interviews may not accurately reflect a candidate's true abilities due to various factors, including the following. 

  • Interview anxiety (nerves) can hinder a candidate's natural speaking ability.

  • Interview bias can influence the assessment of communication skills (for example, an interviewer might favor candidates similar to themselves or misjudge candidates based on their speaking style or cultural differences).

  • Some confident, charismatic candidates might perform well in interviews but not possess the communications skills needed for the position. 

This is why pre-assessing communication skills with objective, skills-based tests is crucial. It ensures a more accurate and unbiased evaluation, enhancing the hiring process's effectiveness.

Discover expert communicators with TestGorilla  

Selecting candidates with excellent communication is about finding people who excel in conveying messages, enhancing teamwork, and facilitating effective interactions. Misjudging these abilities can lead to workplace miscommunications and reduced team efficiency.

TestGorilla’s tailored skills tests and interview tools can assist in identifying strong communicators. Try our tests to evaluate candidates' communication skills before face-to-face interviews – ensuring you meet with only the most promising individuals. You can also use our one-way interview feature to pose custom questions, enabling you to observe candidates' verbal and non-verbal communication skills in action.

Want to learn more? Request a live demo, take a product tour, or sign up for a free account.

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