Whatever your field or experience level might be, your ability to get hired and then to succeed is dependent on excellent communications skills. It's rare to see an advertisement for a job that doesn't include this among the various other requirements.
However difficult it may be to evaluate any of your other skills, employers can easily tell how well you communicate by the way you write your cover letter and résumé, and how you converse during phone or in-person interviews. Spelling or grammatical errors are often "the kiss of death" for otherwise well-qualified candidates. But the requirement for strong communications skills goes well beyond this minimal standard.
Communications can take many different forms: oral, written and nonverbal. You convey facts, concepts, impressions and ideas. Is your mind cluttered or well ordered? Does your body language convey interest or boredom, self-confidence or anxiety? What does the way you dress and groom yourself say about how you see yourself? Employers read much into all these nonverbal cues you give off, knowingly or not.
Hiring authorities key in on these critical areas:
1. Well-ordered reasoning. Does the prose of your cover letter read well? When you answer questions in an interview, do you meander or get to the point directly? Do you present facts in a coherent way that is easy to follow?
2. Strong action verbs and vocabulary usage. Does your résumé read like a job description, with statements beginning with: "Responsible for ..." or do you actually say what you did? Effective communicators begin every bullet point with strong verbs like: built, managed, conveyed, analyzed, delivered, produced, maximized/minimized, etc. Do you use the same words or phrases repeatedly, or do you find new ways to communicate what you're trying to get across?
3. Wasting time. One way to waste yours and other people's time is to consume it by writing and saying the obvious. Don't bother saying what doesn't need to be said. Don't clutter your written documents or speech with things that everyone already knows and which don't add something to an understanding of your qualifications.
Examples: Objective statements or offers to provide references. If an employer is reading your résumé, he or she already understands that your objective it acquiring the job. Likewise, it is obvious that if an employer wants your references, you will provide them when requested. Getting rid of unnecessary words leaves more space on a résumé and time in an interview to convey the things about yourself that will do the most to advance your cause.
4. Interest in the position and company. You can demonstrate this by writing in your cover letter that you have been following the company on LinkedIn, or set up a Google Alert to get all the latest news about it. Then, you can remark on something you've learned about the company's work or mission that appeals to you. When you do your homework about the company before your interview and show what you've learned by the questions you ask, you communicate much about yourself and the way you go about things.
5. Passion. Of course you have to be qualified in terms of education, experience, degrees and licensing. But, chances are that many of your competitors will share much of these in common. More than simply being able to do the job, employers are eager to find candidates who show a passion for the work by their tone of voice and general attitude. When you show that you relish the challenges of a particular job opportunity, you can set yourself apart from and above your competition.
6. Pride in results. Your résumé bullet points should provide examples of the challenges you faced and the results of your actions. And when you speak of these things in your interview and employers see that your work is meaningful to you and that you relish getting strong and positive results, they will gravitate toward you. From an employer's standpoint, a productive worker is important, but one who is engaged and prideful of his or her contributions is invaluable.
7. Follow up. Your actions say much about you and your work style. If, for example, you state in your cover letter that you will call to make contact on a given date, and you fail to do so, you have already proven your unreliability. The same is true if you are asked to provide information of any kind and you tarry or fail to do so. Instead, take the initiative to promptly respond to a phone or in-person interview with a thank-you note, provide references or other documentation. Thereby you demonstrate respect and thoughtfulness, both of which are noted and valued.
8. Listen carefully. At the heart of all effective communication is actively listening to your audience to understand what they want and need to hear. Only this way can you be certain to articulate the right content in an appropriate fashion.
That can mean taking the time to deconstruct a job advertisement to see what the job is really all about before composing your cover letter.
Or, it can mean pausing for a second before responding to an interview question to make sure that the information you are about to provide is on point to the query that has been posed.
It takes much more than claiming to be an effective communicator to convince an employer that you are one.
You will demonstrate that you're an effective communicator when you carefully assess your situation, logically think out what you want to say and then do so clearly and succinctly. You will make the best possible case for yourself, and thereby convince an employer that you represent the ideal answer to their needs.
Arnie Fertig, MPA, is passionate about helping his Jobhuntercoach clients advance their careers by transforming frantic "I'll apply to anything" searches into focused hunts for "great fit" opportunities. He brings to each client the extensive knowledge he gained when working in HR staffing and managing his boutique recruiting firm.
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