Communication Skills for Career Success
Ask an employer from any sector what they look for in new recruits and it’s not long before that broadly defined powerhouse of a soft skill – communication – springs to mind. Not surprising, really. Effective communication means a potential hire has the interpersonal and persuasion skills to explain ideas within their team, to execute plans with stakeholders and customers, and to build worthwhile relationships with wider professional networks.
Susan Cain assures us that ‘there’s zero correlation between the gift of gab and good ideas’ (Quiet, p.5). Nevertheless, when I was at the beginning of my career, talk of communication skills as a key competency on a job description concerned me that, as a quiet person, what they were really looking for was a naturally outspoken person, an extravert.
But there was no need for me to despair or assume that employers were looking for their next Chatty Cathy! Through my own experience, and through working with a wide range of employers, I’ve uncovered how job seekers who are a little more shy can showcase their abilities during the application and interview process. My 5 top tips below will explore what I believe recruiters are really looking for when they identify ‘communication’ as key criteria.
1. Context is Key
Effective communication means different things in different job roles. For telesales jobs it’s quite common for recruiters to require someone who can rapidly build rapport and sell a product to a busy and potentially hostile stranger on the other end of the phone. But in other roles, for example as a Project Coordinator in a broad range of public service or commercial settings, communication skills are often required in the form of much subtler influencing abilities. A Project Coordinator needs to be a deep and forward thinker. They need to devise a plan of how to inform or persuade team members or stakeholders at different stages of a project, thoughtfully considering the best channels of communication (formal/informal, face-to-face/email etc.).
Before an interview I find it useful to reflect on an experience where I was required to use my communication and influencing skills to complete a task or project successfully. I ask myself: how did I decide what channel of communication to use for the person or people I were addressing, and for the message I was sending? I go prepared to provide the interviewer with evidence of when I used effective communication, including details of the specific impact that it had. I tend to draw upon examples from work, and examples from volunteering experience, education or extra-curricular activities are equally valid.
2. Showcase Writing Ability
Communication skills don’t just cover verbal interactions but also written communication. This is great for me as I express myself best through my writing. It gives me a chance to make a really strong first impression. I see my CV, a cover letter or application form as marketing documents: things that I write in order to show myself in the best light and persuade the recruiter that they should hire me for the role. Reading these documents is perhaps the closest the employer will get during the recruitment process to see how I would handle tasks like writing a business proposal or sending an email to market their organisation.
In order to showcase my written communication skills, I always check my CV, cover letter and application form thoroughly (ideally enlisting a second pair of eyes) before sending it off. I try to focus on answering the questions that are actually being asked on the application form, as well as answering them in a concise and straightforward way, as recruiters often don’t spend long reviewing an application. When writing a cover letter, I follow a clear structure, explaining my motivation for the job/sector; my motivation for working at this specific organisation; and how my skills and experience match what they are looking for (as outlined in the job description).
3. Listening Skills are Vital
When I used to think about effective communication skills in the workplace, I would often focus upon verbal aspects of my communication, such as talking to a colleague or presenting my ideas in a meeting. I didn’t connect the fact that my natural ability to ‘be a good listener’ was just as important as verbal communication for influencing people. So-called ‘active listening’ is a skill that involves carefully hearing what is actually being said by the speaker and being able to reflect back in your own words what has been said in order to check your understanding. Active listening is an important part of showing genuine empathy for the speaker, showing that you haven’t just made hasty assumptions about what the speaker feels or needs. In any role – whether counselling, consultancy or customer service – when active listening doesn’t take place it becomes very difficult to establish rapport with a client or customer and to get them on board.
I aim to use interviews as an opportunity to highlight my effective listening skills. Sometimes recruiters will briefly mention something interesting about the job or organisation at the beginning of the interview. When asked at the end if I have any questions for them, I will show that I had really engaged with what they were saying by responding with something like, “you mentioned… at the beginning of the interview. That sounded really interesting and I would like to hear a bit more about it”. This has led to interviewers commenting that this was, “well remembered”.
4. Virtual Networking Works
Effective communication often includes being able to network or make connections with other professionals outside of your immediate team or organisation. Online tools such as LinkedIn and Twitter always play a huge role in helping me to network in a way that feels both comfortable and effective. For example, after setting up my LinkedIn profile I’ve been able to make connections with people working within the specific sector or organisation that I’m interested in. I’ve been able to chat with people online about the path that they took into their current job, or what they enjoy about working for a particular organisation that I am interested in applying to. I’ve then been able to refer to these unique and personal insights during the application process (either in a cover letter or at interview) to show that I have a good understanding of the organisation that I am applying to, to show that I have been interested enough in the role to do my research, and to show that I am able to make connections with other professionals and network effectively.
5. There’s no ‘I’ in Team…
My last tip is that there’s no ‘I’ in team but there are, however, plenty of introverts in teams. What I mean by this is that it takes all types of communicators – the more outspoken and the more reflective – to make an effective team. They counter-balance and complement each other. Recruiters are looking for a mixture of communication styles to make up their teams.
Before an interview I take the opportunity to reflect on when I used my calm and measured communication style to help get the best out of those around me. I then talk about these experiences when the interviewer asks me about team work or taking initiative. For example, I’ve spoken about a time when my team needed to work under pressure to meet a strict deadline and other members of the team were flapping around, talking a lot, but not establishing a plan. I was able to calm the tone and provide quiet reassurance that, with a swift reshuffle or priorities, we would be able to refocus our activities and get the job done. I think that this approach, particularly in a crisis, is highly valuable to any recruiters.
How could you showcase your own quieter communication skills in your next job interview?
Written by Susanne Stoddart
Speaking your truth is the most powerful tool you have. Our shared stories create connection. They tell us it’s ok to be vulnerable; to talk about our perceived flaws and ask for help when we need it. So we invite people who have felt socially anxious, shy and not good enough to share their stories so you know you’re not alone.