Verbal communication tops the list of skills employers look for in recent college grads. In fact, a recent survey from the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) reports that verbal communication outranks both the ability to work in a team and the ability to make decisions and solve problems – the two skills that tied for first place in last year’s version of the survey.
Why is verbal communication so valuable to today’s employers? Communication is directly linked to productivity, making it quite possibly one of the most critical skills for any candidate to have.
Imagine you’re in a sales role. Effective communication is going to play a crucial part in winning and maintaining accounts. If you’re an internal management candidate, your ability to communicate goals to your team and your ability to effectively communicate with cross-functional teams are tied to your success.
Think about it this way: If you have to keep explaining things to people due to poor communication skills, productivity will ultimately go down. Your team may have started attacking a project one way, only to be forced to switch gears once the communication is finally understood. The project will certainly get done, but was the completion of the project delayed? Absolutely, and in today’s 24/7 work environment, the phrase “time is money” rings truer than it has at any previous point in business history.
Poor communication skills can also cause a lot of frustration on both sides. Managers may end up seeing their teams as lazy or not capable of taking direction, and team members may start to feel resentful of being told they didn’t understand the objectives and now have to spend valuable time correcting the project. Over time, these seemingly small things can cause talented people to leave jobs they’d otherwise have loved to stay in.
Communication Skills: The Packaging That Makes the Difference
But back to our job seekers. Think of how you buy products. You read reviews and you look at the price. Things that tip the scales, however, are usually things like great packaging. You may not end up buying the product, but you certainly can’t help being drawn to something ingeniously packaged.
Don’t ever forget that you, the job seeker, are the product. Someone is going to look at your reviews in the form of references – and, of course, the price has to be right. But your packaging might just be the thing that gets you hired over another equally qualified candidate.
High-level verbal communication undeniably elevates you in the eyes of potential employers. For example, if you share the same idea as another candidate, but you do so much more effectively and powerfully, you’ll come out on top.
What’s Holding Your Communication Skills Back?
The biggest factor that can damage the communication skills of an otherwise well-spoken candidate is nerves. Practicing is the best way to overcome this particular obstacle. Most college career centers will have someone who can help with mock interviews. Use that resource for all it’s worth.
The second biggest factor is unpreparedness – otherwise known as “winging it.” The more in command you are of your content, the more effectively you’ll be able to communicate. Unfortunately, candidates make the mistake of not preparing for interviews because, well, it’s their experience. How could they not be in command of answers to questions about their own work history?
However, when faced with specific questions that really go deep, it’s pretty easy to get flustered if you haven’t really thought about how to communicate your experience in very detailed terms.
Interestingly enough, realizing that you’ve underprepared in an interview tends to make you nervous. So even if you aren’t naturally nervous, a lack of preparation may have you sweating in your seat.
The interview isn’t the place for you to test out material. It’s not open mic night. Practice as much as you can with a few different people. That is the best way to build a consensus regarding your answers and what you can do to fix them.
If you really struggle with nerves or putting together your thoughts, try a public speaking class. Many classes also tackle persuasive speech, so you’ll not only be comfortable talking in the interview, but you also just might convince the interviewer to hire you. The benefits will stay with you forever.
Michele Mavi is Atrium Staffing‘s resident career expert.