How to Leverage Verbal Communication Skills for Career Readiness
Don’t feel like reading? Listen here!
Verbal communication—communicating through written or spoken words—is a critical workplace skill. Each industry or job setting involves varying demands for oral and written communication. Verbal communication is the oil keeping the machine of the workplace running smoothly.
Most employers in the United States admit they repeatedly encounter job seekers with poor communication skills or who simply lack career readiness. What are verbal communication skills, and why does owning such skills matter to employers? How can job seekers improve their communication to ensure they are truly career ready?
Verbal Communication Skills: Why They Matter at Work
The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) surveys employers hiring college students and recent graduates every year. Employers are asked which skills and competencies they most heavily consider when evaluating candidates. Guess which skill has ranked in the top three for 20 years?
Yep—communication. Being skilled in communication means the ability to:
- Speak and write clearly, competently, and concisely
- Write a persuasive sales document (like a resume or cover letter)
- Listen well
- Discern when to speak and when to listen
- Use body language appropriately
These are all core elements of competent communication. Competent communication is communication that is both effective and appropriate.
In fact, most instances of conflict in the workplace can be tied to communication errors. Someone said something out of line. Someone did not communicate clearly.
Or perhaps someone communicated very effectively but in such an inappropriate manner that people are filing lawsuits or terminating business contracts.
Did you know 86% of employees and executives cite ineffective communication as a primary cause for failures in the workplace? Miscommunication or ineffective communication costs small companies an average of $420,000 each year in the United States, and it costs large companies about $62 million annually.
These are big numbers. This is a big problem.
What’s the solution?
Building Stronger Verbal Communication Skills
The way to be part of the solution to the communications problems in today’s workplace is to build your communication skills. You’ll be more productive at work and able to collaborate more easily. You’ll also be more likely to get hired.
Employers are scrounging for talented candidates who not only possess technical skills but who can also communicate effectively and concisely. The best way to set yourself apart in today’s workforce is by exemplifying strong communication skills.
Pursue Training or Coaching Opportunities
The good news if you lack strong verbal communication skills? There are endless resources available to you for training, coaching, and growing. You can also find many free resources online—but proceed with caution and consider the source.
For college graduates, check your universities’ career services and alumni services programs. You may have access to some free services.
Moreover, the world is full of communications experts, career coaches, and soft skills trainers, many of whom offer online courses. None of us wants to believe we need to pay someone else to help us communicate in writing or orally. But we might!
Don’t be afraid to invest in your growth and development now. You may save yourself time, hassle, and workplace conflict in the long run if you build better verbal communication skills.
You’ll also increase your odds of landing a great job because employers will recognize your communication strengths during hiring and onboarding. Every interaction with a potential employer provides a chance for them to evaluate your communication skills. Make sure your skills shine through your resume and cover letter, phone conversations, and responses to interview questions.
Practice Communication: Both Written and Verbal
If you lack strong written communication skills and don’t feel you can clearly convey your thoughts or feelings in writing, write more often. Practice really does make perfect.
Effective writing means being able to communicate your thoughts on paper, both clearly and concisely. If you find it tough to stay on topic and write endlessly about your thoughts and feelings, practice giving yourself a limit. Pick a topic and begin with a one-page limit, and practice often!
If you don’t feel confident that your cover letters convey your skills and passion for the jobs you apply for, write new cover letters every time you apply for a job and compare your drafts to examples online.
It’s really that simple. Even without training or coaching, practicing your written and oral communication skills will help you improve.
The main reasons for this? Comfortability and confidence.
No one writes confidently who rarely writes. And no one speaks confidently and clearly who rarely gives speeches, lectures, or oral responses to questions.
If you’re preparing for a job interview, practice. Sit down in front of a mirror and respond—aloud—to common interview questions.
Record yourself responding to interview questions while you clean the house or perform other daily tasks. Ask a friend to pretend to interview you.
There are endless ways you can practice. What matters is that you do practice and seek objective feedback from experts.
Put Your Devices Down
Channel lean communication is the saboteur of verbal communication in our society.
Stay with me if you don’t even know what “channel lean” is.
Channel lean communication is text-only communication. Messages. Texts. Email. Letters.
When we remove the human element from communication, our words fall flat, are misinterpreted, or alienate us from others.
But when we incorporate channel-rich elements (voice tone, inflection, facial expressions, non-verbal communication, volume), we increase the odds that our words will stick, that we’ll be heard and understood and that we will be clear and concise. We decrease the chances of igniting confusion and conflict.
For example, if you’re communicating about an upcoming interview with a potential employer via text or email, your words alone (channel-lean) can be widely misinterpreted. If the employer leaves you a voice message asking if 1 p.m. tomorrow is a good time for your next interview, and you text or email back, “That’s fine,” your response may be interpreted as cold, ungrateful, or standoffish.
But if you call the recruiter back and thank her for the opportunity to interview, she will not only perceive you as grateful, but she’ll hear the enthusiasm in your voice, and you’ll also have the chance to ask follow-up questions. Simply put, channel-rich communication ups your odds for making a good impression and decreases the likelihood of miscommunication.
And as a job seeker, if you spend less time relying on text-only communication, you’ll really grow your speaking and listening skills. So put down your phone. Log out of devices, and log into face-to-face interactions.
Ask for Feedback and Help
If you’ve sought communication training or coaching and have been practicing but still feel uncertain, find an expert who can help. There’s nothing wrong with asking your mentor, instructor, or career services contact to review your cover letter and give you feedback on interview responses.
Keep in mind, though, that unless you are paying that expert, you can’t expect quick responses or detailed feedback. Most professionals want to mentor and help entry-level employees and recent graduates. But they may not have unlimited time to pour into you. Having a group of four or five experts and mentors you can rely on may be helpful and keep those people from feeling drained by excessive requests.
The Benefits of Stronger Verbal Communication Skills
You need a solid foundation of verbal communication skills—both written and oral—to succeed in any career field or industry. Many people make it to the top of organizations with very poor communication skills. This may give you the impression that you don’t need to develop your skills. Why work at something that isn’t necessary?
But I promise that if you watch those executives who lack strong communication skills long enough, you’ll see the problems surrounding them—constant miscommunication, workplace morale issues, employer branding concerns, and more.
Take time in the early years of your career journey to learn to speak and write clearly, concisely, and effectively, and you’ll save yourself stress, time, and even income down the road.
You’ll more easily secure job offers and feel confident as you navigate the hiring process. You will build better workplace relationships, collaborate on projects more naturally and smoothly, and find yourself involved in significantly fewer workplace conflicts.
Best of all, you’ll find greater career fulfillment because you will build stronger workplace relationships and rapport with those you encounter along the way.
Be sure to check out other Lensa articles on communication in the workplace and in your job search.