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Professional Communication Skills and Why They Matter

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By Jama Thurman, career services manager at Hodges University

In a 2016 survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), 70 percent of employers reported they are seeking candidates with strong written and verbal communication skills. The only attributes ranking higher than communication are leadership and the ability to work in a team.

Image of a student in an interview.Professional communication skills are crucial to your career success. They start with your resume and cover letter, include the phone and in-person interview, and continue throughout your career in phone calls, emails, reports, presentations and meetings.

Effective communication means sending a message that is correctly received by the receiver. In a job interview, or any business setting, we want to send the message that we are confident, competent and knowledgeable. The message can be sent in many ways, both verbally and nonverbally.

  • Verbal communication encompasses both oral and written communication, and refers to the content of the communication. There have been many studies on the weight of verbal versus nonverbal communication, the most famous study by Dr. Albert Mehrabian in the 1970s. He reported that 93 percent of communication is nonverbal, while only 7 percent is verbal. Your words and content are extremely important, but the “packaging” is often more important. Appearance and format can make you stand out from other candidates or employees.
  • Nonverbal communication includes physical appearance of both you and your documents, including your appearance in a job interview or a meeting, and also, the appearance and format of your written communication. Nonverbal communication also includes your body language, sound, smell and movement. Combined, these factors present a message to the receiver.

As a college student, you are probably very careful to proofread your writing, spelling and grammar for your assignments so you can receive a high grade. Your resume and cover letter are even more important than that big project, in many ways. Your writing is the first communication you have with a prospective employer.

Your resume and cover letter should be well written and convey the message (content) you want the receiver (employer) to hear. However, the positive message will be lost if there are spelling, punctuation and grammar errors, or if the documents are hard to read. Many applicants’ resumes state that they are “detail-oriented,” but also include spelling, capitalization and punctuation errors. You have unlimited time to perfect your resume, and if there are errors, the employer will assume that under pressure of time deadlines, your work will contain even more errors.

Always include a cover letter with your resume to show the employer your writing style and ability. Personalize your cover letter to each organization and job title you are seeking. It is your opportunity to show what you know about the company and how you would be a good fit for the position. writer Beth Braccio Hering suggests job seekers “use the job description and the company information you have gathered as guidelines.” In addition, including examples of your past work and explaining how it relates to what the employer is seeking, as well as why you have chosen this particular career field, are useful ideas for your cover letter.[1]

Once your resume and cover letter make it past the first hurdle, you have an opportunity to show off your verbal and interpersonal communication skills. The first opportunity usually comes in a phone call from the employer. Make sure your voice mail is set up with a professional recorded message. If you answer the phone, answer professionally, stating your full name. Do not eat or drink during phone calls and do not multitask. The employer can hear the shuffling of papers, the clicking of the mouse or typing.

At a job fair, networking meeting or interview, your personal introduction is the first impression. Smile, offer a firm handshake, make eye contact and state your full name. Practice your introductions with professors and other staff members on a daily basis.

Professional communication skills will help you land your dream job, but will also ensure you keep it and move up the career ladder. If you would like to improve your communication skills, take a class, join the Communication Club or find a local Toastmaster’s meeting.

[1] “How to personalize your cover letter … and get the hiring manager’s attention.” December 8, 2010.