3 Areas Where Your Communication Skills Matter the Most

One story I tell in my workshops is about how a former customer of mine improved communications between two warring departments. He told me that these groups were almost literally at war with each other and just couldn't play well together.

He further explained that he would call members of the groups together and make them talk to each other.

"I also observed their body language and facial expressions," he said. "If I noticed hostility, I'd mention it and tell them I could see their hostility. Did I make them kiss and make up? No. But it almost got to that point."

This story illustrates how communication is crucial in a work environment. It's also crucial while you're in school and during your job search. Basically, you're always on.

If you haven't given thought to your communications, you should consider the following three areas where it's essential to your success.

At School

University is the beginning of the rest of your life, as the cliché goes. Therefore, it's important that you strengthen your verbal and written communication skills. And you don't have to major in communications to do this.

Your Verbal Communications

Take advantage of any opportunities you have to present in front of a group. As scary as it may seem, you will be better prepared for the workforce. Try to ignore your fear and think about this as a challenge instead.

You're not only communicating with your mouth, though; you're also communicating with your body language, facial expressions, and voice intonation. The more animated you are (within reason) the better your message will come across. Some believe that effective communications is at least 90 percent or more physical presentation.

Your Written Communications

When you write expository papers for your classes, put your best effort forth. Be concise, but informative. The working world prefers when ideas presented in writing are as brief as possible.

This includes emails, proposals, marketing literature, whitepapers, etc. I remember a marketing manager saying to me, "Brevity is the key to success." She was right.

You'll learn that when you leave college and enter your job search, your success will depend on your marketing campaign. This will include your written and verbal communications. Don't focus on only one form of communication. Practice it all.

During the Job Search

Networking will be a valuable activity during your job search, and it requires excellent communication skills. It's through networking that you can penetrate the "hidden job market", which is a topic in itself. Your goal is to become known to the people who matter.

Important forms of communication include your ability to articulate your talents and your goals. It's also important to listen to the people with whom you're networking.

Listening is a key component of communications. I've been to networking events where I felt like a sounding board. Don't do that to others.

Once your networking has led you to the decision makers of organizations, it's time to put your written communication skills to use. Write resumes (plural) that speak to the needs of employers. Create a strong online presence with your LinkedIn profile.

The interview will arrive after you've put your efforts into networking and writing strong marketing documents. It's at the interview that you'll have to shine via your answers to the tough questions. You'll have to come across as confident and affable. You'll have to demonstrate your verbal communication skills.

Don't forget about body language and facial expressions. Appear relaxed – but not too relaxed to the point where you're slumping in your chair; smile when appropriate; and maintain eye contact to show you're interested.

At Work

Congratulations, you landed a job! Now, your communication skills will help you in performing well and progressing through the ranks. Your colleagues and supervisors will expect you to be articulate and clear when presenting ideas.

Company meetings are a great example of how important it is to present clear ideas. Let's say you have to report on the social marketing campaign you're working on. The group of 20 people in front of you – including the director of the organization – want to know the specifics of the project.

To your credit, you've come prepared. You walk to the center of the room (don't sit) to deliver your PowerPoint presentation. You flick through each slide, talking about how you'll employ Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn to promote the organization.

Your body language demonstrates confidence, the tone of your voice is upbeat, you smile, and you communicate effectively with your hands. You notice that the director is smiling and nodding while you're talking.

Bringing It All Together

Communication constantly ranks high on employers' lists of essential skills. It's no secret why, given these three areas where communication matters.

How you're graded in school relies on how well you present your projects and how well you write your papers. Your success in the job search depends on your ability to network, write your marketing literature, and ace the interview. Finally, your communication skills will come in handy when you are actually in the workforce, doing your job.

Bob McIntosh, CPRW, is a career trainer who leads more than 15 job search workshops at an urban career center.