1. Understand the importance of developing effective communication skills.
2. Learn the difference between technical skills and soft skills.
If there’s a shorthand reason for why you need communication skills to complement your technical skills, it’s that you don’t get paid without them. You need communication and “soft” skills to get work and keep working so that people continue to want to employ you to apply your core technical skills. A diverse skill set that includes communication is really the key to survival in the modern workforce, and hiring trends bear this out.
In its Employability Skills 2000+, the Conference Board of Canada lists “the skills you need to enter, stay in, and progress” in the 21st century workplace. The first category listed is communication skills, specifically how to:
- Read and understand information presented in a variety of forms (e.g., words, graphs, charts, diagrams)
- Write and speak so others pay attention and understand
- Listen and ask questions to understand and appreciate the points of view of others
- Share information using a range of information and communications technologies (e.g., voice, e-mail, computers)
- Use relevant scientific, technological, and mathematical knowledge and skills to explain or clarify ideas (Conference Board, n.d.a)
Likewise, the non-profit National Association of Colleges and Employers in the US surveys hundreds of employers annually and has found that, in the last several years, they consistently rank the following four skills as most desirable ahead of fifth-ranked technical skills:
- Critical thinking and problem solving
- Professionalism and work ethic
- Oral and written communication (NACE, 2016)
When employers include these interrelated soft skills in job postings, it’s not because they copied everyone else’s job posting, but because they really want to hire people with those skills. From experience, they know that such skills directly contribute to the success of any operation no matter whether you’re in the public or private sector because they help attract and retain customers and client organizations.
Traditional hiring practices filter out applicants who have poor communication skills, starting with a “written exam”—the résumé and cover letter. As documents that represent you in your physical absence, these indicate whether you are detail oriented in how you organize information and whether you can compose proper, grammatically correct sentences and paragraphs. If you pass that test, you are invited to the “oral exam,” where your face-to-face conversational skills are assessed. If you prove that you have strong soft skills in this two-stage filter, especially if you come off as friendly, happy, and easy to work with in the interview, an employer will be more likely to hire you, keep you, and trust you with co-workers and clients.
The latest thinking in human resources (HR), however, is that both of those traditional filters are unreliable. Applicants can fake them. Expensive as it might be, you could get someone else to write your résumé and cover letter for you, or you can just follow a template and replace someone else’s details with your own. Though most job competitions for well-paying jobs will yield exceptionally good and bad résumés and cover letters amidst a tall stack of applications, most tend to look the same because most applicants follow fairly consistent advice about how to put them together. Likewise, you can train for an interview and “fake it to make it” (Cuddy, 2012), then go back to being your less hireable self in the workplace, only to be the first one “let go” when the next office “reorganization” comes down.
Recruiters at the most successful companies such as tech giant Google have looked at the big data on hiring and found that traditional criteria, including GPA and technical-skills test scores in the interview process, are poor predictors of how well a hire will perform and advance. New hires with only core technical skills, even if exceptionally advanced, don’t necessarily become successful employees; in fact, they are the most replaceable in any organization, especially in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) industries (Sena & Zimm, 2017). According to Business Insider, Google’s recruiters took an analytics approach like that portrayed in the 2011 film Moneyball and found that key predictors of success are instead personal traits, especially:
- Adaptability: the curiosity-driven agility to solve problems through independent, on-the-job learning
- Resilience: the “emotional courage” to persevere through challenges
- Diverse background: well-roundedness coming from exposure to multicultural influences and engagement in diverse extracurricular activities including sports
- Friendliness: being a “people person,” happy around others and eager to serve
- Conscientiousness: an inner drive to strive for detail-oriented excellence in completing tasks to a high standard without supervision (Patel, 2017)
- Professional presence: evidence of engaging in professional activities online
- Social and emotional intelligence: according to the CEO of Knack, a Silicon Valley start-up that uses big data and gamification in the hiring process to identify the traits of successful employees, “everything we do, and try to achieve inside organizations, requires interactions with others”; no matter what your profession or “social abilities, being able to intelligently manage the social landscape, intelligently respond to other people, read the social situation and reason with social savviness—this turns out to differentiate between people who do better and people who don’t do as well” (Nisen, 2013).
In other words, the quality of your communication skills in dealing with the various audiences that surround you in your workplace are the best predictors of professional success.
Employers value employees who excel in communication skills rather than just technical skills because, by ensuring better workplace and client relations, they contribute directly to the viability of the organization.
1. Go to the Government of Canada’s Job Bank site and find your chosen profession (i.e., Retail and Wholesale Buyers -6222) via the Explore Careers by Essential Skills page. List the particular document types you will be responsible for communicating within a professional capacity by reading closely through the Reading, Document Use, and Writing drop-downs.
2. Read all the units in Part I: Professional Communications to get a sense of why this course is so vital to your career sense then list your communication strengths and weaknesses. Think about what you hope to get out of this Communications course.
Conference Board of Canada. (n.d.a). Employability skills 2000+. Retrieved from http://www.conferenceboard.ca/Libraries/EDUC_PUBLIC/esp2000.sflb
Conference Board of Canada. (n.d.b). Employability skills toolkit for the self-managing learner (preview). Retrieved from http://www.conferenceboard.ca/Libraries/PUBLIC_PDFS/es_toolkit_preview.sflb
Cuddy, A. (2012). Your body language may shape who you are. TED Talks. Retrieved from https://www.ted.com/talks/amy_cuddy_your_body_language_shapes_who_you_are
Government of Canada. (2017). Explore careers by essential skills. (2017). Retrieved from https://www.jobbank.gc.ca/es_all-eng.do
National Association of Colleges and Employers. (2016, April 20). Employers identify four “must have” career readiness competencies for college graduates. Retrieved from https://www.naceweb.org/career-readiness/competencies/employers-identify-four-must-have-career-readiness-competencies-for-college-graduates/
Nisen, M. (2013, May 6). Moneyball at work: They’ve discovered what really makes a great employee. Business Insider. Retrieved from http://www.businessinsider.com/big-data-in-the-workplace-2013-5
Patel, V. (2017, August 7). Soft skills are the key to finding the most valuable employees. Forbes. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/theyec/2017/08/07/soft-skills-are-the-key-to-finding-the-most-valuable-employees/2/#5604d5c616e7
Sena, P., & Zimm, M. (2017, September 30). Dear tech world, STEMism is hurting us. VentureBeat. Retrieved from https://venturebeat.com/2017/09/30/dear-tech-world-stemism-is-hurting-us/