I have screened hundreds of job candidates for various positions over the years, and one thing I've learned is that basic communication skills are becoming extinct. This is especially true among the younger generation.
Maybe it has something to do with all of the electronic exchanges that are replacing face-to-face communications - the text messages, the instant messages, the hastily written emails full of typos and esoteric acronyms.
It's one thing to communicate with your friends this way. I was young once, so I get that. But when it comes to job hunting, applications and interviews, you need to learn how to communicate effectively in a business manner. It can make the difference between a job offer and a “thanks anyway" letter.
Four Chances to Make It or Break It
In most interview scenarios, you will have three or four opportunities to demonstrate your communication skills (or lack of them):
1 - When you respond to the initial job posting.
2 - When you receive a prescreening phone call.
3 - During the actual in-person interview.
4 - When you follow up to thank the interviewer afterward.
Here are some ways to impress employers with your communication skills at each step of the way. If you do these things, you will stand out right from the start. Trust me on this. A little effort goes a long way.
1. When Responding to the Job Posting
This is your first opportunity to make a good impression, so don't blow it. As an employer, one of the things that annoyed me the most was when applicants took a “shotgun blast" approach to this process, by sending a standard resume to hundreds of employers without tailoring their correspondence to the job posting.
When hiring for a graphic design position, I once received a resume that listed no design experience whatsoever. Nor did it have a personalized message in the body of the email. The email simply said: “See resume attached. " My initial response was, “Are you serious? You can't be bothered to write a note along with your resume, but you want me to consider you for the job?"
In fact, I would estimate that 80% of the emails I've received in response to job postings over the years have lacked a personalized message from the sender. So if you take the time to write such a message in the body of your email (the modern equivalent of the cover letter), you will outshine 80% of the competition right from the start.
2. During Pre-screening Calls
If you receive a phone call from a potential employer who wants you to come in for an interview, you are already being interviewed. You may not realize it, but that's what is taking place. I have done this many times myself. Calling a person on the phone is a great way to evaluate their communication skills, especially when they are not expecting the phone call.
So while you're in the job-hunting process, it's a good idea to keep a copy of your resume near the phone (or at least a few talking points). And if you have a humorous message on your voice mail, you may want to replace it with a straight message until you land a job.
3. During the Actual Interview
Entire books have been written about how to conduct yourself in an interview, so I won't go into this much. I want to focus on the often forgotten points of communication, like items 1, 2 and 4 on this list. So let me offer this small but powerful bit of advice on the subject. Don't try to be something you're not just to get a job. The truth will come out eventually. You want to be hired for the person you truly are, not the person you're pretending to be.
As for communication tips, just be polite, professional and straightforward. But don't be afraid to show your personality at the same time (in business-appropriate ways).
4. When Following Up Afterward
You should always follow up after a job interview, even if it's a quick email to say thanks for the opportunity. When I was job hunting in Austin years ago, I would keep pre-written thank you notes with me. After an interview, I would fill in the name of the interviewer and drop it into the nearest mailbox. When I got home, I would send a thank-you email as well.
I've been on the other side of this as well, and I can tell you that it makes a good impression. This is something else that most people forget to do. So it's another great opportunity for you to set yourself apart.
The Bottom Line
Here's what you should keep in mind when job hunting. When it gets down to the final handful of candidates, their skills will be similar. By that point in the screening process, any one of the candidates could probably handle the job. So an employer is looking for other things that set the candidates apart. If you do a better job communicating with the person who is hiring, you will set yourself apart and probably get a job offer as a result.
Brandon Cornett is a professional business writer who creates tutorials on job hunting, Internet communications, online degree programs and more. Learn more or contact the author by visiting http://www.onlineequalizer.com/degrees