Communication: the skill that sustains information flow

The effective exchange of information is essential for a well-run business. Communication is more than what you say, though. For a graduate it's about about learning to listen, understand and deliver words and information that keep things moving.
Communication is really more of a package than an individual skill.

If you think that all graduates have good communication skills, think again. A recent survey by the NUS and the CBI, a leading employers’ organisation, suggested that nearly a fifth of graduate recruiters were not satisfied with graduates’ basic use of English.

You need to be able to express yourself concisely, but you also need to be a good listener and good at asking questions. Communication is really more of a package than an individual skill:

  • Presentation skills are important
  • As is being able to phrase important questions
  • Not saying too much is more important than you might think
  • Understanding your audience and tailoring what you say is particularly important for graduate job hunters

Communication skills examples

Your ability to communicate well will be one of the most noticeable things about you during the application process. This is why getting it right is so important. For example:

  • Your application needs to be well written, easy to understand and tailored to the recruiter in question. Make sure you proofread properly too; ‘Muphry’s law’ states that spelling or grammar mistakes will happen just when you are explaining how great you are at spelling and grammar.
  • At interviews you should be confident, smile and make eye contact. Shake hands and remember names (there are techniques for this). Remember that a lot of communication is non-verbal – this is one of the reasons why most application process involve face-to-face interviews at some point or other.
  • If other tasks are involved, like presentations, or group activities, be aware that your communication skills may still be under assessment. Think about who your audience is and how you will be interacting with them. Ask relevant questions and give honest responses.

If you’re looking to show employers that you have communication skills then the first thing to do is to figure out just which kind they want. Different employers will emphasise different aspects, and some might surprise you.

If you have ever received marks for a presentation then this could be a useful piece of evidence. Another way to show you can communicate is to explain the times when it has been useful to you.

How do I phrase it on a job application?

Do say: ‘This particular situation had arisen and by using these particular communication skills in this way I was able to resolve it.’ – Good communication is often involved in teamwork and problem solving. Demonstrating that you have successfully used communication skills in the real world will be a big boost to this particular part of your application. Having multiple different examples for each skill is a bonus.

Don’t say: ‘I'm a good communicator.’ – Job applications are less about claiming to have a skill and more about proving that you have it. Not giving full answers, or avoiding the point, is going to count against you here even more than it could elsewhere.

How to develop communication skills

Man the phones! There will normally be a few telephone jobs available around campus. This could be anything from cold-calling alumni for donations, to taking phone calls from vulnerable students. Whatever the case, these skills will definitely stand you in good stead. Volunteering is often a good way to develop your communication skills. For example, if you’re befriending elderly people or helping children learn, this will really help your communication skills.

Join a society. Plenty of societies actively encourage communication skills. For example; debating societies, comedy clubs, acting groups or student radio. They might not teach you communication skills, but they are an ideal place to generate examples of your skills. If you sit on society committees or residents’ association councils, and are involved in regular meetings, so much the better.

If you’re trying to develop communication skills there will be plenty of ways to do so as part of work experience, or part-time jobs. Any situation which involves dealing with a tricky customer or actively selling things to potential buyers will help you gain communication skills. Alternative situations include interviewing people, or even convincing employers to take you on for work experience.