What are communication skills and how do I improve them?
The effective exchange of information is essential in business. Learn what communication skills are and how to demonstrate them throughout the recruitment process: when applying, at interview and when giving presentations.
What are communication skills?
You need communication skills to express yourself in order to impress graduate recruiters, 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. It’s about what you say, how you present yourself, being able to phrase the right questions and knowing when not to speak. Understanding your audience and tailoring what you say is essential to a graduate job hunters' success.
What are the seven C’s of communication?
Simply put, whether it's verbal, written, non-verbal, in a face-to-face situation or otherwise, good communication should abide by these seven principles of communication: clarity, correctness, conciseness, courtesy, concreteness, consideration and completeness.
Excellent communication skills are the foundations of many other employability skills, including:
- leadership and management
- teamworking and relationship-building
- client management
- influencing skills .
How to improve your communication skills
Your aim is to become used to communicating with different audiences and changing your style as appropriate – so while at university seek out any opportunities that require interactions with others. For example:
- Man the phones! There will normally be a few telephone jobs available around campus – most commonly, cold-calling alumni for donations.
- Take up a public-facing or customer service part-time job.
- Volunteer: for example, befriending elderly people or helping children learn will significantly help your communication skills.
- Undertake a communications role for a student society, such as managing the society’s social media feeds.
- Join a communications-based student society, such as debating societies, comedy clubs, acting groups, student newspapers or student radio.
- Write a blog or make videos.
- Don’t avoid giving a presentation as part of your coursework or during a seminar.
- Attend workshops on presentations and assessment days run by your careers service to practise communicating in a recruitment situation.
- Identify confident public speakers – for example, through watching TED Talks – and observe the techniques they use.
Communication skills examples
Graduate employers will assess your written, verbal and non-verbal communication skills during applications and interviews. Here are some examples of communication skills being used during this process:
- the information you present on your CV, covering letter and/or application form
- how you answer interview questions.
- how you answer interview questions specifically about your communication skills
- your performance in written exercises
- your performance in presentations
- how you communicate with others at assessment centres, whether in formal group exercises or via informal social interactions
Different employers will place more importance on different aspects of communication and some might surprise you; researching the role you are applying for thoroughly will give you an idea of which aspect to focus on.
Interview questions about your communication skills
There are so many variations on interview questions for graduates about communication that if we were to provide a list of potential questions it would be endless. However, you are likely to be asked about how you would use your communication skills, or have done, to resolve a problem or facilitate a project. For example:
- Give me an example of when you used good communication skills to help you achieve an objective.
- Give me an example of when you have had to change your communication style for different audiences.
- How would you persuade people around to your way of thinking?
- Tell me about a time when you resolved a disagreement with another team member.
- How would you manage conflict in the workplace?
How to demonstrate your communication skills on your CV, covering letter or application form
If you are applying via a CV and covering letter or are answering an application form question, you are composing a written argument for why an employer should hire you – or at least interview you. Your communication skills will partly be judged by how effectively you make that argument.
This means that you will need to make sure that your CV, covering letter and/or answers to application form question are tailored to the role. That is, you should provide evidence of the skills the employer seeks and, in your covering letter or in answer to an application question about why you are applying, demonstrate that you have researched the role and the employer. The effectiveness of your argument will also be gauged on what information about yourself you choose to include, how much importance you give it and how you express it.
Get a friend or family member to read through your application to check that you have made your points clearly and effectively. Proofread your application properly, too; spelling or grammar mistakes often happen just when you are explaining how great you are at spelling and grammar!
- Get inspiration from our graduate CV template and our section-by-section tips on how to make it your own.
- How to communicate with recruiters: writing tips for graduates.
How to demonstrate your non-verbal face-to-face communication skills
Your ability to communicate well will be one of the most noticeable things about you during the interview and assessment day process – and this includes how you act as well as what you say. So, smile and make eye contact. Shake hands and remember names. Prepare some ‘small talk’ and questions to ask graduate employees and the assessors. Be supportive of any other candidates, as recruiters will want to see that you are able to get on with others.
Communication is as much about listening and responding to others as it is about what you say or write. Concentrate on what others say, show you are listening through verbal or visual signs (nodding or saying ‘mmm’ or similar) and build on what they say. For help with this, Google ‘active listening skills’ or see if your university runs workshops on them.
How to demonstrate your communication skills when answering interview questions
During an interview, remember that it is meant to be a two-way conversation rather than a one-way grilling. Don’t be afraid to ask your own questions and make small talk. Really listen to the question asked and don’t be afraid to ask questions to clarify your understanding. If you need time to think or formulate a clear sentence, sip water or say that you would like some time to think.
How to demonstrate your communication skills in a presentation
If you are asked to give a presentation, your communication skills will be judged by: what you say and how; how you organise and order your points; and the content and creativity of any slides. Pay attention to all three aspects, making sure that your argument is persuasive, your delivery style engaging and your slides are attractive and contain the right amount of information (ie that they summarise or illustrate your points nicely while being easy to read). Practise your presentation in front of an audience as many times as is necessary to ensure a confident delivery.