Work Strategies

Communication Skills and Your Career

How to talk yourself into – and hopefully not out of – a great job.

Communicate effectively and professionally and dress for success
Communicate effectively and professionally and dress for success

Whether you’re a high school student or an adult who has worked since before the Industrial Revolution, it’s never too early—or too late—to start thinking about your career. And, while it’s important to consider what you want from a job, it’s just as important to think about the other side of the desk: What do employers look for when hiring?

Communication is Critical

A survey conducted by Robert Half International in 1998 reported that 96% of the 1,000 largest employers in the U.S. believe employees must have good communication skills to get ahead. RHI is the world’s leading specialized staffing service and is the parent company of Accountemps ®, OfficeTeam ® and other services that use professional people to fill temporary positions in the workforce.

Communication skills are sometimes a problem for people who have ADHD. One way to improve these skills is by spending time practicing with friends or family. Parents can help their children by asking them to explain or to repeat instructions back to them. Even ordinary conversation with friends is great practice for socialization and verbal ability.

Michele Novotni, Ph.D., suggest that children practice conversation skills in a very small group first (2-3 people) and gradually expand the size of the group. Children can learn to practice reflective listening skills by asking questions related to what someone was saying.

These same abilities are also important for adults. Novotni notes several problems that are common among adults with ADHD. These include talking too much, talking too fast, going off track, not paying attention, and impulsively blurting out words that would be much better left unsaid. You can benefit yourself and your career by learning to control these problems. Novotni’s book, What Does Everybody Else Know that I Don’t? Social skills help for adults with AD/HD , is an excellent resource for learning the social skills that are so important to your career and other areas of your life.

Novotni recommends that when it comes to talking, too little is better than too much. Knowing when to quit is good advice, whether you’re talking, drinking or eating chocolate.

Learning to look for nonverbal signs that a conversation is over is another important skill. Don’t overstay your welcome. If someone says, “I really have to take this call,” and you didn’t even hear the phone ring, that’s a pretty good clue that they don’t want to talk any more.

If you lose track of a conversation, or if you are unclear on what has been said, ask for more detail or an explanation. Say “I’m sorry, could you repeat that?” or “Could you please explain that for me?”

What Else Do Employers Want?

Research from a project at Johns Hopkins University shows that good communication skills mean more than just being able to speak well. The SCANS 2000 Center is comprised of an interdisciplinary research group at the Johns Hopkins University Institute for Policy Studies (IPS). According to SCANS, employers want to hire individuals who can work on teams, teach others, serve customers, lead, negotiate, and work well with people from culturally diverse background.

The Colorado Department of Education, like many other states, has developed a list of workplace competencies for students. Communication skills, defined as “the ability to receive and relay information clearly and effectively” is at the top of the list. These skills include:

  • listening – receives, attends to, understands and responds to verbal and nonverbal messages
  • speaking – clearly organizes and effectively presents ideas orally
  • reading – locates, understands, and interprets written information in prose and documents to perform tasks
  • writing – organizes and effectively presents ideas and information in writing
  • interpreting – delineates and analyzes oral and written information and synthesizes information into a conclusion
  • negotiating – works toward agreement while maintaining position
  • persuading – communicates ideas to justify position, overcome resistance, and convince others

How Do I Do This?

  • Medications help. Your medications may help you stay focused, but they can’t make you an interesting conversationalist over night. Still, proper medication will allow you to control the impulsivity and lack of focus that tend to create problems with communication.
  • Hire a Coach A coach can help you learn what is appropriate, how to present ideas and how to better interact with others.
  • Cues from a friend If you’re in a meeting or other situation where it is appropriate for a friend to be in the same conversation, ask him or her to give you clues if the topic gets off track or the conversation has run its course.
  • Become aware of your communication style. You can video tape a conversation with a friend (get their permission first) to see how you interact with others. What you see may surprise you! Later, when you’re in a conversation, remember those images. Don’t just watch yourself – learn to look for signals that the other person is ready to change subjects or end the conversation.

Improved communication skills not only open up better employment opportunities. Mastering the art of polite conversation helps in all areas of social interaction—jobs, relationships, education… you name it. Communication is the key.

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