What employers mean by "good communication skills"

March 12, 2018

Good, excellent, or expert communication skills.

You see some form of this requirement listed in just about every job posting. But what do employers really mean by the term “communication skills”? What are they looking for in employees? The Capella University Career Center shares their thoughts.

Hard skills vs. soft skills

First, let’s compare hard skills to soft skills. At a minimum, most employers are looking for job applicants with certain hard skills—or quantifiable qualifications. This includes credentials like having an appropriate degree, number of years of experience in the field, technical training, or membership in a professional organization. These are things you can list on your resume as stated facts.

To narrow down the mound of applications they receive, HR departments might then look for soft skills—or subjective skill sets like motivation, adaptability, and the crème de la crème soft skill: communication. You could have just as much experience and a similar education as another applicant, but if your communication skills aren’t up to par, that job will slip through your fingers.

So, let’s take a hard look at this soft skill.

Top 7 building blocks of good communication skills

1. Know your audience.

Whether you’re writing an email, presenting at a meeting, collaborating with a member of another team, or speaking with a customer, adapting your message to suit your audience is a key component of good communication. For example, an information technology director needs to be able to “sell” a project to an executive without getting too bogged down by the technical details. At the same time, that director also needs to communicate logistical instructions to the production and development team.

2. Listen. No, really. Listen.

Being a good listener is an essential component of being a good communicator. In conversation, you must resist the temptation to formulate a reply in your head before the speaker is done talking. Instead, spend that time actively listening to them, sending both nonverbal and verbal listening responses. For emails, try not to respond right away. Close the email and reread it later if you can. You will likely pick up more information on the second read and be able to more appropriately respond to the request.

3. Write well and proofread.

Good written communication cannot be underestimated or undervalued in the workplace. When you write professionally, you need to write well. This means check your spelling, use good grammar, and avoid industry jargon. Proofread your work before you send it. This applies to emails, presentations, memos, reports, blogs—really any form of written communication in the workplace.

4. Talk the talk.

Good verbal communication and interpersonal skills are essential for collaborating with others, communicating to your supervisor, and speaking with customers or clients. This means speaking clearly, concisely, and loudly (but not too loud), while building a good rapport with your audience. (See #1.)

5. Present with confidence.

Many professional jobs require you to present in a meeting or at a conference. The key to delivering a presentation is preparation. If you do your research, write, rewrite, and practice your presentation, you’ll be well positioned to nail the delivery. Other presentation skills, like engaging your audience, take time and practice. Many companies offer internal training to improve your presentation skills. Check those out or do a little reading on the Internet for presentation tips and tricks.

6. Get to the point.

Be concise and clear in your communications. If you’re writing an email, put the desired action items for the recipient in the first few lines. Then, use the rest of the email to provide context or background—but not too much! When you’re contributing to a discussion in a meeting, be careful not to ramble on. And make sure what you have to contribute is relevant to the entire group. If it’s not, take it offline.

7. Step away from the keyboard.

Email is such a prominent communication tool in our personal and professional lives. But not everything should be communicated via email. When a topic is complex or sensitive in nature, sometimes it’s best to just pick up the phone or stop by someone’s office. A quick conversation can be much more effective than a series of emails. Connecting personally with your coworkers can also help build rapport and establish trust, which will make collaborating and communicating better going forward.

Good communication begins before you get hired

It all starts with your resume and cover letter. Because communication is a soft skill, you must be able to demonstrate your ability and not just list “proven communication skills” on your resume. The resume and cover letter themselves demonstrate how you communicate.

So write them well. Edit and refine them. Proofread them and use the spelling and grammar check available in most word processing applications. Don’t use the same cover letter for each job application; tailor your letter to each position (audience).

All that takes more time and effort but it will be worth it in the end when you get an invitation for an interview and the first official piece of communication from the employer: your offer letter.

TheCareer Center’s mission is to empower students and alumni to proactively manage their careers and make meaningful, and effective, career decisions.

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