Published job descriptions are full of ambiguous skill demands. Demonstrated leadership skills…Flexible, powerful intellect…Creative and curious…Great team player.
Those traits are hard to prove; and hard to disprove unless you were a total slug in college.
Strong communication skills?
But one of the things most companies are looking for is someone with strong communication skills. That should be the easiest to prove of all of them shouldn’t it?
I mean, communication is about talking. I talk all the time. I’ll just talk in the interview and they’ll know that I’m not shy.
Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. So what is it that firms are looking for when they want someone with strong communication skills? It covers many areas.
One-on-One Communication Skills
When you talk to me, do you make eye contact? If not, I’m going to wonder if you lack self-confidence. Or maybe you’re just not telling me the truth. It’s possible that you could look me in the eye and lie but it’s less likely.
How do you choose your words? Do you take a moment to prepare a concise statement? Or do you just start regurgitating every fact you know regardless of its relevance. When you tell a story, do you have a point? Or does it meander along directionless like a Sunday drive in the country?
Is every third word “like” or “you know” or “um”? Do you start your sentences with “dude”? You may not be applying for a job in the British House of Lords, but there are still some formalities to observe. If you talk to someone who decides your professional fate like she’s your rugby teammate, how should she assume you’ll talk to a paying client?
Do you dominate the conversation, or do you let the other person speak? Trying too hard to show what a great communicator you are may just prove the opposite.
The interviewer will pay equal attention to your tone. Are you positive and enthusiastic or just a little too casual and negative? She honestly doesn’t care how cool you are. If you focus more on the things you don’t like, don’t have patience for and are annoyed by, the interviewer will very likely develop the same feelings about you.
Group Communication Skills
Are you comfortable talking to a group of people? Or do you get nervous and shaky, forgetting what you said? A consulting interview may include a panel of people asking you questions. This is not an effort to intimidate you. Instead, they want to see if you’re comfortable in a situation you may frequently face at a client site.
The interview may include having you go to the white board to draw out a process or some other impromptu presentation to test whether you have the confidence to speak up in a meeting or to facilitate it.
In addition to confidence, they’ll want to see if you can take charge, challenge them with good questions and facilitate the group to a resolution. Or do you simply follow their lead and write whatever they tell you regardless of whether it makes sense or not.
Written Communication Skills
As a new consultant, your opportunities to speak in or facilitate a lot of important meetings may be limited. Most of the communicating you will likely be doing will be in written form. You may be expected to document business requirements or current and future state processes. There may not be a formal writing test, but the firm will want to know if you can write a complete sentence.
They will review every form of writing you submit to them. Did your resume have a typo? No matter how good you look otherwise, a typo on your resume is a likely death sentence to an offer.
When you sent the interviewer an email thanking him for his time (you did send one right?), did you proofread it for typos, grammatical errors and just to make sure it made sense? Did you take the time to customize it to include relevant topics you discussed in your conversation or did you use the same form you used for every interviewer?
Did you try to be cute by throwing in an LOL? If so, they may wonder WTF.
The Bottom Line
The main objective of the whole “strong communication skills” test is: are you interesting? In any company that you interview with, the question running through the interviewer’s mind is ‘Would I want to work with this person?’ In consulting, the additional question they ask is ‘Could I put this person at a client site and have confidence that they will be able to interact with the client?’
The common denominator from a communication perspective is whether you’re interesting. I want to know if you can talk enough about yourself to make me interested in you, while including others enough to make them want to share with you. If you speak and write clearly so that it’s not an effort to decipher your message, but a pleasure to interact with you, my answer may be ‘yes’.
As long as you can show me your ‘flexible, powerful intellect’.
If you would like to learn more about working in consulting, get Lew’s book Consulting 101: 101 Tips for Success in Consulting at Amazon.com
As always, I welcome your comments and criticisms.