I've been contacting candidates' employment references for more than two decades and have lost count of how many otherwise qualified people have been dropped from further consideration for employment, because they couldn't say "boo" to a goose. Why? Because you can be the most qualified person in any occupational field -- from accounting to zoology -- but if you can't effectively communicate what you know to others, you're not worth much to most employers.
After years of reference checking, three essential qualities have emerged that every employer is looking for, regardless of the position to be filled. These qualities are verbal and written communication skills, problem-solving skills and ability to work effectively with others. No matter what the job, employers always want to know about the candidate's communication skills.
With that said, what one thing in life do you suppose people fear most? Death? Getting fired? Prickly heat? Nope. Numerous surveys, opinion polls and interviews prove that the one thing people fear most is public speaking.
I'm frequently called upon to talk to high school, undergraduate and graduate students about the hiring process and how best to prepare for it. Without exception, I come very close to begging students to take public-speaking classes. Reading about giving a speech won't cut it. At every level, just mentioning taking a speech course causes sour expressions to burst forth like dandelions on the lawn in spring, even among MBA students. Nevertheless, there is only one way to get over the fear of standing up and saying what you think, and that's to do it.
I've known people so terrified of standing up in front of a group to make a presentation that the mere anticipation actually made them physically ill. If that's what's required to get over your fear of public speaking, then keep a wastebasket handy and give it a try.
This admonition, by the way, isn't intended for young job seekers alone; it is equally true throughout your career. Courses in public speaking are available everywhere, and it is the wise job seeker who continually keeps his skills well-polished.
Think, if you will, about the occasions when every job seeker is required to speak. How about the job interview? The ability to think on one's feet, organize one's thoughts and articulate them is critical. Hundreds of thousands of jobs require making presentations, addressing groups both up and down the chain of command, running committee meetings, heading up teams, representing the company in different venues, explaining to prospective employers why your product is better than a competitor's -- the list goes on and on.
How well you do at the events mentioned above will become part of your overall job performance record. Communicating effectively is one of the most valuable assets any job seeker can possess in terms of career advancement and long-term career success. Not having it, on the other hand, can be like an anchor dragging an otherwise competent individual into a morass of career mediocrity.
So what's the moral? Do whatever it takes to become an effective speaker. It's definitely worth the effort.
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