Archive for December, 2016

The Sponge: Soft-Skill Savvy

By Conor Lynch

Sometimes, you need more than results. As human beings, we are creatures who enjoy and thrive off of social interactions. In today’s modern business world, we need “soft skills.” Whereas hard skills show a more typical measure of job performance, sales figures for example, soft skills exemplify your ability to connect with the humans around you.

Having tangible soft skills means understanding four communication skills. Four key communication skills are listening, thinking, nonverbal responding, and flexible speaking. Understanding the interaction of the four skills when creating meaningful conversation turns you into a sponge. In this metaphor, a sponge takes in limitless information, squeezes out everything unnecessary, leaves “bubbles” behind, and shows flexibility.

Active Listening

smiley_face_sponge_shapeListening is not the same as hearing: a common misconception. Listening is understanding what you’re being told and communicating to the person talking that you’re hearing. When in a meeting, typically one person leads the discussion. We’ve all been in that position, taking a moment to look around when speaking and realizing that most people in the room fail to pay attention to a word you are saying. Understanding proper active listening will lead to better conversations within a business environment. To improve my ability in listening, I’ve made it my goal to immediately write down as many details from a conversation as I can; the more I write the better I listen. Following my writings is an easy way to track progress towards a goal. Step one in becoming a sponge is absorbing as much information as possible.

Critical Thinking

Now that you have begun listening to provided information, next think critically about what the information means to you. Generally, information is passed for a reason. Figure out what value that information has to you. Does it impact your company? Do you need to change the way you do your job? While these questions may seem big, you may find the answers in minor adjustments to your normal business routine. Sometimes a small change leads to monumental improvement. To improve this skill, I’ve built upon my note taking in the listening section; I try to identify the key points of that conversation that I’ve written about and see what conclusions I can draw from the information. For example, I’ve found after listening to a class lecture, the best way to improve retention is to think about everything discussed to get to the key points. Step two in becoming a sponge is to squeeze out all the unnecessary information.

Nonverbal Responses

How many times have we been looking around the room giving a speech and gotten the impression that everyone else would rather be anywhere else but here? We’ve all been there. For everyone involved, we must ensure that our body language is engaging to those who are speaking. Some options for body language include sitting up straight, providing visual feedback, showing interest, and maintaining an open body posture. These are common ways that businesspeople try to communicate that they are engaged and receptive to what is being discussed. To improve this skill, I’m working on actively thinking about my posture. By keeping that thought active in my mind, I hope that eventually it will become a habit and automatic, rather than forced and considered. When I gave a presentation last month, I noticed a person in the back of the room who would smile at me whenever I looked that person’s way, indicating interest and listening skills. From my perspective, as the presenter, that listening provides encouragement that leads to a better job presenting. The third step in becoming a sponge is to leave “bubbles”–the memory of your nonverbal interaction.

Flexible Speaking

Many factors go into being a good communicator, including what most people think of: understanding how and when to speak. Nothing is more important in conversation than understanding the context. In addition, understanding the effects of breathing, vocal volume, and tone can greatly enhance the value of your conversations for both you and those that you are conversing with. Mastering these concepts makes it easier to create emphasis and clarity within a conversation. To work on my speaking ability, I’m focusing on my inflection and practicing in my spare time to give myself a better ability to portray multiple messages. Perhaps the leading example of a great speaker in recent years is President Obama. He has shown diversity in his speaking tone over the past few years: confident and bold when triumphant, stern and rigid when necessary, and tender and delicate when dealing with tragedy. Just watching a few of his famous speeches of over the years, I see why he’s one of the best orators of our time. To complete the process of becoming a soft-skill sponge, be flexible. Just like a sponge can squeeze its way into any nook or cranny, your speaking ability should be able to respond effectively to any situation and use the tone necessary to convey your message.

In today’s business world, results are not just about the numbers and goals; success is about how effectively you communicate and understand those around you. Improving your soft skills can majorly impact your future in the business world. Think about becoming a sponge: absorb information, squeeze everything unnecessary out, leave behind positive interactions, and be flexible enough to perform any communication effectively. If all four of those skills come to a sponge without any trouble, with practice, anyone else can acquire them too.

December 7, 2016 at 5:29 pm Leave a comment

Making Your Resume Stand Out: Tips for College Students

By Brian Schmid

Resumes intimidate many college students. No single instruction or format exists for a perfect resume, and effective resumes don’t all look the same. A clean, professional resume can earn a candidate in the middle of the pack an interview, and a bad one can stop even the most competitive individual’s job search dead in its tracks.

My resume from high school almost embarrasses me – not because of the information but because of way I structured it. My unprofessional resume probably cost me early internship and work opportunities, and my current resume looks almost unrecognizable compared to my high school resume.

I’d like to share three tips I’ve picked up to create a strong resume and set yourself apart from the crowd: format with a message in mind, build better bullets, and tailor your experience.

brian

Format with a Message in Mind

The vast majority of my interviews have started with the same question: “Walk me through your resume.” While having a clear and concise answer to this question is vital, you can really set yourself apart by formatting your resume with this question in mind.

Place the most important section at the top of the resume. For most college students recruiting for internships or full-time positions, the top should be education followed by work experience.

Order gets a little grayer after education and work experience. I have a section on leadership, a section on extracurricular activities, and a short section on relevant skills. However, each person’s resume will be different depending on their experiences and things they’d like to emphasize. Academics may have a list of their published works, while independent consultants may have names of companies they’ve assisted.

Highlight key points in your work experience and extracurricular activities that will send a cohesive message. If you’re looking for a position in auditing and you’ve served as a treasurer or financial manager in multiple organizations, then highlight that experience every time it occurred. It reinforces your qualifications to the recruiter as he or she skims your resume. I’ll cover the challenge of finding the best way to highlight your work experience next.

Build Better Bullets

Bullet points comprise the majority of space on a resume, so you should pay close attention to best practices when creating yours. Here’s an example of the difference good bullet points can make:

Bad

  • Employee of the month (2x)

Good

  • Recognized twice as a STAR employee – top 5% of sales force

See the difference? The second bullet point is significantly more clear. Not only does it show that you were recognized twice for performance, it lays out the exact requirements you achieved. In addition, it starts off with a verb, making the recognition more active and action-oriented. Making every bullet point action-oriented will make the list parallel.

Bullet points should always be as specific as possible, preferably utilizing hard numbers or percentages to denote increases or decreases. I generally use three bullet points per position or job, but no hard and fast rule exists – just make sure that no one position has too many bullet points, or it will look awkward on the page.

Tailor Your Experience

Tailoring your experience is extremely important. Any job or extracurricular position has many facets, and even more ways in which you can describe those discrete parts of your experience. Therefore, you should never apply to a new position with the same resume. Go through your resume with a fine-tooth comb and adjust your wording, experience, or bullet points to the position you’re applying for. For instance, if you completed an internship at the finance department in a global logistics form, another logistics firm would care deeply about your logistics experience, while an investment bank would care more about your financial modeling experience. You can tailor and target your resume towards each industry and position. For instance, let’s look at structuring a bullet point differently for consulting versus investment banking

Consulting

  • Created recommendations that improved overall kitchen throughput by 15%

Investment Banking

  • Created a dynamic Excel model that tracked all ingredients by date and type

See the difference? Both bullet points are about an individual creating a program that tracks ingredients in a restaurant, but the consulting bullet focuses on what you did with the data, while the investment banking bullet focuses on how you generated the data.

I recommend creating a master resume listing all of your experience, skills, awards, and education and adding to it over time. This list will probably be many pages long. When it comes time to apply for a position, you can use this master copy as a reference and effectively leverage your experience and resume to get an interview.

Creating a resume can be an intimidating part of the recruiting process, but attention to detail and effort in this process will pay dividends in the long run. Remember, if you format with a message in mind, create action-oriented bullets, and tailor your resume to the position, your resume will be heading towards the head of the pack.

For more excellent tips on resume creation and interview preparation, check out some of our other articles in the Job-Search Communication category.

December 7, 2016 at 4:26 pm Leave a comment

Optimizing Communication in the Workplace: A Guide for Young Professionals

By Aaron Arvizu-Arguelles

Don’t text and drive. Keep your cellphone screen off at the movie theater. Apply silent mode to your cellphone when listening to a presentation. Don’t speak too loudly at church. Throughout your life, you have learned proper communication etiquette that allows you to have functioning social and personal relationships. Now, as you leave the comfort of your university’s zip code and enter the workforce, you must have a firm grasp of effective communication in the workplace. This guide presents a theory, its practice, and importance.

Strategizing early and often will lead to improvement

If you do play or have ever played sports, you probably had a coach who taught you the fundamentals in order for you to get acquainted with the activity. This coach or mentor, however, was not ubiquitous during all practices and games. His or her aim
was to get you to understand a particular process so that you could perform it on your own and self-improve based on your execution. This idea of learning, iterating, and improving is what drives the habit of continually refining communication skills ppvin the workplace. Allow me to tell you a story – In ninth grade, after an altercation with a student, I had the opportunity of speaking with the school’s intimidating vice principal. The interaction taught me how to properly introduce myself to those in positions of authority and when to speak. As the tall, lanky middle-aged vice principal listened to my side of the story, he nodded his head while firmly holding a clipboard to his chest. He interrupted me before I could finish, yet I attempted to continue. The interruption had apparently meant my turn to speak was over and his began. As I walked away from the conversation, I thought about student-faculty communication. Through experience, I learned to add these skills – ceding word to superiors and exhibiting patience – to my communication arsenal and use them in the future. For example, when I encountered similar authority figures, such as vice principals, I knew how to handle myself. The Preparation, Importance, and Versatility (PPV) strategy to effective communication in the workplace requires you to use the same intuition because you must perpetually develop communication skills as your career develops.

How does PPV work?

Preparation, Poise, and Versatility (PPV) intends to establish a habit in your routine. This habit starts with the art of preparation. As a young professional, opportunities to communicate with colleagues, management, and customers, are incredibly diverse. As such, you must always be ready for what your day presents. Let’s assume you’re taking part in a department-wide meeting which features a regional director.

  • Preparation: This meeting could present various communication opportunities, such as a quick introduction and handshake or a cold call in the middle of the presentation, requiring you to present a well-formed response. As you prepare for this meeting, emphasize all conceivable avenues of communication with the regional director and other attendees. Specifically, researching the director’s educational and professional backgrounds, as well as his contributions to the current company project, may be helpful in establishing rapport with him. Other examples of preparation for this meeting could include: 1) researching cultural background of regional director, 2) preparing a response to documents sent to attendees before the meeting, and 3) composing a plan that solves the problem at hand.
  • Poise: I have heard the following from multiple men and women: confidence is the most attractive feature in a partner. You don’t want to seem nervous or out-of-control during a first date, right? Likewise, you must hold your physical and mental composure when communicating in the workplace. As a young professional, a disposition with heavy doses of evident self-assurance enables you to demonstrate strong communication skills. Using the above example, when attending the meeting, remain mentally prepared for the potential encounter with the director so that you’re not caught off guard. During the encounter, follow proper professional etiquette and have the belief that you are the most important person in the room as you speak. This does not mean to display arrogance–rather demonstrate comfort with the situation and willingness to participate in challenging professional scenarios.
  • Versatility: Every opportunity to communicate in the workplace as a young professional is different. As such, you must be willing to adapt to each scenario and apply different communication strategies. The above mentioned meeting is ambiguous in that you’re not aware of the director’s expectations. If he or she wishes to see the quick-thinking of his recent hires, he or she may instruct you to lead the meeting. In this case, you must be flexible and adapt to the situation, understanding how you must use what you have prepared or how you may need to adjust prepared material. Flexibility when dealing with a communication opportunity allows you to successfully accomplish job objects while validating your credentials as a worthy employee.

Why should this matter to you?

The transition from academic to professional life poses various challenges with differing solutions. Figuring out how to communicate effectively enables a young professional to effectively launch a successful career. That is, as you start to move up the corporate ladder, differentiating your skills and results will propel you to new heights. If you’re able to display a robust competence in communicating with others through any medium and under any circumstance, your peers will have a more positive perspective of your abilities and reputation.

PPV relies on self-awareness and self-motivation. Assuming you don’t have Barack Obama’s orating skills or Kevin Spacey’s quick-thinking, you can always improve your communication effectiveness. PPV implores young professionals to exhaust preparation for potential communication opportunities to: 1) better display knowledge of the subject to others and 2) feel more comfortable and be poised. Preparation facilitates the idea of poise and versatility. After a particular communication opportunity, such as meeting with your regional director or giving an elevator speech to your manager, you must use the results and feedback from the encounter and use them when preparing for another opportunity. The repetition of this process catalyzes positive habits in your routine when communicating in the workplace.

December 7, 2016 at 1:55 pm Leave a comment


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