communication skills

Communication is one of the most important skills to master when it comes to your job search. From networking meetings and phone calls to job interviews, strong communication skills are essential for a successful job search.

Mastering communication skills can help you stand out from the competition and give you a leg up on other job seekers. Strong communication skills can make all the difference in your job search and beyond.

Why Good Communication Matters

Communicating your skills and qualifications effectively through written and verbal means makes you more memorable. In addition, it shows potential employers that you have what it takes to excel in the role for which you’re applying.

Your resume, cover letter, and LinkedIn profile are all documented proof of your ability to communicate effectively in writing. But what about verbal communication? In an age of direct messages, tweets, emails, and texts, we are communicating all the time. Yet, many job seekers find it difficult to have a normal verbal conversation with a person.

To truly get ahead in your job search, career, and personal life, mastering verbal communications skills and the art of conversation are essential.

Cultivating your ability to talk with anyone, anywhere, will immediately help you in your current job search. But it will also help you build relationships with potential employers and colleagues in the long term, leading to better opportunities down the line.

Why Is It So Hard to Talk to People?

Do you struggle with communicating effectively?

Some people seem to have an endless supply of things to talk about, while others can barely maintain a conversation for a few minutes. We’re all different in that regard.

The more introverted of us often have more significant struggles. For example, for an introvert, it can seem like the extroverts are running the show, and it is impossible to break in. Or maybe you “hate” small talk because you think it is pointless (it isn’t), or worse, you just can’t think of anything of value to add to the conversation.

Fortunately, being a great conversationalist is a learnable skill. The ability to make small talk with people you meet in your job search is a valuable job search skill as well and can also be learned. With some practice, you can improve your communication skills, learn to talk with anyone about anything, and do so with confidence and ease.

Mastering the Art of Small Talk in Your Job Search

Small talk is defined as light conversation, often to “break the ice” among people who don’t know each other well. This type of casual communication helps create rapport between people and makes an atmosphere more relaxed.

Small talk typically involves topics such as news, hobbies, shared interests and experiences, and minor observations about everyday life. Compared to formal conversations like job interviews, small talk usually has less of an agenda and is much less structured.

Making small talk with potential employers is an invaluable skill. Being able to converse “on the fly” in an engaging yet professional way can really set you apart from other applicants.

In addition to making a good impression on potential employers, making small talk also has other benefits. For example, it allows you to foster relationships with others who could potentially refer you for future positions.

Making small talk helps put people at ease during stressful situations, such as the first time you meet someone at a networking event. Being able to make conversation about something other than your job search itself can create a more relaxed atmosphere where both parties can feel comfortable as they get to know each other better.

Here are some techniques to practice to help improve your small talk communication skills.

  • 1) Practice Makes Perfect

    Practice, practice, practice. New skills are awkward at first. If possible, perfect your small talk skills before you urgently need them for a job search.

    The more you can practice your small-talk skills, the more quickly they’ll grow. So take advantage of every opportunity to put your skills to work. There are people everywhere. For example, try introducing yourself to your new neighbor. Or, if you’re waiting in line at the store, strike up a conversation with the person next to you.

    Practice with everyone you meet. You can become great at anything with enough practice. You come into contact with other individuals throughout your day. Take advantage of the opportunity to work on your skills. Co-workers, friends, and strangers are all fair game.

  • 2) Have Your Elevator Pitch Ready to Deliver

    During a job search, it is inevitable that hiring managers, recruiters, and other people you meet will ask you the common question: “tell me about yourself.” Be prepared to confidently and eloquently answer this question with a well-thought-out 30-second elevator pitch. Write out your answer, memorize it, and practice it until you can confidently deliver it.

  • 3) Compliments Break the Ice

    Try starting the conversation with a genuine compliment or comment. For example, you can ask questions about the artwork on the wall or inquire if they’ve had a chance to try the fantastic artichoke dip. A sincere compliment is also an effective way to start a conversation. Avoid being excessive or insincere. If the other person feels uncomfortable, you’ve gone too far. For a compliment to be effective, it must be sincere.

  • 4) Look to Your Environment for Ideas.

    Your immediate environment is rich with small talk topics. Some examples include:

    • The weather
    • The people around you
    • Architecture
    • The artwork on the walls
    • The music
    • The food
    • The trees and flowers
    • Anything you can see, hear, smell, taste, or touch
  • 5) Do Your Research

    Before any interview or networking event, research the company or person you are meeting. This pre-research will help you come up with topics of conversation ahead of time and will also show that you have done your due diligence.

    You don’t want to appear uninformed or uninterested in the position. Instead, look for interesting articles about the company or topics related to their industry that might spark a conversation. Also, practice introductions and questions you’d like to ask ahead of time. This way, you won’t get caught off guard during the small talk.

  • 6) Read Up On Current Events

    It’s always good to stay up-to-date on current events so that you can comment intelligently if any arise during your conversation.

    Before each interview or networking meeting, read business journals, company press releases, and industry-related news, so you’re prepared with some knowledge about them.

  • 7) Avoid Controversial Topics

    No politics. No religion. No potentially emotional topics. Just don’t go there. Small talk is meant to be light and casual to help you break the ice, build rapport, and make a connection with the other person. Nothing will kill this faster than controversial or emotional topics.

  • 8) Learn the Power of Adding On

    This is an easy-to-use technique where you take what someone else has said and add something to it, with a question at the end. This helps keep things rolling even if someone else has stopped the conversation cold with a yes/no question or something about the weather.

    For example, if you’re asked if you saw the game last night, you might say, “Yes, that play at the end was really something. It reminded me of when I went to see the Patriots game in person. Tell me, what’s the best game you ever saw?”

  • 9) Ask “Open” Questions

    An “open” question is a question that can’t be answered with a simple yes or no answer. Open questions will allow you to get more information from your interviewer or networking contact and also give them a chance to show off their expertise.

    This type of question will also help you establish a better connection with the person since they will appreciate that you are engaging in dialogue instead of just giving one-word answers or giving only short responses.

    Examples of open questions include: “What do you like most about working here?”, “How did you decide to pursue this career path?” and “What do you think has been the biggest challenge for this organization?”

Mastering the Art of Small Talk in Your Job Search Infographics

Mastering the Art of Conversation in Your Job Search

Once the small talk is over, it is time to move on to real communication and conversation.

When you are job searching, the ability to engage in meaningful conversation is an important skill to develop. Your conversational skills will help you make a great first impression, especially when you radiate confidence.

They can also be the difference between getting that job or not. It’s more than just talking with someone politely; it’s about connecting with people, showing your interest in a job, and being memorable. Here are some tips for improving your conversation skills when job searching.

  • 1) Embrace Your Uniqueness

    Be You

    There is nothing more compelling than someone who comes across as genuine. Being authentic is a hundred times better than any role you could ever pretend to play.

    This means being you without pretense. If you’re nervous, own it. You can even say something about it or make it into a joke. You’d be amazed at how many people can identify with these feelings.

  • 2) Listen Actively

    Be a good listener. Most people fail to truly listen. Active listening is vital when it comes to communication.

    Being able to listen attentively and not just wait for your turn to talk shows respect and makes the other person feel heard. This also allows you to gather more information about the company and ask relevant questions about their needs, which will help you stand out from other candidates.

    Pay attention to what the other person is saying. It’s obvious to most people if your mind wanders. Avoid interrupting someone before they’ve finished speaking. This drives others crazy and shows that you’re more interested in speaking than listening.

    Learn to be a great listener, and you’re halfway to becoming a great communicator.

  • 3) Speak Clearly

    When speaking, make sure that you articulate your words clearly and use language that is appropriate for the situation.

    Keep your tone professional while avoiding jargon as much as possible unless specifically asked by the interviewer or hiring manager.

    Speak confidently without being overly aggressive or overbearing; this will inspire confidence in those around you and show them that you take yourself seriously.

  • 4) Pay Attention To Your Body Language

    When it comes to communication, body language is just as important as the words that you say.

    Many people underestimate its power, but body language can convey various messages about how you feel and what you think. As a result, it can help you stay engaged in a conversation and turn an interview into a job offer.

    Positive body language, such as nodding and smiling when someone is speaking, indicates your presence and understanding of the conversation at hand.

    On the other hand, negative body language like crossed arms or avoiding eye contact can interfere with communication and make the other person feel unwanted or unvalued.

    Pay attention to your body language during conversations–especially interviews and when meeting a networking contact.

  • 5) Practice Expressing Your Thoughts Succinctly

    Avoid rambling. Practice being brief and getting your point across with fewer words and less time. People appreciate brief conversations and respect others who don’t go off on tangents. However, ensure you’re still providing enough information while you talk. You don’t want to be vague or miss important details.

    This skill may take time to develop, so practice it often. The next time you have a conversation, try to get your point across with less talking. Try to summarize the essential parts and only focus on them while you talk.

  • 6) Be Genuinely Curious

    Show that you’re interested, and other people will find you interesting.

    Become genuinely interested in other people. Ask questions related to their interests. Ask for their opinion. Nothing is more meaningful to a person than the request for an opinion. It says that you trust them and value their judgment.

    Respect what is said. You don’t have to agree with it. This isn’t the time to judge or criticize. The other person will greatly appreciate you for this and will remember you.

  • 7) Avoid Oversharing

    Talking with someone you’ve just met about your bitter divorce and child-custody battle is sharing too much. Be interesting without making the conversation uncomfortable.

    Always respect boundaries and stay aware of the other person’s body language, as this will give you clues on how receptive they are to what you are saying. If someone is uncomfortable, move the conversation along.

  • 8) Have a Plan

    If you are going to a networking meeting or professional conference where you need to make conversation and feel anxious about it, plan ahead. Try memorizing a set of conversation steps.

    For example:

    Step 1 – Introduce yourself and ask for the person’s name.

    Step 2 – Comment positively on something the other person is wearing. For example, it might be their cool glasses, shoes, or dress color.

    Step 3 – Next, comment on something or someone in the room. Maybe the cheese dip is the best you’ve ever tasted, or the man in the red shirt looks just like the governor.

    Step 4 – Ask about their profession. Follow up with several additional questions. What do they like the most about their job? How long have they been working there? Keep peeling the onion.

    Step 5 – Inquire about their education, hobbies, and how they spend their free time. Find common ground and allow the conversation to continue naturally.

  • 9) Have Your Career Success Stories Ready To Go

    People love to hear stories. We are wired that way. If you have the communication skill of being able to tell stories, people will remember you for this.

    Career success storytelling can positively impact your job search in multiple ways. You can use these stories in your written communications. We recommend you write your resume to communicate your stories of accomplishment and value add. The CAR technique is an especially popular model to follow as you develop these stories. You can also use these stories in other written communications, such as your cover letters, LinkedIn profile, and professional biography.

    But you can also use these stories in your verbal communications throughout your job search in other ways, such as when having a conversation with a networking contact or as answers to questions asked of you during job interviews.

Mastering the Art of Conversation in Your Job Search Infographics

Final Thoughts

Cultivating strong communication skills is key to being successful in any job search.

When employers are looking for potential candidates, they want people who can express themselves clearly and confidently, both verbally and in writing.

By following and practicing these 18 communication tips, you’ll be well on your way toward becoming an engaging conversationalist, with benefits not just in your current job search but also in your entire professional and personal life.

About the Author: Michelle Dumas

Michelle Dumas is the founder and CEO of Distinctive Career Services, one of the internet's longest-standing and most respected professional resume writing firms. Michelle is a 6X certified and 7X award-winning resume writer and career consultant. To learn more about the services offered by Distinctive Career Services visit

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