By Frank Kane
This article is an excerpt from our “Breaking into Technology with a Non-Traditional Background” course. For this section, we will take a deeper dive into the importance of communication skills.
Communication skills are important to employers. It may not jive with your ideas about meritocracy, but the reality is the world cares about more than just your coding skills.
It takes more than coding skills to be successful in business, you have to play nice with others and be an active part of a team. You have to be able to collaborate with people and communicate your ideas effectively, not only to other engineers but also to your manager and people who are outside of your discipline entirely.
So if you’re light on technical skills, learning to effectively communicate with your team could become your unique advantage.
Communication in Interviews
Let’s start with the interview, where it all begins. Your ability to communicate plays a large role in how your interviews go. So if you’re just sitting there looking depressed and mumbling and people can’t understand what you’re saying, and you can’t convey your thoughts and talk about how you’re thinking through the problems you’re being asked, that interview is not going to go well no matter how smart you are.
But if you can sit there and effectively convey what you’re thinking, your thought process, where you’re going as you’re answering these questions and do that in an articulate manner, people will say, “Hey, I like this person. I want to work with this person. This person can work well in a larger organization.” That’s important too.
How you present yourself in interviews is going to make a big difference. How you communicate on the job impacts your career in the long term. You need to be able to express your ideas clearly to other engineers and your management. It’s a hard thing to teach, but practice does help.
Find Speaking Opportunities
One way to start practicing your communication skills is through public speaking. Looking for opportunities to speak publicly even if it’s not technical related. Join local clubs and give presentations to them. I hone my skills by hosting meetings for my local astronomy club, and I’ve also worked as a DJ on the side.
Thankfully, I was born with a voice that’s okay to listen to. That is sort of an unfair advantage that I had, but it took practice for me to become a good public speaker because, as you might be, I’m a pretty hardcore introvert. I get a lot of stage fright.
It’s hard for me to get in front of a group and sound confident, but that comes with practice. Find opportunities to speak in front of a group. It doesn’t have to be in person, but just getting in front of a microphone and talking about stuff for a while will help you hone your communication skills and minimize your use of filler words.
So practice, practice, practice. Communication is important.
Next is learning the communication essentials. These include: Speaking clearly, enunciating, and making sure that you’re pronouncing all of your consonants and syllables.
Move your mouth more. Don’t just mumble. Don’t just keep your jaw locked and just move your lips. You want to move your jaw as well. The more mouth movement, the more clarity you have as you’re speaking.
Use proper grammar, especially when you’re dealing with management. A lot of people these days do most of their communication via text and the grammar there is pretty fast and loose. But in a professional setting, you might be dealing with people from an older generation, and that’s not going to fly. So do learn how to communicate using proper English grammar.
Take a course on that if you need to. If you’re not a native English speaker, that can be especially challenging. However, it is important to use complete sentences and complete grammar.
When you’re communicating in written form with management, be concise, and don’t blather on about the same thing over and over again. Get to the point. People in business don’t have a lot of time. They appreciate people who can be direct, and say, “Hey, this is the problem, this is how we’re going to fix it. What do you think?”
Don’t mince words. Avoid filler words. The ums, the ahs, and the filler words can be distracting. The more you can learn to eliminate that, the better. Try to get that filter between your brain and your mouth working as efficiently as possible.
Next, work to avoid using jargon when you’re talking to people who are not engineers, if you’re talking to management, artists, designers, program directors, or project managers, you can’t get into the nitty-gritty of how your code works with them.
There is a learned skill in communicating complex technical concepts to people who are not technical. Maybe you could do an online course about some sort of technology. It just takes practice. It’s a learned skill.
The more you can communicate with people outside of your discipline, the more that will open up more career paths for you going forward. And it makes it easier to communicate with people in your interview loop when you’re looking for a job because not everybody who’s interviewing you is going to be a fellow engineer. You’re going to be interviewing with your manager, you’re going to be interviewing with someone outside the team (potentially) who’s evaluating you on soft skills. You might be talking to a project manager who works with your team, so you need to learn how to communicate with people who are not engineers.
As I said, the best way to hone your communication skills is to communicate more. Join a local club, do some public speaking, give talks online, whatever it is, the more you’re in front of a microphone, a camera talking to people, or in front of a live audience, the better you’re going to get at this.
So here are the key takeaways:
- Communication is essential.
- Use proper grammar in professional settings.
- Avoid using technical jargon with non-technical people.
- Practice makes perfect.
If you’re interested in learning more – check out our full course, Breaking Into Technology with a Non-Traditional Background.
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