CHAPTER I SKILLS FOR LIFE
The college years offer numerous opportunities for learning about the path you may want to take in your adult life. Before we talk about specifics, we are first going to be discussing effective communication. Why? Because effective communication is very important for life, including interviewing for internships, summer jobs, foreign study programs, etc.
Did you really hear what I said – or did you hear what you think I said?
When you meet someone in person, do you do well in informational meetings and in interviews?
Effective communication takes practice.
For this discussion we are assuming you have a firm handshake, good body posture, and all the other things we talked about in HOW TO SUCCEED IN HIGH SCHOOL, including an appropriate volume level for your voice. What we are getting at here is the actual words you say – or do not say.
One afternoon at a Los Angeles-area Starbucks I overheard a medical sales person meeting with his regional manager. He seemed so eager to please and to agree with the regional manager that he did not close his mouth. He talked and talked and talked.
The regional manager did get some words of advice in edgewise. Yet if the young man had talked less and listened more, he might have learned valuable insights of how to improve his job performance.
Practice being a good listener.
The skill of a balanced conversation is not a natural skill. Most of us have to practice letting the other person have equal time and also – this is most important – actually listening to what the other person is saying.
Usually, when we appear to be listening, we are actually occupied formulating what we are going to say in response to the other person’s words. This means that we frequently do not truly hear what the other person is saying.
The first step is to become aware of how you or others might be hogging the conversation. If you are not able to notice this while talking, consider recording a conversation between you and a friend. (Ask permission for the recording.)
Go over the recording and note:
- How much time you each take of the total conversation
- How often you do not answer a question or stay on the topic but rather ignore a question or switch the topic
- Do you step on the other person’s line?
- Do you finish the other person’s story for him/her?
- Starting each sentence with “well” or “you know”
- Using the other person’s name frequently in conversation, which can be misinterpreted as trying to be too friendly
- Name dropping – you drop other people’s names (especially the names of important people) into the conversation where the references are needless or actually interfere with the flow of the conversation
Record additional conversations with friends (with their permission) to check whether you are improving.
Take a second to think before answering hard questions.
You do NOT have to answer as if you are the first horse out of the gate. Take a second (the count of one thousand and one) to think before answering a difficult question so that you can better formulate your reply.
What is wrong with a “yes” or “no”?
When you have an informational meeting – that is, someone gives you 10-15 minutes for you to learn about a particular job or career, you want to get the most out of your allotted time.
If you ask only questions to which a person can answer yes or no, you may not learn very much.
It is better to ask questions requiring a thoughtful response.
For example, it is not a good idea to ask: “Do you like your job?”
It is better to ask: “What aspects of your job do you find especially rewarding?”
A simple yes or no gives no real information and can stop the conversation cold. An answer about the rewarding aspects can be valuable information plus give you a lead-in to the next question. (You can also ask which aspects of the job does the person find least rewarding.)
Avoid giving yes and no answers yourself.
It is not a good idea to answer questions with a simple yes or no.
It is better to explain briefly to give the interviewer a better sense of your answer.
And if the interviewer asks you if you have any questions for him/her, ask questions that require a more in-depth answer than yes or no.
FEEDBACK ON INTERNSHIP INTERVIEWS
What about internship interviews?
Yes, we are going to talk about getting internships. Yet while we are talking about communication, let’s talk about getting feedback on your interviewing.
If you get the internship, you will probably automatically get feedback on what it is you said or have done that got you the internship.
And when you do not get the internship for which you have interviewed, you want to ask for feedback. A good time to do this is when you get a call or an email that you did not get the position.
You do NOT say: “How come I didn’t get the position?”
It is better to say: “What could I have said/done differently in the interview that would have gotten me the position?”
The answer may surprise you. It may be nothing you did (see box below). You may actually learn that you did very well in the interview. (And if specific things you did well are mentioned, note those for future interviews.)
If something works, keep on doing it.
Or you may discover that you did something that needs improving. For example, you might get the feedback: “We thought you were uncomfortable meeting with us. You kept your eyes on your hands rather than looking at us.”
Now you have the opportunity to work on correcting this. Thus a good response to this feedback would be: “Thank you so much for telling me this. I’ll work on correcting this impression in future interviews.”
Copyright© Phyllis Zimbler Miller. All rights reserved.