Poor Speaking Skills Versus Job Search Success and Career Advancement

Have you ever had to listen for long to someone whose voice seemed in imminent danger of fading out completely or was annoyingly laced with “umms” or “you know” or other meaningless verbal fillers? If so, you can probably relate to an article I just read, ““Is This How You Really Talk?”” (in The Wall Street Journal online). Author Sue Shellenbarger states that “new research shows the sound of a person’s voice strongly influences how he or she is seen. The sound of a speaker’s voice matters twice as much as the content of the message….”

Poor Speaking Skills can Hurt Your Career

That’s right. Your weak speaking skills could hurt you. You might ask: Could my voice quality and/or other elements of my oral presentation really be throwing a huge speed-bump in the path of my career? According to Shellenbarger’s article, the answer is very possibly yes. For example, if you need to be perceived as assertive, a strong leader and so on, a quiet vocal delivery of your messages might undermine the impression you need to make on your audience. If that audience consists of people who can decide whether or not to offer you a job or a promotion, you definitely want to consider what you can do to improve the situation!

This is also true in other aspects of a job search or ongoing career management, including interviewing. When you obscure the delivery of your message through poor speaking skills, you could fail to gain the support of colleagues for critical initiatives, lose the respect of the team you are expected to manage or discourage an interviewer from giving you a chance at second-round/multiple interviews. The potential repercussions of poor speaking skills could add up to a long list by the time you’re done!

Do You Know If You Have a Speaking “Problem”?

You might think you have reasonably good speaking skills and can’t imagine how anything about your vocal delivery could negatively affect your ability to land a job or advance in your career. However, it’s not necessarily safe to assume you don’t have an issue with it just because no one has told you that you do. Friends, family, colleagues–many people hesitate to raise such a sensitive subject with someone they know. They might be afraid of hurting your feelings or making you angry at them if they do. What can you do to ensure that how you speak isn’t standing in the way of your career success?

Here are just a few tips you can try:

  • Record yourself speaking and listen to it with your eyes closed, so you’re not distracted by visual elements around you. As much as possible, eliminate auditory distractions as well (find a quiet place).
  • Ask someone whose judgment you trust to listen to you delivering a short presentation and provide candid feedback. Then remember not to “shoot the messenger”!
  • Consider finding and working with a speech coach/consultant, especially if you have an important interview or on-the-job presentation scheduled down the road, to make sure you’re delivering the message effectively. (Don’t wait too long to do this, however; it can take time and practice.)

Importance of Non-Vocal Presentation Skills

In college, I had an instructor who frequently stroked his goatee while he was speaking to the class. This mannerism was so distracting that I had to avoid looking at him if I wanted to absorb the information he was presenting! I never had the nerve to mention it to him, and I don’t know if anyone else ever did, but I hope so.

Visual gestures can be a bad habit you’re unaware of. Try recording a video of yourself doing a presentation and watch it as objectively as you can to see if you’re using distracting gestures. You might just be glad you did!


Career Success: Sharpen Your Focus

Few people can do a zillion things at once, and even fewer can do them well. Career success and the actions that achieve it are just one example of that fact. You might consider yourself a super-multitasker, but I’m betting you don’t do it as well as you think. You only have a certain amount of energy (although some of you have more than others), not to mention a limited amount of time. Even the best of you can’t get more than 24 hours into a day.

To quote a well-known celebrity: “Energy is the essence of life. Every day you decide how you’re going to use it by knowing what you want and what it takes to reach that goal, and by maintaining focus.” (Oprah Winfrey, O Magazine, July 2003)

Career Success: Choose One Thing

A recent post on Quartz by Vickie Elmer, titled “Forget the long to-do lists and choose one thing to be good at,” indicates that focus is critical to success. She mentions a new book called The One Thing, by Gary Keller (of Keller Williams Real Estate) and Jay Papasan, and cites three principles contained in the book:

  1. Success is sequential, not simultaneous. [Keller] would ask [people] the focusing question: “What’s the one thing I can do such that by doing it, everything else will be easier or unnecessary?”
  2. Nail your “one thing” by lunch. Make the most of your best productive time. Then you can look back at what you’ve accomplished and feel happy about it.
  3. Everyone blows it. The authors started out with a 400-page manuscript and whittled it down to about half–after being put on the spot by their publisher to “walk their talk.”

How Do You Sharpen Your Focus?

The above list gives a few clues. Here are a few more tips for job search and career success:

  • Identify possible or probable interruptions, time-sucks, etc., and plan to avoid or postpone them as long as possible. If the likely culprit is a person, you might need to get creative about how you do this!
  • Be realistic. If you’re at all like me, you start out with a list that you know (if you’re being honest with yourself), you’ll never get done in one day. That’s not only likely to be nonproductive (as Keller’s work indicates) but also to set you up for failure, which is a demotivating factor.
  • Work on better prioritizing. If you know you can’t do it all, take a few minutes to decide what’s most critical. Move along to the less critical only when you’ve accomplished the highest-priority item.

Then reward yourself by acknowledging your successes and avoid beating yourself up for the times when you fall short of the target.

Plans Can Change

As much as I’m a fan of plans and planning in general–and nowhere more than in job search and career management–I have to admit that plans aren’t perfect or cast in stone. Sometimes they have to change, either because we see a need or because a change is forced on us.

When I started publishing this blog (which I think was in late 2011), I “planned” to do a blog post three times a week. I’d been reading that daily posts were even better, and some people were publishing multiple times in one day, but I knew I’d never hit that target! I figured three posts a week should be do-able–and so it was…some of the time.

Unfortunately, sometimes life got in the way, and there were entire weeks when I didn’t publish ONE post (last week being one of them). Gasp! Ah, well, super-blogger I’m obviously not.

Plan Job Searches with Some Slack

My take from all of this is that it’s not only okay but actually desirable to cut yourself some slack now and then in your job search and career management planning. You’ll probably run into days or even weeks when you’re up to your eyes in problems, unexpected demands on your time and energy, and so on.

Instead of kicking yourself because you fell down on the job and didn’t put things in motion that you’d planned to, take a step back and gain a longer-term perspective. Did you miss out on a dream job because you failed to do whatever it was? Unless your inaction cost you a desirable job opportunity, it probably wasn’t the crime of the century.

It Could Be Worse!

If the worst that happened was that you felt guilty about not staying 100% on track, relax. After all, things could be worse. As Scottish poet Robert Burns once said:

The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men,
Gang aft agley,
An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promis’d joy!
(Translation: The best laid schemes of Mice and Men
oft go awry,
And leave us nothing but grief and pain,
For promised joy!)

At least it’s not likely that your off-plan action (or inaction) will cause you “grief and pain”!

Network Maintenance in a Job Search

To make sure there’s no confusion, I’m not talking here about physically maintaining a computer network, which might have only incidental relevance in a job search, if any at all. This is somewhat of a follow-up to a recent post about “Selective Networking.” In this case, however, the reference is to keeping up a strong, useful network of contacts once you’ve built it.

Basically, the important point to keep in mind is that a contact network doesn’t maintain itself. You have to do the work if you want it to stay healthy and beneficial to you in your next job search or career advancement campaign.

If you’re not able and willing to put a fair amount of effort into network maintenance over the long haul, you need to recognize that there’s no incentive to people in your network to be there for you when you need them. Why should they? They’re not your mother–or anyone else with a vested, familial interest in your career success!

Stay in Touch with Your Career Network

Okay, so I’ve said this before, a time or three, but it’s critical enough to repeat. The more you stay in meaningful touch with your network, the more likely those people are to think of you when something potentially helpful comes up or to be willing to provide some sage advice when you ask for it.

A recent article by Heather Huhman, titled “5 Ways to Stay in Touch with Your Professional Network,” is one of the items I’ve read over the past few months that touch on this important topic. As is often the case, much of what Huhman wrote is probably not earth-shakingly new, but it’s a decent presentation of some key points about maintaining your network in a job search. Briefly, these are the 5 ways she recommends using:

  1. Social media: Don’t just add connections; make them “real” and valuable through your social media involvement.
  2. Email: Share something they might be interested in, ask them for advice, etc.
  3. Phone calls: Obviously, you can’t call 300+ people (or however many you have in your LinkedIn network, for example), but you can selectively use the personal touch a phone call provides to make direct contact, ask a relevant question, etc.
  4. Greeting cards: For those of you familiar with e-cards, no, that’s not what Huhman means! a short, handwritten note on a businesslike but attractive card can be a good thank-you method or otherwise help you personalize your relationship with a contact.
  5. Invitation to a meeting: Arranging a face-to-face meeting (lunch, coffee, whatever) allows you to get face-time with key contacts in your network. Just come prepared with a plan to make the most of it–ask pertinent questions to gain career advice, for example.

Network Maintenance–When to Do It

If you’re asking how much time to put into your network maintenance, the answer is, as much as you can manage! Seriously, whether or not you’re engaged in an active job search, periodic attention to key people in your network is critical. Those who are less “key” still could merit some attention; otherwise, why do you have them in your network in the first place?

You might spend some time in the near future looking at the people currently in your network and prioritizing them according to their level of value (or potential value) in your career management plan. Then build network maintenance time into your ongoing schedule to start working your way down the priority list as far as you think is worth the effort or as much as you can in a busy schedule.

If you approach the maintenance in a reasonably organized fashion like this, your effort is more likely to pay off than if you do it haphazardly or not at all.

Job Search Trends–Something New?

At the rate websites proliferate today, you might have missed this new entry in the category of job search trends: Bright.com. I did! Until now, anyway. I actually started out reading an article on Fast Company, titled “5 Stupid Reasons You’re Underpaid–And How To Fix Them,” and the author said, ” Check out Glassdoor and Bright for background and talk to friends and colleagues in the field–knowing your worth is key to career planning.”

I’d heard of Glassdoor, but Bright? Not in terms of job search or anything else along those lines. I followed the link to the Bright.com website. While I have to say I don’t yet know anyone personally who has used Bright.com in his or her job search, I thought it would be worthwhile to share some of what I found.

Bright Labs–New Job Search Trend?

It seems that in 2012, Bright.com launched something called Bright Labs. Here’s an excerpt from their press release:

“Bright Labs is a bi-weekly updated set of interactive tools, infographics, and analyses on the current employment landscape. Bright’s team of data scientists utilizes data from social networks, stock prices and volumes, real estate and construction, the Bureau of Labor and Statistics and a variety of other sources to create a holistic assessment of the employment market and to reveal trends and scientific findings. One of the cornerstones of Bright Labs is the Bright Employment Index, which tracks the overall job market and provides a monthly snapshot of fluctuations within any given industry.”

As if that didn’t sound impressive enough, here’s what the press release also says about a concept called The Bright Score, which the company came up with:

The company “has processed over 15 million job descriptions and more than two million resumes, all of which gives the site one of the most insightful and up-to-date perspectives on the jobs landscape. Bright.com has generated more than 20 million Bright Scores, used by job candidates to assess whether or not a job opening is the right fit and by talent recruiters and HR professionals to efficiently evaluate thousands of job applicants and find the most qualified candidates.”

Technology Taking Over Your Job Search?

I’m full of questions today and not much in the way of answers so far. But enough about Bright.com! What does this say about job search trends?

Some people would consider it just more evidence that technology is taking over job searching, and they might have a point. The Internet, social media and other technology trends have had a huge impact on the way many of you conduct your job search–not to mention how you perform your job once you actually land one. It has certainly become important–if not essential–that you develop a reasonable level of competency in using technology tools to manage your career and the various job changes you either have gone through or will go through during that career.

At the moment, however, one critical point about technology and your job search comes to my mind: Technical tools don’t hire other technical tools–people are what need to be hired, and once hired, they have to work with other people. So somewhere, at some point, people need to connect with people. Technology can’t do it all–and I suspect that some of what it can do is not as hugely superior to human interactions as its proponents would like to claim.

As I’ve said before, I’m definitely not anti-technology. I’d just like to see a better balance between it and the people it’s supposed to serve–especially when situations such as your job search are involved.

Selective Networking as a Job Search Tool

You’ve probably read one or more articles about how to “work a room” and talk to as many people as possible in a networking event when you’re conducting a job search. I know I’ve seen a lot of them published. However, maybe it’s not so much of a numbers game after all. At least, that’s the premise of a recent article by Eric Holtzclaw, “Why Networking Doesn’t Work.”

Selective Networking–What It Is and Is Not

Selective networking is my term for it. Here’s part of what Holtzclaw says about it:

“Remember six degrees of separation? With the introduction and widespread use of social media and other technologies, a study from 2012 shows that these days, it’s more like four degrees. The more people you know–really know–the more likely you are to make that important connection you need to take your career, company, or venture to the next level.”

According to Holtzclaw, self-described as an introvert, it’s important to start by considering what you might be able to do for the people you meet that would be valuable to them. He believes there’s no point to collecting business cards by the gross if it doesn’t produce any useful results or constantly increasing the number of your LinkedIn connections “unless you can establish a meaningful relationship with these new connections.”

Networking with Prospects & Non-Prospects

Often the advice will be to focus your attention on spending time with people who are clearly in a position to do something useful for you. However, besides sounding more than a little self-serving and self-obsessed, this approach could cause you to miss a good opportunity to connect indirectly with someone who could add value to your job search. As Holtzclaw puts it, “A non-prospect may be just as important to your future needs as a prospect because they may connect you with someone or something you need.”

The trick, probably, is to find out whether that possibility exists without spending an inordinate amount of time talking to people who don’t have the ability to offer value for your job search either directly or indirectly.

With regard to the quantity versus quality issue in networking, Holtzclaw believes that if he focuses on meeting and having “a meaningful conversation with only about five people at every event…or for each day of a conference,” he can line up sufficient new contacts to arrange for a day of meetings and “get to know each of them more deeply within a couple of weeks of the initial introduction.”

Follow-Up is Key to Networking Success

If you meet X number of people at a networking event and it’s a manageable number to get to know better, you still haven’t done all you need to do as a job seeker who’s serious about achieving a successful networking outcome. Holtzclaw cites Quinetha Frasier of First Born Group as firmly believing that if you don’t meet with someone within 10 days of the first contact, it wasn’t in the cards…not going to happen.

So you need to choose your number, network purposefully with those individuals and follow up to arrange a meeting in 10 days or less. Hopefully, that follow-up meeting will pave the way for a longer-term, mutually beneficial relationship that will show positive results for your job search.