If English is not your native language, you may wonder if you have the top skills employers look for. Your credentials and technical expertise are important but that doesn’t necessarily make you unique to an interested employer. Many candidates have the same degrees and skills on their resume as you. How do you make yourself stand out and in demand?
The answer is interpersonal skills, also known as “soft skills.” This refers to your ability to communicate with others. How well can you verbally articulate your ideas? Are you able to express yourself clearly? Can you listen well to others, read their cues and work well in a group?
According to recent studies, these are the skills that employers want — just as much as your degree and technical knowledge.
If English is not your native language, you may be nervous that you can’t explain yourself well. You may be afraid that you’re missing important social cues at work.
How to improve communication skills
Let’s take a look at verbal communication skills employers are looking for and explain what you need to know to stand out.
1. Use correct pronunciation and grammar
If English is not your native language, take the time to master the pronunciation of vocabulary you use at work on an everyday basis. Make sure you stress the correct syllable, pronounce vowels correctly and are able to use the words in a sentence. Too many pronunciation errors distract from your message. For example, stress the correct syllables for words like deVELopment and ergoNOMic. Make sure your vowels are correct in words like “program.” In North American English it should sound like PROH-graam and not PRAH-gruhm.
Sometimes vocabulary and grammar skills in English can fall apart when you feel under pressure, such as during presentations or when speaking to higher level managers. To compound the problem, the more nervous you feel, the more difficulties you may have with your pronunciation. Prepare through practice and you won’t have to worry about being tongue-tied. Practice saying common work vocabulary in sentences out loud to yourself. Record yourself to hear how you actually sound to others. Use online dictionaries to guide you with pronunciation.
Being able to express your thoughts clearly helps you appear knowledgeable and confident.
2. Speak to the point.
We’ve all been in situations where mistakes were made because somebody wasn’t clear in explaining what they wanted. Be specific in your requests and explanations to others. It will help you appear efficient and focused.
For example, if you’re asked to describe your product, briefly explain its purpose in two or three sentences. Use specific but simple terminology. “Our [product] helps [audience] [do this essential thing].” Such as “Our software helps small businesses communicate with their customers through email with visually appealing and easy to use templates.”
Avoid vague descriptors such as “sort of”or “kind of.” It weakens your statement makes you look unsure. This is where your vocabulary practice is put to good use.
In order to address an issue with a client or supervisor, you may need to clarify the problem first. Remember: not everyone is good at speaking to the point. This is how you can make yourself stand out.
Begin by asking for clarification. If your supervisor sends back a report and says “This isn’t going to get buy-in from management.” Ask, “Can you please be more specific? What do you think is the biggest selling point that I’m missing?” After your supervisor explains his or her concerns, follow up by paraphrasing. “You feel that the new CRM software will save us money and land us more customers. I’ll add that to the report.”
Asking for specific information helps avoid further mistakes that would make you look unprepared. Not only does your supervisor feel heard, but you’ll impress him or her with your ability to efficiently take care of a problem.
3. Choose the right words for the right audience
Tailor your communication style to the position of the person to whom you’re speaking. It’s common sense that a more reserved style is appropriate with upper management, while it’s ok to be more relaxed and casual with colleagues you interact with closely.
Know your purpose before you speak. This will help you select the right words for the occasion. Are you trying to explain to a client how your product is useful to him? Leave out the jargon and begin with how it will make his life easier. If he wants to know all the technical details, he will ask.
Many non-native speakers are particularly nervous to speak on the phone. Without context clues, the pressure is on your language and pronunciation skills alone to get your message across. Know your main points before you call. Keep it simple and practice once or twice ahead of time.
4. Know when to listen
Even though it’s important to know your purpose before you speak, don’t let it turn into a one-sided conversation. The person you’re speaking to has a purpose too, and listening for it will guide you to what to say next. If you’re at a networking event and you want to make a lasting impression, give your conversation partner your full attention. Ask her what brought her to the event and focus on her response. Ask a follow up question and listen again. It sounds simple, doesn’t it? Often, people are so focused on their own response that they don’t connect with the person standing in front of them. People recognize if they have your full attention and they appreciate it and remember you when you give it.
If you’re not a native speaker, this is also a good opportunity to learn different conversational styles in English. You may learn a business phrase, an idiom, or slang you have haven’t heard before. Use this opportunity to pay attention to people’s speaking rate and body language. What makes their message clear and what detracts? What can you incorporate to improve your own communication style?
Stand out for your communication strengths
Employers are looking for leaders who can work in a team, quickly identify issues and communicate effectively. Strong interpersonal skills can make the difference between staying where you are and advancing to the next level. Working on these soft skills takes practice. The good news is that even if you’re not a native speaker, you’re not necessarily behind native born coworkers in your soft skills. These are skills many people need to work on. Use these tips to your advantage and people will notice your communication clarity.