By Deborah Weksberg, Career Coach
This last year of working with job seeking teens ages 14-19 has shown me you kids are smart, funny, forgiving and willing to try anything. You are also shy, naïve, uncertain of the future, but somehow sure that it will magically take care of itself. Nearly every one of you is a genius at using communication technology, but is stumbling on the content of emails, phone messages and face to face exchanges. Glued to screens and thumbs flying, you may not yet have polished the finer points of human interaction that are the basis of workplace success. Here are some helpful guidelines for mastering communication in several dimensions: oral, written, nonverbal and electronic.
Dress appropriately. Your choice of clothing speaks volumes about your attitude, maturity and attention to detail — all things that matter to employers. Wear clean, wrinkle free, conservative clothing that covers the body and is not distracting, provocative or offensive. At a minimum, we are talking khakis (no shorts) and a collared shirt for guys and dark skirt/slacks and non- revealing top for girls. Stand straight and sit straight — no slouching, lounging or leaning on the wall. Good posture suggests energy and literally “upright” character. No flip flops for either gender, not even your best sequined ones. Insubstantial shoes and near bare feet communicate “beach bum.” Disguise/cover tattoos and piercings as one person’s body art is another person’s “tacky billboard.” Tuck in shirts; employers associate too casual a look with being too casual about work. Beware of backpacks sporting political buttons or suggestive graphics that may offend or put distance between you and a potential boss. Communicating your political affiliations may alienate 50% of employers.
Use high level English and avoid slang expressions. “Dude” is not an appropriate way to refer to a future (or past) employer, and you don’t want to tell an employer that something is “sick.” Practice speaking clearly and slowly enough to be understood. Of course, use no profanity and be aware that some expressions in common usage, such as “freakin” or “that sucks,” are considered offensive by some.
Make good use of body language, including eye contact, good posture, smiles and nods to communicate attention, interest and enthusiasm. Be sure your handshake pressure matches what your employer offers – neither dead fish nor bone crusher will make the right impression. Nonverbal cues like these make more impact than actual words. Shifty eyes, slouching posture and bored yawns will undermine your well-chosen words.
Written communication: Make sure resumes and cover letters have no typos or grammatical errors. Ask someone to proofread for you. Rarely text. In written communication such as an email, be sure to use the appropriate forms of words like night instead of nite, love instead of luv. Avoid OMG, LOL and similar screen shortcuts. Replace “cutesy” email addresses like “funny bunny” or “hot mama” with businesslike first initial, last name @ ___ . No smiley faces or winkies. Make sure Facebook and other social media sites are sanitized. Never post something you wouldn’t want your mother to read!
Target your cover letter and resume to what the employer says he/she needs. Avoid voicing your needs – it’s what you can do for the employer that matters, not how the job benefits you because you live nearby and will save on gas. Connect the dots for an employer that your being on the soccer team means you know how to cooperate and have stamina and perseverance. Likewise , being in the chess club means you can be counted on to plan your time, prioritize tasks and be patient with customers. Paint a word picture for your future boss with his/her needs as the theme.
Oral communication rules also include intelligent use of the cellphone: never answer it when you cannot be at your best. That would include while driving, in line to pay for a purchase, on the school bus or at the gas station. Never put an employer on hold to check another call. Always listen to your voice mails before you hit call and annoy an employer with “You called?” Know what the employer said and be prepared to move the conversation forward. Introduce yourself and state your business: “This is Natalie Levy returning your call about an interview for Friday at nine a.m. I will be there gladly. Is there anything I should prepare or bring?” Contrast this with not listening to the message first and putting the burden on the employer, who will resent having to reconstruct what was said to you or worse yet being inconvenienced by having to track down an appointment that was detailed on your voicemail. Texting while talking with an employer is an automatic dealbreaker; for interviews, leave your phone in the car!
As a finishing touch on honing your communication skills for interviews, ditch the chewing gum, polish your teeth instead of color rioting your fingernails, comb your hair, tie your shoes, forget the water bottle or soda can. Show up on time and bring a pencil and pad to take notes, as well as clean extra copies of your resume to communicate preparedness and your intention to be a successful candidate.
Speak, dress and write the part of a wholesome, energetic, young “boss in training,” and you will become a front runner to get the job.
By Deborah Weksberg, Career Coach, Jewish Community Services, Baltimore, MD
JCS offers a full range of career services. For more information about JCS Career services click here or call 410-466-9200.