Campus News

Job applicants advised to brush up on face-to-face communication skills


Published February 14, 2020

headshot of Arlene Kaukus.
“While we are talking about these helpful hints for interviewing, these reminders are important to remember in our day-to-day communications and interactions.”
Arlene Kaukus, director
Career Services

Students searching for a good job coming out of college have become so familiar with relying on technology that they may need more coaching in essential skills to make a good impression during face-to-face interviews, says Arlene Kaukus, director of career services.

“I think we have known for a long time that students need opportunities to build their skills to effectively communicate on an interpersonal basis,” says Kaukus, whose office holds practice interviews with students who want to make their best impression when interviewing for a job, an internship or graduate and/or professional school.

“Oftentimes, I find myself coaching students on how to start a conversation, maintain a conversation and develop a professional mentoring relationship, and in some cases completing a conversation.”

The typical job interviewing process is changing as technology and other communication tools are introduced to the process, Kaukus explains. In many cases, she says, the original interview is either via video, phone or some other technological tool. While students are well-acquainted and comfortable with these technologies, which they frequently use to communicate in their personal lives, knowing how to use them in a professional context may be a different story.

But success with these early interviewing steps inevitably leads to face-to-face interviews, and that’s where many graduates need coaching and guidance, Kaukus points out.

What’s more, she says the need for good communication skills is important for everyone, not just graduating college students.

“While we are talking about these helpful hints for interviewing, these reminders are important to remember in our day-to-day communications and interactions,” she says.

“To some degree, we have to go back to basics,” she says. “How do you introduce yourself to somebody? How does the tone and inflection in your voice affect the impression you make? How do you present yourself?  What does your smile say to the recruiter or interviewer?

“Even with the expanded role of technology, mastering the art of the first impression is critical for career success,” Kaukus says.

One of the key roles of Career Services is to help students in their interpersonal communication skills so their confidence and competence comes through in their interview or in a networking setting. In this role, Kaukus offers several tips for students — as well as faculty and staff — who are looking to improve those person-to-person skills:

  • Always remember everyone in the room — if you are at a networking event — is a human being. Generally speaking, every one of us wants to be perceived in a positive light, so in a networking event and in the interview, all parties want to make a good impression.
  • Schedule practice interviews and tape them. “This way, a person who is newer to interviewing and networking can see firsthand how they are presenting themselves to other people,” Kaukus says. “Much the same way we improve when learning a new sport, practice makes perfect.”

“It really helped me because it got me to understand that interviewing is   something you have to prepare for,” says Lisa Cannavale, who took part in these practice interviews at Career Services when she was earning her undergraduate degree in communication and now serves as an interviewer while getting her master’s in higher education. “You cannot simply walk in and go into it blindly. It taught me a couple interesting tidbits on how to be more successful and stand out.”

  • Take advantage of the expertise of Career Services. “Better to make mistakes with us than when it really counts,” Kaukus says.

“It’s hard to have that interpersonal connection with someone, and it’s hard to know exactly what an employer is looking for,” says Cannavale. “But when you sit down with someone from Career Services, you’re in a safe spot to fail. You don’t just leave right after that. They give you the feedback you need to order to answer that question the next time around.”

  • Be familiar and comfortable with the basics of communication. Often the student wants to connect with an alum or a prospective employer and doesn’t know how to make that first contact, Kaukus says. “In some cases, the student doesn’t even know where to begin,” she says. “The student asks, ‘I don’t know how to follow up with someone I met and from whom I would like to seek future guidance. Can you guide me on how I might approach that person to assist me on an ongoing basis?’” Career Services coaches can help.
  • Be sensitive to presenting yourself in a way that is both respectful and professional. “What’s most lacking,” says Kaukus, “is an awareness of what is appropriate with your friends in casual settings over text, and the boundaries or best standards when you are communicating professionally with someone who is not your friend or colleague, and with whom you are trying to develop a professional relationship or association.”

Recognize that there are different standards for professional communications as distinguished from informal, personal communications. “Hey Arlene” might be acceptable to begin an email with a friend, but not to address an alum you meet in a networking event, Kaukus says. “Don’t presume you can use the informal unless someone has given you authorization to go there.”

  • Be aware of your body language and tone of voice. By practicing — either for an interview or a networking event — you can become more aware of and comfortable with the small, yet important ways that your body language communicates openness and enthusiasm. Also, the tone of your voice is important. “I often tell students that in a phone interview they can communicate a ‘smile’ to the party by the tone in their voice,” Kaukus says. In addition to communicating a “smile,” tone can also communicate enthusiasm, interest and curiosity.
  • Throughout your college experience maintain an inventory — not necessarily your resume — of the experiences that you want to be able to share with others as you begin to network and interview for opportunities. Maintaining this inventory will make it much easier for you to prepare for a networking event or an interview because you can review the inventory beforehand to see what “stories” you can draw on that are relevant.
  • Demonstrate sincere interest in the other person in a networking event, or in a company/position in an interview by doing your homework/research before. Prepare some questions that demonstrate that you have done your homework and that you have given the opportunity some thought beforehand. “For ideas, you can go to the Career Services website and review our conversation starters,” says Kaukus. Genuine curiosity goes a long way.
  • Be mindful of your appearance and what it communicates to the other person. It is not really about being impeccably dressed, but rather appropriately dressed with your appearance communicating a sense of confidence and professionalism.
  • While these situations can feel very high pressure, remember that the person on the other end of the phone, on the other side of the table or on the monitor in front of you is a human being just like you. Gaining confidence in your interpersonal skills and communication will be a true asset throughout your career.