Start talking

Is the gift of the gab more valuable in business than a good degree?

Talk may be cheap, as the old saying goes, but underestimating the importance of speaking well can cost job applicants dear. It's not so much a question of whether or not to tone down a regional accent, more a matter of effective communication. And many employers and recruitment personnel report a worrying decline in literacy.

"Employers are finding a growing number of graduates lacking in oral skills," says Roly Cockman, chief executive of the Association of Graduate Recruiters. He puts it down to the emphasis colleges place on lecture- based teaching, and a failure to develop project-based team skills.

According to Christina Stuart, managing director of SpeakEasy Training, graduates all too often assume that paper qualifications alone will secure them a job. But, she says, "That simply gets them an interview. It's performance that swings it."

Many fall down as a result of social and cultural factors, she believes. "There's the break-up of the family, more TV, and less communal play as children spend more time with computer games." The National Curriculum now includes speaking and listening skills, but the beneficiaries have yet to hit the job market.

British business, she believes, has a serious communications problem that is affecting performance. A tentative statement can weaken the message. Understanding how to use language and having the confidence to stand up for your ideas are essential.

"In business, interpersonal skills and communications are more important than ever before," Ms Stuart adds. "More decisions are made in the workplace as a result of people putting forward an idea. With less hierarchy, people are working more in small, project-based teams. Effective communication is critical."

Josy Brown, a 26-year-old marketing assistant, found interviews particularly daunting after leaving college. "I'd studied history, which had less emphasis on the practicalities of presentation and debate than more practical courses. Under pressure I just clam up - I hesitate, and don't express myself as best I can."

A London-based recruitment specialist, handling a number of blue chip companies, adds: "The problem is, too many graduates appear unprepared. There's the lack of basic verbal grammar skills. I talk to many and come away thinking: `I couldn't recommend this person - even for a first interview. Their presentational style would put the client off.' "

Research published in the last few weeks points to a decline in literacy (Office of National Statistics) and negative effects associated with strong regional accents (the Institute of Personnel and Development). Meanwhile, media attention has focused on John Major's alleged effort to find a more macho voice and Tony Blair's attempts to improve his appearance - notably, some reports say, by flattening his bouffant hairstyle.

However, blunders are all too often less subtle and, in many cases, easier to rectify. Much of it comes down to common sense, Ms Stuart says. "The danger is thinking being articulate is a natural talent. In fact, few of us can be articulate without practice." The key is to adopt a pragmatic approach. "You behave in a certain way at home and in a different way in the pub. In and out of work, there is an appropriate way to speak and an appropriate form of dress," she advises.

Preparation - even if it's only a few seconds spent thinking before speaking, pays dividends. Direct eye contact, a firm handshake, a smile - these are tiny things people often do not bother about. "It comes down to confidence. But consider the first three letters of that word: con. You don't have to feel it, just to appear so."

In an attempt to boost skills, the AGR is one of several organisations lobbying further and higher education colleges to reconsider ways of teaching. "There's a remedy to all of this," Mr Cockman believes. "Colleges should place a greater emphasis on project-based team work."

Meanwhile, Tom Lovell, manager of Reed Graduate Recruitment, urges employers to be less quick to condemn. "Graduate recruiters may complain about poor communication skills, but many are demanding more from graduates. They are expected to hit the ground running; in the past they would have got more time, training and support."

But until employers feel confident enough to invest time and money on personnel development, the onus to change rests with the prospective employee rather than the employern

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Guru Careers: Graduate Print Producer / Account Executive

£18 - 25k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Graduate Print Producer / Account Execut...

Ashdown Group: Graduate Digital Marketing Assistant - Wimbledon

£18000 - £19000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Graduate Digital Marketin...

Guru Careers: Financial Controller

£45 - £55k DOE: Guru Careers: A Financial Controller is required to join a suc...

Guru Careers: Product Manager / Product Marketing Manager / Product Owner

COMPETITIVE: Guru Careers: A Product Manager / Product Owner is required to jo...

Day In a Page

Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... for the fourth time

Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... again

I was once told that intelligence services declare their enemies dead to provoke them into popping up their heads and revealing their location, says Robert Fisk
Margaret Attwood on climate change: 'Time is running out for our fragile, Goldilocks planet'

Margaret Atwood on climate change

The author looks back on what she wrote about oil in 2009, and reflects on how the conversation has changed in a mere six years
New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered: What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week

New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered

What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week
Oculus Rift and the lonely cartoon hedgehog who could become the first ever virtual reality movie star

The cartoon hedgehog leading the way into a whole new reality

Virtual reality is the 'next chapter' of entertainment. Tim Walker gives it a try
Ants have unique ability to switch between individual and collective action, says study

Secrets of ants' teamwork revealed

The insects have an almost unique ability to switch between individual and collective action
Donovan interview: The singer is releasing a greatest hits album to mark his 50th year in folk

Donovan marks his 50th year in folk

The singer tells Nick Duerden about receiving death threats, why the world is 'mentally ill', and how he can write a song about anything, from ecology to crumpets
Let's Race simulator: Ultra-realistic technology recreates thrill of the Formula One circuit

Simulator recreates thrill of F1 circuit

Rory Buckeridge gets behind the wheel and explains how it works
Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation' over plans to overhaul reverse-chronological timeline

Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation'

Facebook exasperates its users by deciding which posts they can and can’t see. So why has Twitter announced plans to do the same?
Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag - but what else could the fashion house call it?

Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag

The star was shocked by a Peta investigation into the exotic skins trade
10 best waterproof mascaras

Whatever the weather: 10 best waterproof mascaras

We found lash-enhancing beauties that won’t budge no matter what you throw at them
Diego Costa biography: Chelsea striker's route to the top - from those who shared his journey

Diego Costa: I go to war. You come with me...

Chelsea's rampaging striker had to fight his way from a poor city in Brazil to life at the top of the Premier League. A new book speaks to those who shared his journey
Ashes 2015: England show the mettle to strike back hard in third Test

England show the mettle to strike back hard in third Test

The biggest problem facing them in Birmingham was the recovery of the zeitgeist that drained so quickly under the weight of Australian runs at Lord's, says Kevin Garside
Women's Open 2015: Charley Hull - 'I know I'm a good golfer but I'm also just a person'

Charley Hull: 'I know I'm a good golfer but I'm also just a person'

British teen keeps her feet on ground ahead of Women's Open
Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

Turkish President Erdogan could benefit politically from the targeting of the PKK, says Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: Our choice is years of Tory rule under Jeremy Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

Our choice is years of Tory rule under Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

Yvette Cooper urged Labour members to 'get serious' about the next general election rather than become 'a protest movement'