12
Apr
10

It is “advising season” on campus. My advice? Get a job, any job…

Oh, easier said than done, you might say, with this economy.    But I think it *is* easy to get a job, if you aren’t very choosy.  And right now, students and unemployed people should  be especially lacking in choosiness.  I know that any job they take–paid, unpaid, in their field, out of their field–will help a major factor in  future success:   communication skills.   Dr. E. Michele Ramsey, associate professor at Penn State Berks and tireless advocate for the communication discipline as a springboard for career success reminded me in this interview with the Reading Eagle just how crucial effective communication skills are to success.

In my early teaching days I was a gypsy teacher for a few colleges, driving every night to a new place to teach (often in the same outfit, because my teaching assignments spanned a fifty-mile radius).  At one community college the speech department feared elimination.  We were asked to “defend our discipline” so to speak.  I remember poring over the Sunday newspaper and circling almost one hundred job ads that asked for “effective communication.”  I presented my findings.  I like to think it was one of the more persuasive pieces of evidence and the up side is that department is thriving today, twenty years later. 

I’m sure as you read this you can recall some of your early jobs and what they taught you.  I worked as a counter person at McDonald’s, a shoe store clerk, an emcee for a children’s beauty pageant and the bell-ringer for a scholarship program at a local television station.  I’ve given tours of The Morning Call, brought car shows into shopping malls, sold picture frames on QVC, covered borough council meetings for  newspapers and read voice-overs and sang jingles for demo tapes for an ad agency.   

And these are only the jobs I remember.    And though I don’t do any of those things now, I sure learned a lot of needed communication skills by doing them.  And I bet you can relate to some of your job experiences and what they taught you about what are described as the “soft skills.”  Try to get through a doctor’s visit with a difficult physician or office person, order lunch from your favorite pizza shop or have your car repaired and you may start to realize that mastery of the function of the job is one thing but communcating to patients and customers with finesse in quite another. 

And more than just a positive mood can be derived from effective communication skills.  Toyota might have avoided deaths and its public relations nightmare had it been more forthcoming about defects.  And as Malcolm Gladwell notes in his best selling book Outliers, most mistakes aren’t of the technical nature in airplane disasters.  They result in a lack of teamwork and communication.   And I don’t know about you, but when I’m driving over a bridge, I sure hope that the engineers who designed it were clear about what they were doing to the builders of the bridge.  It is why Cooper Union has integrated communication skills into its engineering curriculum.  Have you caught any episodes of that new series “Undercover Boss”?  I was reminded last night just how much the employees communication skills with customers, fellow employees and the incognito CEO contributed to their success.  I’m going to be nicer to the people who pick up my garbage, I can tell you that.

Maybe there isn’t a job that will pay the bills in your immediate future, but that shouldn’t prevent you from working.  Check out a non-profit like LifePath in the Lehigh Valley.  It is a tremendous organization that may be able to put you to work immediately.   And you never know where it could lead, it might turn into a paid position.    I do know this:  getting a job, any job will lead you on a path to better communication skills  and that is something that everyone needs.  Oh, go ahead and call communication “soft skills.”  Know what I think?  The soft skills are the hard ones.


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