How to hire excellent communicators

4th July, 2016

Employers now expect everyone on their team to be able to send emails that make sense, report on the results of their work, provide clear guidance to colleagues and clients, and talk to people with ease and warmth.

Businesses understand that productivity and growth are dependent on teams that can collaborate effectively and engage customers. That’s why, regardless of the role, it pays to hire people with great communication skills.

While the ability to communicate may be a feature of quality talent, it can be hard to come by.

Read: Talent acquisition: Building a modern workforce

Communication skills are in demand

A recent analysis of millions of Australian job ads for the report ‘The New Basics’ found that, alongside the huge growth in demand for digital literacy, so-called ‘generic’ skills are increasingly in demand. The rate at which employers listed skills like listening, presenting and writing grew by more than 20 percent between 2012 and 2015.

Workforce analytics company Burning Glass conducted research in the US that showed writing, communication and organisational skills are valued by employers, but are hard to find across almost all occupations and industries.

How to identify great communicators

A great communicator is more interested in achieving understanding than simply being heard. You want people that can empathise with colleagues and customers, and find ways to convey ideas clearly.

If you need to choose between two candidates with similar levels of skill and experience, having a clear measure of their communication skills will help you make a better choice. It’s important to recognise communication skills as a metric, and intentionally score it during recruitment.

Save yourself time: start looking for signs of superior communication skills early in the recruitment process and tweak traditional interview techniques to gain deeper insights.

What can a cover letter and CV tell you?

From the moment you receive a CV and cover letter you can score and screen based on communication skills.

Consider factors like:

  • Completeness: Have they done everything you asked? Included all required materials?
  • Accuracy: Is their writing concise and free of errors?
  • Relevance: Are the achievements or examples used relevant to the role you’re offering? Have they tailored their application for your role and company?
  • Language: Do they write for clarity, or just randomly insert professional buzzwords and technical jargon?

Don’t overlook this chance to quantify the candidate’s ability to comprehend, plan and present information in ways that are meaningful and useful.

In addition to the quality of the content, you should also consider layout:

  • Is the most important information emphasised and easy to find?
  • Is space and typography used appropriately and effectively?
  • Is the layout consistent and logical?

You don’t need to be an expert in design to know if a CV’s structure is confusing, and poorly formatted CVs could indicate a lack of organisational and communication skills.

Don’t be afraid to test

Work samples are one of the best indicators of performance. To get a true sense of candidates’ written and oral communication skills, ask them to complete a practical task.

Keep the task brief and use only in the latter stages of recruitment to further shortlist a group of similarly qualified candidates.

Scenario-based writing tests work well. Think of a common question you get from customers, partners or suppliers, then ask candidates to address it. For example:

–    Our clients often ask us the best way to XXX. Write a mock email to a new client explaining your recommended approach and its benefits.

–    Our B2C customers are often confused about how XXX works. Write a brief step-by-step guide to getting started that could be included on our company website.

Why not include a role-play scenario in the interview to assess how the candidate would react to specific customer complaints or team issues? If you can overcome your own discomfort, such exercises can be revealing.

If talking in front of groups is a part of the job, ask them to make a brief five-minute presentation or sales pitch, either during the interview or even via video interviewing tools.

Not just another conversation

During the interview don’t attach too much importance to candidates’ charisma. The best communicator might not be the most gregarious or bold. Gauge the substance of people’s responses to your interview questions and their behaviour.

Make notes about aspects such as:

  • Whether they actually addressed the questions you asked? Did they listen and understand?
  • Did they structure their responses well, or tend to ramble and lose focus?
  • Was their body language positive and open? Did they maintain good eye contact?
  • Was their tone, pace and volume expressive and varied?
  • Did they also show a genuine interest in you and your business?

Incorporate communication measures for better hires

Qualified, competent employees that are also great communicators bring so much to your business through their ability to share ideas and interact with others. Closer scrutiny of communication during hiring can help you uncover better hires.