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Careers clinic: Speaking skills for job seekers

Non-profit organisation Toastmasters helps members improve communication skills – and has some tips for those facing an interview.

"You like me, you really like me"
Image: public speaking via Shutterstock

HUZZAH! Your CV has gone over the line and you’re through to the next round – the interview. This is your chance to breathe life into your written application and prove you really are the best person for the job.

Which means speaking of course. And in a confined space where everything you say will be scrutinised to the nth degree. As will appearance and mannerisms.

Worse, far worse, it’s an interview panel you’ve been called to face down. A whole line-up of strangers, each one locked and loaded with questions aimed at eliminating you.

There’s still a week to go but already your stomach is churning up a wash and spin cycle, your throat has gone south, and hiding under the duvet is beginning to seem like the better option.

But go you must. With few exceptions, interviews are the only way to land a job. Moreover, the subject is one you’re extremely familiar with – you’ll be talking about your career, your experiences, and why you’re perfect for the job on offer.

What’s the problem?

So, aside from the fact few people think they’re perfect and that’s a hard sell, what’s the problem? I think comedian Jerry Seinfeld explains it best:
“According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Now this means that for the average person at a funeral, they’d rather be in the casket than doing the eulogy.”

While there’s not much that can be done about winding up in casket, there’s a lot that can be done about the fear of speaking at interviews – practise, practise, practise.

But how? One option is to join Toastmasters, an international non-profit organisation that helps members improve their communication skills.

“The ability to communicate is really the single greatest secret of success, whether it’s in your profession, your personal life, or in politics,” summed up former Toastmasters International President Gary Schmidt in 2010. Schmidt himself was encouraged to join Toastmasters when months after graduating from college he still hadn’t secured a job.

Currently there are over 75 Toastmasters clubs nationwide, 20 in the Dublin area. Often described as ‘learn-by-doing’ workshops, each club has anything from 20 to 50 members and an average meeting lasts two hours. Visitors (observers) are always welcome.

Each club operates slightly differently but a typical meeting opens with a debating session where members speak for two minutes on a randomly chosen topic. The aim of this exercise is to get practise reacting quickly and is designed to be informal and entertaining. Prepared speeches are then given by members. Every speaker is evaluated and given advice on how they might improve for next time.

“Experience builds confidence, which is key to effective speaking,” says Peter Kieran of Temple Bar Toastmasters.

Members provide the support and encouragement that’s needed in a safe environment.

Solicitor Elaine Gallagher agrees. “I’d be a confident enough speaker but job interviews are different,” she says. “Mine involved giving an oral presentation to a panel of high-level experts. The opportunity to rehearse and get direction from other members was priceless.” Elaine’s interview was successful and she is now working in the energy sector.

Most clubs facilitate the official Toastmasters Communication programme, which includes a manual and speeches. Members are encouraged to work through the material at their own pace and can avail of mentoring from senior members if they wish.

Better yet, if your social life has gone the way of the dinosaurs in recent years, or you’re not getting job interviews, it’s also great opportunity to meet people outside your normal circle, any one of whom might know of a great job going somewhere.

“Members come from all different walks of life, with ages ranging from 20 to 93 years,” says Kieran. “This ensures members enjoy many different, interesting perspectives on life and often socialise with each other and guests after meetings.”

Six reasons to join

Confidence: Practise makes perfect. Every time you tackle a speech, you’re forced to step out of your comfort zone, work through your fear, and improve for next time.

Job seeking: Completing the communication programme enhances your CV and, if unemployed, demonstrates to employers you’re actively acquiring new skills while job hunting.

Questions: Engagement in debates can help give a better impression when thrown a curve at interview. It’s also an excellent response to the “tell us about yourself” grenade.

Listening: During interviews, acute listening skills are vital. Participating at meetings helps hone your listening skills and accept feedback more easily.

Storytelling: A big part of Toastmasters involves storytelling. This is an invaluable skill to acquire in today’s jobs market where behavioural interviews are becoming increasingly popular. Generally referred to as ‘competency-based’, candidates are expected to answer questions by relating past experiences as opposed to answering questions based on hypothetical situations.

Cost: As membership rates vary it’s advisable to shop around. Some clubs charge €200 per annum, others €80. Most offer instalment plans and special rates for students and unemployed.

You can find more information on Toastmasters here.

Elizabeth Hutcheson is a career consultant with SliNuaCareers.com, who offer CV preparation, interview training and mock interview services. They have offices in Dublin, Galway, Limerick and Ballinrobe, Co Mayo. For a free ‘health check’ of your CV, click here.

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About the author:

Elizabeth Hutcheson

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