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The Irony of Oral and Written Communication Skills

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If you are seeking an entry-level position in public relations, or even if you are a seasoned veteran with many years of experience, then you are quite aware that �excellent oral and written communication skills� are critical requirements for any job in the field. You will see this spelled out in almost every single PR-related job description, from descriptions of account coordinator positions at agencies of all sizes to descriptions of the most senior-level corporate communications roles at Fortune 500 companies.

The irony of this qualification is that the overall percentage of professionals who actually possess outstanding oral and written communication capabilities is low, in my opinion—or, at the very least, lower than it should be. It is one of the dirty little secrets of the PR industry.

How can this possibly be, particularly if these skills are regularly touted as such inherent components to the profession? It is a question that is hotly debated by human resources, hiring managers, and recruiters, but it is not easily answered. Here are some insights into why this is the case:

Inadequate Undergraduate Training: Entry-level professionals are not receiving adequate writing and presentation training in undergraduate communications, journalism, public relations, and business administration programs to prepare them for real-world positions in the PR field. As a result, when recent college graduates enter agency environments, or in-house corporate communications departments, they are woefully ill-prepared for the oral and written communication rigors that their positions demand.

Lack of Preparation in the Workplace: Many seasoned professionals are also lacking in this area simply because they have not received sufficient preparation themselves, and/or they have never been taken to task by their superiors or their clients to improve. Consequently, their skills are deemed satisfactory, and they progress in their careers without ever being required to enhance their capabilities.

Bad Habits: PR practitioners, like those in many other industries, simply pick up bad habits, from a variety of sources, which they then carry over into their professional work. Today, technology-driven communications, such as email and instant and text messaging, demand that professionals constantly switch from casual to workplace-appropriate communications and back, with the line between the two often becoming blurred or even nonexistent. This dichotomy results in banal casual conversational terms, such as “um,” “like,” and “you know,” becoming regular, acceptable parts of workplace speech and run-on, incoherent sentences being inserted into work-related written vehicles.

To be fair, I know countless PR pros whose oral and written communication skills are beyond reproach. These veterans spend a great deal of time and energy preparing, training, and mentoring younger associates on this specific front to be successful in the field. I also frequently talk to many faculty members from PR and business programs, and these educators agree with me on this point. To correct the problem, they are diligently providing their students with the most comprehensive communication training possible to prepare them to enter the workforce.

What are the implications of all of this for PR job seekers? There are several:

Candidate Differentiation: If you legitimately possess solid oral and written communication skills, make sure you clearly showcase these talents during the interview process. Emphasize these skills with the hiring manager in interviews, and then back it up by showing off your writing samples and by speaking clearly, professionally, and articulately. Most likely, this will definitively differentiate you from other candidates whose skills may not be as strong as yours.

Practice and Training: Conduct an honest self-assessment of your communication skills. If you feel you need additional practice or training in this regard to be more desirable to hiring managers, take proactive steps to get it. Work with a mentor, or take a writing or speech class at your local community college or college extension. For presentation and public speaking training, joining your local Toastmasters chapter is a great, inexpensive way to hone your speech abilities.

Always Act and Speak Professionally in Business Settings: During interviews, at networking functions, and in the workplace, remember that your writing and your elocution define you as a professional communicator. Always remember to speak clearly and professionally in these settings, and try to eliminate clichés, slang, and verbal hang-ups from your speech. It will take practice, but with hard work, your peers will recognize you for your oral communication skills.

Read…Constantly: A fantastic way to improve your vocabulary and your diction is to constantly read news and business magazines, newspapers, books, and trade journals. Pay attention to word choice, sentence structure, grammar, and style, and make sure you look up the definitions of words you do not know. This activity will enable you to become a more effective writer and more powerful presenter.

Without question, superior oral and written communication skills are absolutely vital to success in the PR field. Take proactive steps to ensure you are one of the professionals who legitimately possess them, and you will go far in this profession.

About the Author

A senior public relations executive, Keith R. Pillow is a vice president at Abelson Group Inc., a marketing and communications advisory firm dedicated to promoting innovation and growth in the telecommunications and technology sectors. He can be reached at 805-389-1815 or by email at
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