I need to become more articulate
November 17, 2010 5:10 PM   Subscribe

I have a lot of trouble expressing myself in clear and effective language, especially technically, which is hurting me in my job search.

Though this applies to every aspect of my life, this is especially problematic in interview for jobs. I am a skilled web developer, but I can't talk shop and explain concepts clearly in English (my first and only language). This really hurts, as I come across as not knowing things I do know.

I don't have any friends or family members that do any job remotely technical, so I can't have practice interviews/conversations with anyone I know.

I know I can't fix this overnight, but I also need a job, so I need to know the best ways to handle this in the meantime. So I'm mostly looking for immediate-term hacks, but ways to fix this long-term are also welcome.

I'm alright with coming across as weird/quirky/whatever, I just don't want to come across as clueless/unskilled/low-skilled/etc.
posted by anonymous to Writing & Language (10 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
posted by Wordwoman at 5:11 PM on November 17, 2010

I don't to play up to stereotypes, but web development is not exactly a field rich in people who are good at expressing themselves in words. I'm sure your interviewers have seen worse.

That said, my issue with interviews for Web Development jobs used to be that, while I knew how to do the work, I didn't necessarily know how to talk about it. A lot of times I would have to say "I don't know" to a question about something I did on a daily basis, just because they used an unfamiliar piece of jargon to describe it.

What helped me a lot is studying up on Wikipedia before interviews. Just the very basic concepts and terminology of the skills in question- even if they're languages I've been doing for years.

Of course this may not be the same as your issue at all, but I hope this helps. A few "talking points" about each technology are all you really need to get through an interview, and you can use them over and over again. And when worst comes to worst, don't be scared to ask the interview to re-phrase or clarify.
posted by drjimmy11 at 5:21 PM on November 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

You can always practice on your own -- make up a list of questions and answer them out loud.
posted by yarly at 5:31 PM on November 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

Family members who don't know tech are your perfect audience! If you can explain your concepts and skills to them, you can explain them to anybody. For a lot of jobs, it's likely HR will be in on the interviews. They likely won't be tech, and if you can explain to them they'll be in your corner. This is a very good thing.
posted by bonaldi at 5:44 PM on November 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

What problems do you have? Do you babble? Do you not get to the point? Are you vague? Too detailed? Do you jump around too much and confuse matters because you keep thinking of new things to talk about? Are you just too embarrassed to say anything? These are all different problems and might have different solutions.

In my case, I always try to pause a few seconds before answering a question. Not only does it make me seem thoughtful, it also gives me a second or two to arrange my thoughts. Remember that there is nothing wrong with asking for clarification if you are unclear on the terms being used or want to make sure you understand the question. Not all interviewers are clear and precise and there is nothing wrong with getting more exacting information.

That said, I second the idea to come up with sample questions and practice answers for them. In particular, try some questions that you have flubbed before. You might not get asked them again, but the practice might help you understand why your original answers aren't great and what you have to do to fix them.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 6:51 PM on November 17, 2010

You can take notes with you to an interview. If the job itself doesn't involve public speaking off-the-cuff, it's not a very big deal if you check your notes. I usually have my resume in front of me and sometimes a list of bullet points of things I find particularly relevant to that job, which may include things I particularly want to mention, questions I have, information about the interviewer, etc. Nobody has ever found this odd. I carry them in a leather portfolio, along with business cards, spare resume copies, and other interviewy things. It has a notepad so I can take notes during the interview. Also gives me a place to put away papers and business cards that I get during the interview.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:21 PM on November 17, 2010

You certainly expressed yourself well in this FPP! So you're not incapable. You just need practice. Agreeing with Toastmasters, and improv would work for you, too.

In the meantime, you can hack around it by practicing. Write up a five-slide powerpoint deck (with basic concepts only), then try to deliver that deck coherently to yourself in an empty room with the curtains closed, out loud. First, get through it. Then run it again, but get through it in ten minutes. Now try seven minutes. When you get down to one minute per slide, expressing more than what's on the slide, and effectively -- create a new deck.

Ultimately, if you understand the concepts and you speak English well, you're just lacking the connection between the two. Forge it with practice.
posted by davejay at 9:10 PM on November 17, 2010

Oh, and speak slowly. Don't be afraid to pause. This is the sort of thing practicing will help you do -- and if you run the ghost powerpoint presentations as I suggest, you shouldn't be getting into the one-minute-per-slide range by going FAST; you should be doing this by being BRIEF.
posted by davejay at 9:11 PM on November 17, 2010

Start a blog and practice writing out the ideas behind whatever you're presently working on. Even if nobody reads it, it'll give you a regular venue to exercise these communications skills. Practice and experience are the key -- clear communication is a learnable skill.
posted by anildash at 10:39 PM on November 17, 2010

Have you thought about summarizing your old projects on index cards and practice memorizing or speaking them out loud? What I have in mind is an elevator speech, which is a short phrase for when someone asks you in the elevator, what do you do? The elevator ride isn't going to last forever, so being able to say "I'm in products and manage the database that gets product live on the site faster" or "I enhance searchability by analyzing unsuccessful search results" could help.

I used to be a web developer too, and trying to explain what the team did was always a problem. When something stopped working, people always came to us first, and I think we often did a poor job of communicating. We usually ended up sounding vague by saying "This is programming's problem" or "Talk to the DBA". I don't think you're alone in coming across as inarticulate. I prefer writing and because I`m not a good talker.

Toastmasters is a good suggestion - but once you start practicing over and over again, it really becomes easier. Good luck!
posted by Calzephyr at 5:06 AM on November 18, 2010

« Older How to produce holiday events for big companies?   |   Can you help me make Dan Hesse's life hell? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.