Five Essential Steps Before Starting a Job Search

Students who haven’t yet engaged in a professional-grade job search might be surprised by how much work is involved and how long the process can take. Starting late or diving in without a plan can make this challenging project even more hectic. In contrast, approaching it thoughtfully can reduce stress and smooth out bumps along the way.

Share these tips with your students to help make the process easier and more efficient:

  • Get organized. Your job search could last many months and involve multiple contacts with dozens of companies. You need to keep all the details straight to ensure that you don’t miss opportunities or make mistakes, such as losing someone’s email address, forgetting an appointment, or overlooking an application deadline. If you don’t have a favorite already, explore some of the many to-do list apps now available.
  • Block out a schedule that gives you plenty of time. Depending on the state of the job market when you start looking, you should expect to spend at least several months doing your research, preparing your materials, and going through the interviewing process with multiple companies. Even if you are a year or more away from graduation, now is not too early to get started with some of the essential research and planning tasks. If you wait until the last minute, you might miss opportunities and you won’t be as prepared as other candidates. Also, don’t count on employers to move at a rapid clip through the hiring process or stick to their own deadlines. You need to be the flexible party in this process, and the more time you give yourself, the less stressful it will be.
  • Think about stepping-stone opportunities. You might not be able to find the opportunity you’re looking for right away, and you might need to take a job that doesn’t meet all your expectations. Even though such positions aren’t necessarily the ideal that you have in mind, view them as opportunities to learn workplace skills, observe effective and ineffective business practices, and fine-tune your sense of how you’d like to spend your career.
  • Expect to interact with intelligent technology throughout the job-search process. To find the best employees and reduce the demands on their recruiting staffs, many companies now use a range of artificial intelligence (AI) tools to find potential hires, filter applications, interact with candidates, evaluate résumés, and even conduct screening interviews via chat or video. You may receive unsolicited messages from bots or “virtual agents” inviting you to apply for jobs, too. (Make sure these are from legitimate companies before responding.)
  • Clean up your digital footprint. If there is anything about you online that could harm your job prospects, chances are an employer will find it during the recruiting process. Review all your social media profiles and posts, and consider removing anything that might be worrisome to recruiters (human or AI). Recruiters even have tools that attempt to analyze your personality based on your social media activity, so make sure your public digital presence reflects who you intend to be as a professional.

With this foundation in place, you’ll be ready to get busy with your résumé, LinkedIn profile, and the other tasks that will lead you toward success.

All three titles in the Bovée-Thill Business Communication Series offer in-depth advice on the full range of job-search communication, from researching job opportunities to crafting effective LinkedIn profiles. This coverage includes unique perspectives on personal branding, writing "the story of you," and the Build Your Career activities that guide students through the entire process of developing employment-related messaging. (Build Your Career is available in Excellence in Business Communication 13th Edition and Business Communication Today 15th Edition.)

Adapted from Courtland L. Bovée and John V. Thill, Business Communication Today, 15th Edition, 2021, pp. 518–519.

Image: Photo on

Seven Tips for Succeeding in Video Interviews

Students should prepare to be interviewed by video as they move through the job search process, and these interviews require some special consideration. Video interviews can be conducted via Skype or similar services, video conferencing systems, or automated interviewing systems in which candidates respond to prerecorded questions.

Most of the advice outlined in Fourteen Tips for Succeeding in Phone Interviews applies to video interviews, and encourage your students to follow these additional tips:

  • Make sure your interviewing space is clean and uncluttered. Remove anything from the walls behind you and the area around you that doesn’t look professional.
  • Adjust your seating position and room lighting so that your face is clearly lit. As must as possible, adjust the lighting so that light is directed toward you, but not so much that it is glaring. Don’t sit in front of a window or other strong light source, which will put your face in shadow and probably cause the autoexposure function in your webcam or mobile device to reduce the light level in the video image.
  • If you are using a mobile device, don’t hold it in your hands. To eliminate shakiness, anchor the device in a desktop tripod or other mechanism to keep it still.
  • Make sure your video setup is ready to go. If the company asks you to use Skype or another public service, test your connection with a friend beforehand and get comfortable using it. If the company emails a link for a videoconferencing service, make sure you download and install any software that might be required well before the scheduled interview time.
  • Dress and groom as you would for an in-person interview. Unlike phone interviews, where you do this to boost your mood, with a video call it’s essential to look like the sort of person the company wants to hire. Choose solid colors and avoid hues that are too bright or too dark (both of which can throw off the camera’s autoexposure).
  • Maintain frequent “eye contact,” which means looking at the camera lens on your device, not at the person’s face on your screen. You’ll have the natural urge to look at the person’s face, but on the other end it will look like you’re staring off at an angle. If you’re on a computer, move the on-screen window that shows the other person’s image as close as you can to the camera lens. This way you can look into the camera while still feeling like you’re looking at the interviewer.
  • Don’t fidget or move around too much. This is distracting to the interviewer, and your microphone will pick up any extraneous noise you make.

All three titles in the Bovée-Thill Business Communication Series offer in-depth advice on the full range of job-search communication, from researching job opportunities to crafting effective LinkedIn profiles. This coverage includes unique perspectives on personal branding, writing "the story of you," and the Build Your Career activities that guide students through the entire process of developing employment-related messaging. (Build Your Career is available in Excellence in Business Communication 13th Edition and Business Communication Today 15th Edition.)

Adapted from Courtland L. Bovée and John V. Thill, Business Communication Today, 15th Edition, 2021, pp. 562–563.

Image by Tumisu from Pixabay 

Fourteen Tips That Will Help Your Students Succeed in Phone Interviews

As your students begin the interview process, chances are good that their initial screening interviews and at least subsequent interview will be conducted over the phone. Employers treat telephone interviews as seriously as in-person interviews, so candidates need to be ready to perform effectively in these important exchanges.

Share these fourteen tips with your students to help them prepare and to ease the stress of getting ready for phone interviews:

  • Gather your support material. Have any materials on hand that will help you answer the questions you are likely to get. This includes your résumé, any correspondence you’ve had with the employer, your research notes about the company, the job description, and note cards with key message points you’d like to make and questions you’d like to ask. Don’t rely on notes on your phone; trying to pull them up during the call will be awkward.
  • Prepare your space. Arrange a clean and quiet space to be in during the interview. As much as possible, avoid distractions from pets, other people, television, music, and other audio and visual interruptions. Have a glass of water close at hand.
  • Practice your answers. Call a friend and rehearse your answers to potential questions to make sure you’re comfortable saying them over the phone.
  • Charge your phone. You don't want to run out of power during the call or stop to plug in your charger.
  • Talk on a landline if possible. If your mobile service isn’t clear and reliable, try to arrange to talk on a landline.
  • Schedule the interview, if possible. Whenever you can, schedule a time when you can be in your prepared space, safe from interruptions.
  • Dress for a business meeting. You don’t need to go full out, but don’t wear sweat pants and a T-shirt. Dressing up sends a signal to your mind and body to be attentive and professional.
  • Answer your phone professionally. If the interviewer will be calling you, answer with “Hi, this is —” to let the person know he or she has reached the right person. While your job search is active, answer every call from an unknown caller as if it’s a potential employer.
  • Maintain good posture. Whether you sit or stand during the interview, good posture will keep you alert and keep your voice strong.
  • Compensate for the lack of visual nonverbal signals. You can’t use facial expressions or hand gestures for emphasis, so make sure your voice is warm, friendly, and dynamic. Smile frequently—it changes the sound of your voice and lifts your mood.
  • Finish each answer in a definitive way. Don’t trail off and leave the interviewer wondering whether you’re finished.
  • Speak clearly. Remember that the interviewer can’t see you; your spoken words carry the entire message.
  • Write down essential information you get during the interview. Don’t rely on your memory for important details such as arrangements for a follow-up interview. It’s fine to pause and ask, “May I take a moment to write this down?”
  • End on a positive note. No matter how you think the call went, thank the interviewer for the opportunity and say you look forward to hearing from the company.


All three titles in the Bovée-Thill Business Communication Series offer in-depth advice on the full range of job-search communication, from researching job opportunities to crafting effective LinkedIn profiles. This coverage includes unique perspectives on personal branding, writing "the story of you," and the Build Your Career activities that guide students through the entire process of developing employment-related messaging. (Build Your Career is available in Excellence in Business Communication 13th Edition and Business Communication Today 15th Edition.)

Adapted from Courtland L. Bovée and John V. Thill, Business Communication Today, 15th Edition, 2021, pp. 562–563.

Image: Derek Robinson from Pixabay

Nine Tips to Help Your Students Build Effective LinkedIn Profiles

LinkedIn is the most important website for students to incorporate in their job search efforts. Employment recruiters search LinkedIn for candidates far more than any other social network, many employers now want to see LinkedIn profiles rather than conventional résumés, and companies doing background checks are almost certain to look for candidates’ LinkedIn profiles.

Encourage students to think of LinkedIn as a “socially networked multimedia résumé.” An effective LinkedIn profile includes all the information from a conventional résumé plus some additional features that help candidates present themselves in compelling ways to potential employers.

Here are nine tips to share with your students for building an effective profile:

  1. Photo. Add a photo that says “professional” without being overly formal. You don’t need to hire a professional photographer, but the photo needs to be clear and lit well enough so that your face isn’t in shadow. Stand against a visually “quiet” background that won’t distract viewers, dress appropriately for the jobs you are pursuing, and remember to smile.
  2. Headline. Write a headline that expresses who you are or aspire to be as a professional, such as “Data science major ready to make data come alive through leading-edge techniques in data mining, visualization, and AI.” Include keywords that target employers are likely to be searching for. As with other text fields on LinkedIn, you have a limited number of characters to work with here, so focus on your most valuable attributes.
  3. Summary. Write a summary that captures where you are and where you are going. Imagine that you are talking to a hiring manager in a personal and conversational tone, telling the story of where you’ve been and where you would like to go—but expressed in terms of meeting an employer’s business needs. Highlight your job experience, education, skills, accomplishments, target industry, and career direction. Unlike the introductory statement on your conventional résumé, which you can fine-tune for every job opportunity, your LinkedIn summary offers a more general picture of who you are as a professional. Be sure to work in as many of the keywords from your research as you can, while keeping the style natural. Employers can use a variety of search tools to find candidates, and they’ll look for these keywords.
  4. Experience. Fill out the experience section using the material from your conventional résumé. Make sure the details of your employment match your résumé, as employers are likely to cross-check. However, you can expand beyond those basics, such as by including links to photos and videos of work-related accomplishments.
  5. Recommendations. Ask for recommendations from people you know on LinkedIn. You may have a limited number of connections as you start out, but as your network expands, you’ll have more people to ask. A great way to get recommendations is to give them to the people in your network.
  6. Featured skills. List your top skills and areas of expertise. As you expand your network, endorse the skills of people you know; many users will endorse your skills in return.
  7. Education. Make sure your educational listing is complete and matches the information on your conventional résumé.
  8. Accomplishments. LinkedIn offers a variety of categories that let you highlight academic achievements, special projects, publications, professional certifications, important coursework, honors, patents, and more. If you don’t have an extensive work history, use this section to feature academic projects and other accomplishments that demonstrate your skills.
  9. Volunteer experience and causes. Add volunteering activities and charitable organizations that you support.

For the most current instructions on performing these tasks, students can visit the LinkedIn Help center at Remind them that the more robust they make their profiles, the better their chances are of catching the eye of company recruiters.

All three titles in the Bovée-Thill Business Communication Series offer in-depth advice on the full range of job-search communication, from researching job opportunities to crafting effective LinkedIn profiles. This coverage includes unique perspectives on personal branding, writing "the story of you," and the Build Your Career activities that guide students through the entire process of developing employment-related messaging. (Build Your Career is available in Excellence in Business Communication 13th Edition and Business Communication Today 15th Edition.)


Adapted from Courtland L. Bovée and John V. Thill, Business Communication Today, 15th Edition, 2021, pp. 540–541.

Encouraging Students to Apply Their Skills Now: Five Tips for Better Listening

Much of the business communication course focuses on improving one’s skills as a sender of messages, but successful communication requires the mindful and skillful participation of both the sender and the receiver. When we are engaged in a conversation, attending a presentation, or listening to a podcast or video, the success of the communication effort hinges on our performance as listeners.

Listening more effectively will help your students in every aspect of their personal and professional lives. To help you summarize your course coverage of listening, here are five handy tips your students can put to work right now to improve their listening habits.

1. Minimize the Barriers to Physical Reception

Before you can listen to someone, you obviously need to be able to hear the other party speak. Missing even a single word can lead to confusion and misunderstanding. Poor hearing can originate on the speaker’s side (such as when someone mumbles), on the receiver’s side (such as when someone is listening to music during a conversation), or in the surrounding environment (such as when other people in an open-plan office are talking). You might not be able to control all the barriers that get in the way of effective listening, but the more you can reduce them, the more satisfying the experience will be for everyone involved.

2. Manage Your Emotions

Communication suffers if listeners fail to monitor and manage their emotions during a conversation. During hectic periods or when emotions are running high, listening calmly and mindfully can be a challenge. However, these are the times when it is most important to exhibit emotional intelligence, including the ability to recognize when your emotions might be getting in the way.

As part of this challenge, selective attention and perceptual biases can lead listeners to mold messages to fit their own beliefs and conceptual frameworks. Listeners sometimes make up their minds before hearing the speaker’s full message, or they engage in defensive listening—protecting their egos by tuning out anything that doesn’t confirm their beliefs or their view of themselves. Feeling angry or annoyed during a conversation limits your effectiveness because you’ll be more likely to judge or reject what you hear.

3. Focus Your Attention

Your brain can process language three or four times faster than people typically speak, which means your brain has a lot of idle processing capacity while you are listening. If you don’t take active steps to stay focused, or if you divide your attention by multitasking, you might miss vital information and nonverbal signals that can help you interpret what you're hearing. Moreover, not paying attention is disrespectful and sends a message to the other person that what he or she has to say isn’t important to you.

4. Adapt Your Listening Style to the Situation

Effective listeners adapt their listening styles to different situations, including switching approaches during the course of a conversation or presentation if necessary. You can use three distinct styles:

  • Content listening focuses on understanding and retaining the information in the speaker’s message. It doesn’t matter whether you agree or disagree, approve or disapprove—only that you understand. Filter out anything other than the information itself, including the speaker’s appearance, vocabulary, level of experience, or position in the relationship. If appropriate, ask questions to clarify any points you don’t understand or to get more details. However, don’t challenge or correct the speaker. Remember that your goal with content listening is to get the information that another person has to share. If the exchange starts to feel confrontational, he or she might “shut down” and hesitate to disclose valuable information.
  • Critical listening goes beyond information gathering to evaluating the meaning of the speaker’s message on several levels: the logic of the argument, the strength of the evidence, the validity of the conclusions, the implications of the message, the speaker’s intentions and motives, and the omission of any important or relevant points. If you’re skeptical, ask questions to explore the speaker’s point of view and credibility. Be on the lookout for bias that might influence how the information is presented, separate opinions from facts, and watch for logical fallacies that could undermine the speaker’s arguments or conclusions. (Note that “critical listening” does not mean you are listening with the intent to criticize but rather to understand the full meaning and implications of the speaker’s message.)
  • The goal of empathic listening is to understand the speaker’s feelings, needs, and wants so that you can appreciate his or her point of view, regardless of whether you share that perspective. Importantly, this style of listening gives the other person the freedom to share without fear of being judged or evaluated. In this sense, empathic listening is a complementary skill to critical listening because you need to silence your critical faculties and focus your attention on the other person. In fact, the information exchanged in an empathic conversion is sometimes less important than simply giving someone the opportunity to be heard. Be aware that empathic listening can be a difficult habit to get into, particularly for people who are used to solving problems and taking charge of situations.

Note that all three of these styles are forms of active listening—and taking action is a crucial point. Don’t sit back passively and place the entire burden of communication on the speaker. Put yourself in an open and positive frame of mind where you are ready to accept new information, manage your emotions and attention, and keep yourself engaged throughout the conversation.

If appropriate, help the speaker formulate and express ideas by asking insightful questions. However, don’t automatically jump in at the first moment of silence. Sometimes silence is an important part of the conversation. The other person might be collecting his or her thoughts or looking for a clearer way to express something. Also, if someone pauses in the middle of a sentence, don’t rush in to complete it—particularly if your real motivation is to demonstrate superior knowledge or intelligence.

5. Don’t Rely on Your Memory

Remembering information during a conversation is challenging because you need to store information you have just received while continuing to process new incoming information. This problem gets even more pronounced when the speaker is rambling or fails to periodically summarize what he or she has said.

If the information you are likely to receive is important, write it down. If you rely on memory, chances are you will forget or confuse important details. Naturally, the decision whether to take notes depends on the situation. If someone is sharing personal or confidential information or is asking for your advice, it might not be appropriate or necessary to take notes. If you are using a mobile device to take notes, make sure you can do so quickly enough to keep up with the conversation and in a way that doesn’t disturb others.

If you are unable to take notes and have no choice but to memorize, you can hold information in short-term memory by repeating it silently or creating lists in your head. To store information in long-term memory, four techniques can help: (1) associate new information with something closely related (such as the restaurant in which you had the conversation), (2) categorize the new information into logical groups (such as alphabetizing a list of names), (3) visualize words and ideas as pictures, and (4) create mnemonics such as acronyms or rhymes.

Self-Coaching Ideas for Your Students

  1. What steps can you take during a conversation if you feel your attention begin to wander or if you start to feel resentful or critical of the other party?
  2. Do you sometimes judge a speaker based on appearance, vocal characteristics, or other attributes unrelated to the content of a presentation, podcast, or converation? What can you do to overcome this tendency and keep your attention focused on the information and meaning the person is trying to convey?

Previous Posts in the Apply Your Skills Now Series

Encouraging Students to Apply Their Skills Now: Making Difficult Requests

Encouraging Students to Apply Their Skills Now: Writing Professional-Grade Email

Encouraging Students to Apply Their Skills Now: Make QA a Routine Part of the Writing Process

Encouraging Students to Apply Their Skills Now: Think Now, Write Later

Encouraging Students to Apply Their Skills Now: Preparing for Difficult Conversations

Encourage Your Students to Put Their New Skills to Work Right Away


Adapted from Courtland L. Bovée and John V. Thill, Business Communication Today, 15th Edition, 2021, pp. 52–57.

Photo credit: drain on / CC BY-NC-SA


Intelligent Communication Technology: Social Listening Tools

Every day on Twitter, Facebook, and other social media platforms, millions of consumers and business customers rant, rave, brainstorm, offer help, and ask for help. Smart companies recognize that this global chatter is a gold mine of valuable insights, and they use social listening tools to figure out what people are saying about them and their competitors.

Companies listen to social media traffic in various ways, including following hashtags and monitoring keywords, such as the company’s name, the names of its products, competitors’ names, and any terms that might suggest relevant conversations. These tools can often detect when a social media user is talking about the company, even if the company and brand names aren’t used or the company isn’t tagged directly.

Today’s smart listening tools take this mass of data and use artificial intelligence to analyze the conversations in which these terms appear. By using text analytics, the systems judge whether conversations are trending strongly negative, strongly positive, or somewhere in between.

Companies can then use these sentiment readings in a variety of ways, including responding to individual requests for help, gathering ideas for new products or new product features, and generating ideas for social media content. For example, if a company detects a surge of complaints that one of its products is difficult to use, it can reach out to individual users with advice, begin improving the design of the product based on this feedback, or perhaps create a video or other media elements with advice to help people use the product more successfully. By jumping on the situation quickly, the company might be able to contain the dissatisfaction and avoid a public relations headache.

Firms can capitalize on positive sentiments, too. For instance, a food company could monitor for discussions of where and when people enjoy particular snacks, such as while camping or on road trips. It might then launch its own hashtag campaign with #CampSnacks or something similar to tap into these positive vibes.

With consumers increasingly relying on social media for purchasing advice and customer support, social listening tools are becoming vital for any company that wants to protect its reputation and jump on emerging opportunities.

Class activity ideas

  1. Ask students if they ever complained about a company’s products or services on social media. If so, did they get a response from the company or from anyone else? How would they characterize social media’s usefulness in resolving customer satisfaction problems?
  2. Do your students think is it ethical for a company to “eavesdrop” on social media conversations? Why or why not?


Sources: Christina Newberry, “What Is Social Listening, Why It Matters, and 10 Tools to Make It Easier,” Hootsuite blog, 27 November 2018,; Dominique Jackson, “What Is Social Listening & Why Is It Important?” Sprout Social, 20 September 2017,; Patrick Whatman, “A Beginner’s Guide to Social Listening,” Mention blog, accessed 5 December 2019,

Image credit: ky_olsen on Visual Hunt / CC BY

Encouraging Students to Apply Their Skills Now: Making Difficult Requests

Just as they will be on the job, most of the requests students need to make in their academic and personal lives are fairly routine and can be accomplished using the techniques for routine requests they learn in this course. However, we all face situations from time to time where we need to make a more difficult request, such as asking an instructor for leniency, asking a landlord or a retailer for special consideration, or asking parents or a partner for help. In these situations, a more persuasive approach might be useful. Encourage students to apply the strategies they are learning for persuasive business messages and to follow these tips as well:

  • Step outside of yourself and your immediate concerns and put yourself in the other person’s position. What is this person’s current emotional state likely to be? What about his or her mental workload? Imagine you’re on the other side of the table and you get the request that you’re about to make. How would you react?
  • Is there any way the other party might benefit from responding positively to your request?
  • Emotions may be an important and legitimate part of your request, but for this step, put them aside and focus on objective facts, logic, and ethical principles. How much of your case can you make on these elements alone, without bringing emotion into the mix?
  • Now carefully bring emotion into your request, but only to the extent that it supports your request. Strong emotions—even if they are appropriate—can sometimes backfire when you’re making a request. You may feel compelled to express these emotions, but keep your eye on the goal, which is your request.
  • With the right balance of logical and emotional appeals in mind, choose the direct or indirect approach, based on your relationship with the person and your best judgment. In a close, personal relationship, there are times when it might be better to go direct and open with a simple plea: “Could I ask for your help?” In academic or work relationships, the indirect approach might be better, as long as you can build up to your request quickly. Don’t make the recipient wade through a long list of reasons.

They may not get a positive response to every request, and the other party may have legitimate reasons for denying it, but by following these tips students will know they did their best.

Self-Coaching Ideas for Your Students

  1. When you have a difficult request to make, do you find yourself putting it off? This is entirely natural, but remind yourself that the sooner you make the request, the sooner you will get an answer and thereby be able to move on, no matter what sort of answer you get.
  2. How do you tend to respond when someone else has a difficult request for you? Do you find it difficult to step out of your own needs and pressures long enough to listen openly and actively? If so, try to mindfully practice this next time someone asks you for help or special consideration. It’s a valuable skill that will benefit all your personal and professional relationships.

Previous Posts in the Apply Your Skills Now Series

Encouraging Students to Apply Their Skills Now: Writing Professional-Grade Email

Encouraging Students to Apply Their Skills Now: Make QA a Routine Part of the Writing Process

Encouraging Students to Apply Their Skills Now: Think Now, Write Later

Encouraging Students to Apply Their Skills Now: Preparing for Difficult Conversations

Encourage Your Students to Put Their New Skills to Work Right Away


Photo credit: / CC BY-NC-SA

The Emoji Question: Overcoming the Limitations of Lean Media

You know this situation well: You’re about to send a message via email or some form of text-based communication, but you’re worried that the right tone won’t come across. What if you’re trying to be humorously sarcastic, but the recipient thinks you’re being serious? Or what if you are trying to be friendly and sympathetic, but the words come across as cold and uncaring?

If you were communicating in person or on the phone, you could modulate the emotional tone of your message with various nonverbal cues, such as smiling, accenting certain words or syllables, shrugging your shoulders, and so on. However, when you are communicating in writing via email, text messaging, or any other lean medium, you don’t have the luxury of these nonverbal cues—the words on screen must convey everything.

The Rise of Emojis

The limitations of lean text-based communication gave rise to the use of emoticons and emojis to convey emotional tone in a way that can be difficult to do with words. (Opinions vary on the exact difference between the two, but for simplicity’s sake, we can think of emoticons as symbols made up of text characters and emojis as graphical icons) Using emoticons and emojis can be an effective way to minimize the limitations of a lean medium, which is why so many people now use them for personal and business communication. A smiley face can inject a touch of levity into a tense situation, a frowny face can convey sympathy for someone who has suffered a setback, and clapping hands can say “job well done!”

Emoji or Not: Two Dilemmas

As useful as these visual elements can be, they present two dilemmas for business communicators. First, even though more businesspeople are comfortable with emoticons and emojis for workplace communication, and they are built into many business communication systems, some professionals view them as inappropriate for all but the most casual communication between close colleagues.

Second, emoticons and emojis can cause problems of their own when people don’t agree on what they mean. If you get a message that says, “Why don’t you and I get away from this stress-fest and brainstorm some solutions over coffee” and ends with a “winkie” emoticon or emoji, what does that digital wink mean? Is the person flirting with you or just innocently suggesting that the two of you could think more clearly if you got out of the hectic office for a while? The meanings of emoticons and emojis are so problematic that they are becoming important factors in legal trials regarding workplace harassment and other issues, and serious criminal cases can hinge on their interpretation.

Using Emoticons and Emojis Effectively: Advice for Students

Given the fluid state of emoticon and emoji acceptance in business communication, there are few hard-and-fast rules. However, students moving into the workplace can follow these tips to make the best use of them while avoiding trouble:

  • As in every aspect of business communication, know your audience and the situation. Study the tone of communication in your organization before deciding when and how to use emojis.
  • Don’t overuse emoticons or emojis. A message cluttered with symbols will look unprofessional, even in an organization that uses emojis regularly.
  • Follow the lead of the person with greater positional power. For example, if an upper manager doesn’t use emojis, don’t use them when communicating back.
  • Bear in mind that the use of emojis itself sends a message. If you are a new manager and your staff seems unsure how to behave around you, or you’ve been leading people through a tense experience, using emojis can send a signal that it’s okay to relax and be themselves.
  • Avoid emoticons or emojis in communication with external audiences unless you have an established working relationship with a customer or other party.
  • Never use emoticons or emojis in the most formal communication, including business plans, sales proposals, and contracts.
  • To avoid misunderstandings about what emojis mean, stick to symbols that are in common use in your organization.
  • Avoid crude or animated emojis.


Adapted from Courtland L. Bovée and John V. Thill, Business Communication Today, 15th ed (Pearson, 2021), 194–195.

Image: Timothy Valentine on CC BY-NC-SA

Encouraging Students to Apply Their Skills Now: Writing Professional-Grade Email

Even as the universe of digital possibilities continues to expand, email remains a primary communication tool for employees in most organizations. Chances are your students aren't accustomed to using email in a manner that meets the expecations of the workplace, but they have multiple opportunities right now to hone their email skills. 

Encourage them to consider these tips whenever they write email messages to any of their instructors:

  • Choosing when to use email. First, make sure email is the best channel for each message. In some situations, a phone call, an office visit, or a message sent through their course management systems could be a better choice. Second, consider the timing of their messages. Writing for help on an assignment at eleven o’clock the night before it is due is not optimal timing.
  • Writing clear and compelling subject lines. Emphasize that the subject line is a critical part of the message. In a world where people can receive dozens or hundreds of messages a day, the subject line often determines when the message will be opened—or even if it will be opened at all. Subject lines should work a little like headlines in an advertisement: capture the reader’s attention and start a conversation in an emotionally appealing way. Also, for people who don’t empty their email inbox but rather use it essentially as a filing cabinet, the subject line helps them find messages they have already read and need to find again. Accordingly, subject lines that are clear and specific show respect for the recipient’s time. “Help!!” doesn’t give readers much of a memory jog. In contrast, “A question on the service assignment for BCOM301” gives the reader a specific reminder of what the message is about.
  • Greeting the recipient appropriately. Students should address their instructors using the title and name format each has requested, starting with “Hi,” “Hello,” or “Dear.” If an instructor hasn’t given them guidance, remind them to use their best judgment. When in doubt, they should start out formally, with the appropriate title (Ms., Mr., Dr., or Professor) and his or her last name, and then let the instructor adjust the formality of the exchange in any future communication.
  • Creating the right tone. Students need to be mindful of the tone they create through their writing choices. Messages can come across as whiny or demanding even though the writer did not intend to strike that tone, so it’s important to review wording choices.
  • Ensuring an acceptable level of writing quality. Remind students to write in complete sentences, use standard capitalization, and follow the accepted rules of grammar. Depending on the relationship with each recipient, they should use texting acronyms, emojis, and exclamation points sparingly (if at all).

Students might feel self-conscious writing in this style at first, but remind them they are practicing a professional skill and showing respect for their instructors, so it’s a win-win.

Self-Coaching Ideas for Your Students

  1. Review several email or text messages you’ve sent recently (any type of messages on any system). How does their tone feel to you now? Would you change anything about the messages? Why or why not?
  2. If you believe you have received an unfair grade on an assignment or a test, what steps could you take in an email message to request an adjustment without sounding demanding or unpleasant?

Previous Posts in the Apply Your Skills Now Series

Encouraging Students to Apply Their Skills Now: Make QA a Routine Part of the Writing Process

Encouraging Students to Apply Their Skills Now: Think Now, Write Later

Encouraging Students to Apply Their Skills Now: Preparing for Difficult Conversations

Encourage Your Students to Put Their New Skills to Work Right Away


Photo credit: Javier Domínguez Ferreiro on / CC BY-NC-SA

27 Ways the Business Communication Course Can Help Your Students

This list has been one of the most popular posts we have ever published, and with the beginning of the fall term upon us we thought this would be a great time to repost it.

As you get rolling with a new term, you’ll probably be emphasizing the long-term value of the business communication course to your students. Here’s our list of 27 ways communication skills can help students in their personal and professional lives.

  1. Succeeding in other college courses. From writing research papers to making presentations, the skills developed in the business communication course can help with virtually every other course students take.
  2. Landing the best available job. The job-search process is essentially an interconnected set of business communication projects using a variety of media and interpersonal communication skills. It’s a great opportunity for students to put their finely tuned skills to work.
  3. Positioning oneself for promotional opportunities. The managers who make promotional decisions like to keep an eye on up-and-coming talent, and communication skills play a critical role in how those employees perform and how they are perceived by colleagues, customers, and influential executives.
  4. Becoming a more-effective online and offline networker. Networking is a vital skill for everyone from entrepreneurs to top-level corporate managers, and business communication equips people with the audience insights and communication skills they need to become valued and successful network participants.
  5. Interacting with people up and down the corporate hierarchy. College-aged students aren’t always comfortable communicating with older, more-experienced colleagues, managers, and executives. Learning how to analyze an audience’s needs and expectations can help anyone handle these challenges with grace and confidence.
  6. Solving problems. Every professional runs into problems in the workplace, and some jobs are all about problem solving. Communication is central to many business problems and challenges, whether it’s part of the problem or part of the solution.
  7. Selling ideas, proposals, and products. The business world is littered with great ideas and well-designed products that never caught on because the people behind them didn’t know how to promote themselves or their marvelous creations. Even professionals who never come close to working in marketing or sales need to know how to persuade—a valuable skill students will learn in this course.
  8. Understanding audiences. Whether it’s the other person in a one-on-one conversation or a global audience on digital media, knowing how to assess someone else’s information needs and emotional state improves every form of communication.
  9. Developing digital information fluency. Finding, evaluating, and using digital information in an age of data overload is a make-or-break skill in many careers.
  10. Developing visual literacy. From infographics to online video, visual media have become a fundamental part of business communication, not to mention the charts, graphs, diagrams, and other tools that have been in use for decades. A well-rounded business communication course can help students understand the power of visual communication, interpret business visuals, and make intelligent design choices in their own documents and presentations.
  11. Developing a compelling personal brand. Even people turned off by the idea of branding themselves can benefit from knowing the behaviors and skills that combine to create the “social being” they present to the rest of the world.
  12. Detecting and avoiding ethical lapses. Ethical dilemmas and ethical lapses should be core topics in business communication, of course. In addition to general guidelines for ensuring ethical communication, our texts offer such examples as overselling, obscuring negative information, and manipulating charts and graphs.
  13. Avoid and resolving disputes. Understanding how communication works—or fails to work—helps people minimize confusion, avoid inadvertent insults, and keep tensions from escalating.
  14. Diagnosing communication breakdowns. Sometimes even with good intentions and careful effort, communication efforts can fail. Professionals who understand a basic model of the communication process can use it to diagnose breakdowns and take corrective active.
  15. Using communication technology professionally. It’s a rare student who isn’t equipped with some advanced communication and computing technologies these days, particularly one or more mobile devices, but using those tools in a professional context takes the sort of awareness and practice they’ll get in the business communication course.
  16. Enhancing personal and social relationships. The value of communication skills certainly isn’t limited to the workplace. Knowing how to listen actively, speak persuasively, write carefully, and read critically can help just about any relationship.
  17. Crafting life’s toughest messages with sensitivity. Rejection letters, condolences, and other messages on unwelcome issues are among a communicator’s toughest challenges. The principles taught in business communication can help writers address these situations with understanding and tact.
  18. Improving communication confidence. By taking the mystery out of effective communication, this course helps students develop confidence in their ability to tackle any communication challenge.
  19. Evaluating, editing, and revising the work of other writers. Professionals are often asked to review the writing of other people, and knowing how to help—without throwing a wrench into the works—requires a specific set of skills that students can learn in this course.
  20. Leading and participating in more-effective meetings. The principles of interpersonal communication, group dynamics, and conflict resolution taught in business communication can go a long way toward making meetings more effective.
  21. Listening actively for information, intent, and nuance. Among the many skills that make up communication competence, few outrank listening. The business communication course can teach the vital skill of active listening and the specific modes of critical, content, and empathic listening.
  22. Communicating in a crisis. With the growth of social and mobile media, companies are under more pressure than ever to communicate quickly, clearly, and sensitively in the aftermath of accidents, tragedies, and other calamities. Anticipating likely events and responding with audience-focused messages are important managerial skills.
  23. Recognizing the powers and pitfalls of nonverbal communication. All communication efforts are influenced by the presence or absence of nonverbal signals, and this course can help students recognize the signals they receive and manage the signals they send.
  24. Communicating efficiently. Knowing how to craft messages and documents at a rapid clip is an essential survival skill for many professionals. By practicing with a proven method such as the three-step writing process, students can learn how to write not only effectively but efficiently, too.
  25. Ensuring positive team outcomes. Team dynamics are a complicated subject, but one simple truth is that dysfunctional teams tend to communicate poorly while highly effective teams communicate well. The business communication course gives students the opportunity to grow their teamwork skills in a safe, supportive environment.
  26. Enriching intercultural interactions. Reaching across international boundaries is a necessary skill for many professionals, and every business needs to connect with diverse groups of customers and employees. The business communication course teaches students how to communicate with people from other backgrounds and cultures—a necessary business skill and a lifelong source of pleasure.
  27. Improving etiquette in all forms of contemporary media. For all their benefits, today’s tech tools create a host of potential etiquette problems. Students can use the course to identify and avoid the missteps that can hurt careers.

Best wishes for a successful term!

Image by Mark Greaves from Pixabay