Calculator with financial statement

When I went to grad school for an MBA, it wasn’t something a lot of communications professionals did. (You want me to take how much accounting?) I read an article long ago that noted how much better prepared the author had been for many business school challenges coming from a communications background, versus engineering or finance.

I had a similar experience in grad school, breezing through business writing, research and presentations.  School experience is great, but we all know it’s what happens in the real world that counts—a reason employers are so keen on hiring experienced workers.  While it doesn’t immediately prepare you for technical or niche positions, a communications background can help you transition into any number of other jobs, or provide additional value in your current role.

Why? Let’s start with the ubiquitous, yet notoriously ambiguous “communication skills.” Finding a communications professional who doesn’t have better-than-average skills in this area is difficult. Far from impossible, yes, but a better bet than in most other professions.

Of course everyone thinks his own communication skills are impeccable. “I don’t know why Alice, Bob and Clarice don’t follow instructions—I sent them a fax last year.” “No one tells me anything.” “I only copied the people who need to know. What about Doug? Oh, I guess he does need to send that form…” You get the idea. And, of course when things go wrong it’s always a “communication problem” … but that’s another post.

As a communicator, your natural instincts help you make good business decisions. Before sending any message, you think about what action you need your audience to take. You think about how you will make that clear, who needs to be copied, and the next logical questions. Then you go ahead and answer those too, while keeping it concise.

Your research and communications planning skills can also translate to a variety of other business applications. For example, you’re used to creating communication strategies with sound objectives and realistic tactics, all the while ensuring that they’re also measurable (easier said than done) and within your budget.  This approach works well to solve other business challenges too.

Write down the business problem. Research your options—from industry best practices to customer interviews to digging in the data—then form an approach that’s realistic. Plan how you’ll know it’s working (or not), and what it’s going to cost (don’t forget labor hours). Think about what could go wrong, and plan for that too. Think about what happens if you don’t do it (purposely taking no action is also a strategy).

If you’ve ever been a one-person shop, chances are you’re well-equipped with solid business instincts, MBA or not. So go ahead. Get out of your comfort zone, and speak up about how your excellent communication skills can support other areas of your business too.