Five Tips to Invigorate Your Vocabulary
by Thad Peterson
Monster Staff Writer
Sometimes, it’s not the point you’re trying to make but the words you use to articulate it that leaves an indelible impression after you’ve left the interview.
“It’s extremely important that good vocabulary be part of the interview process,” says Tom DiFilippo, a recruiter for Kforce Professional Staffing. “I think it’s one of the major reasons why an individual gets hired or not.”
Where can you gain a superior vocabulary to get an edge in interviews? Here are five suggestions.
Subscribe to the Right Stuff
Read “up-market papers, not rubbish” to increase your vocabulary, suggests Ted Corcoran, president of Toastmasters International. With all due respect to tabloids and men’s magazines, you just won’t find the same breadth of words in Star or Maxim as you do in the New Yorker or Financial Times.
Greg Ragland, cofounder of the vocabulary-building program Executive Vocabulary, points out that “business publications that are specific to your industry are also an ideal place for learning new words, especially in a context where you can use them.”
Get in the habit of underlining or highlighting words so you can go back and look them up later. Of course, you can also carry a pocket dictionary with you, or do what Ragland did: Buy a dictionary pen — an electronic device that allows you to scan a word and then it digitally displays the definition.
Open Your Ears
If you pay close attention in board meetings, during seminars and conferences or simply in conversation, you are bound to hear new words — or at least words about which you have some uncertainty. Note them and verify their meanings later.
“In our meetings, when we heard [an unfamiliar] word, we’d just write it down on the back of our notebooks and would then look it up and incorporate that word into our active vocabularies,” says Ragland of his and his business partner’s original attempts at expanding their vocabularies.
Make the Right Acquaintances
Most of us don’t use vocabulary as a litmus test when making friends, but Corcoran suggests trying to spend time with well-spoken people. “If you find yourself in the company of somebody who speaks well, it’s a great learning experience to be in conversation with them,” he says. “Find somebody who’s already a master of expressing himself.” When you spend time with these people, their good habits can rub off on you; eloquence is infectious.
Repeat, Repeat, Repeat
Ragland has found an effective process for internalizing new words, which is good news even if it is a bit monotonous. He suggests saying a word out loud 25 times and then defining the word out loud 25 times. Then, find a sentence using that word and say that sentence aloud 25 times. “The repetition will help assimilate that word into your active vocabulary,” he explains.
Take a Greek or Latin Class
Understandably, this route might be a bit excessive for many people, but Corcoran suggests that if you really want to take your understanding of the English language to a new level, you need to explore its roots, which lie largely in these two languages.
Remember that much of expanding your vocabulary is a matter of persistence. Active vocabulary is so ingrained in speech patterns that it’s hard to modify, but if you continue to work at it diligently, a more expansive and stronger vocabulary will be your recompense).
Is the Payoff Worth the Work?
When you have so much to worry about in your job search, is using the word “affable” instead of “nice” really going to matter?
“Your vocabulary is how you express yourself and your ideas,” says Ragland. “If you’re using the right words to express your ideas and beliefs, you’re going to look sharp. A good vocabulary is going to denote, ‘This person is a little more educated and a little sharper than the other person who just came in to interview who didn’t use any impressive words.’”
Ragland notes that the trick isn’t using a rare, esoteric five-syllable term only 1 percent of the population would ever understand. Rather, he suggests using “power words,” words that send a strong message and convey your powerful grasp of the language without leaving your audience in the dark. See a sample list of Executive Vocabulary’s 550 power words here.