Sometimes clients don’t fully understand, make full use of or give credit to the value added by communications professionals. Yet, these individuals work under intense time or performance pressure, a reason why their positions are ranked as among the most stressful jobs. This work can be a balancing act, weighing big-picture and micro decisions, orchestrating operations across teams of many roles and levels.

Yet communications work can be very satisfying. It’s more than a transactional business. It’s a people-building, story-connecting and master-of-networking career. Skill sets of a communication strategist cover areas from humanities, science, technology and more. The common thing that unites all communication pros is the deeper way that they learn and connect.

They have a real curiosity about life, which results in their leaving a real impact even on the days when the going gets tough. In thinking about the qualities of effective communications people, here are the top five criteria they have in common:

1. Studying people.
Everything in the communications field hinges on understanding how people think and work.

The best communications pros are able to “get under the skin” of their target audiences and really relate to their story, their needs. How do they make decisions? What are their aspirations, pains, unrequited goals?

When thinking of their target audience, they think about the work of these individuals, their day-to-day hopes and frustrations, the things they wish for while driving to work and what they try to make sense of as they drive home.

With closed eyes, a good communication pro can, imagine being the audience. Communication Pros are students of people and build an understanding that leads to having a real communications impact.

2. Understanding stories and knowing how to share them.
Crafting stories is an art form for top communicators. So often, people forget that what seems like a whole book is actually just a chapter, part of a longer-term vision being built. Good authors often have the gift of seeing chapters as whole stories, making them complete while knowing they’re only part of a larger arc.

Understanding how stories work — and how the human mind responds to them — is the craft of top communications professionals. Looking for classic heroes, villains, victims and other archetypes to the structure of timeless human drama and narrative structure, will allow for seeing the world — and work — in new ways.

3. Mastering the counterpoint.
Common praise for excellent communications partners sounds like, “She helps me see the big picture” or “He gets me out of my comfort zone.” A strong devil’s advocate can push others into deeper understanding and prepare them to address unexpected alternatives to the way they see things.

This takes finesse: The idea is to help broaden and strengthen a point of view and not necessarily to change it.

Practice thought tennis. Be the person who makes other people smarter by helping them sharpen their thoughts and expand their view.

Come up with questions (“What would your competition say?” or “What if that never happened?”) that artfully guide people out of their comfort zone. This will elevate the potential impact.

Communications professionals who can immerse themselves in the bigger picture see a whole different view than those on the ground — and that’s a huge value when it comes to mapping the right path.

4. Geeking out. Connecting the Dots.
Those who skim the surface don’t do enough to excel. Dig Deep and Connect.

In helping people grasp something, be curious enough to understand it. Yes, it takes work to really understand, but do that by researching or always asking questions, digging deeper, learning more. Collect the dots that ultimately allow for connecting (the more dots, the more connections). That’s the key to excellence in communications.

Communications isn’t a desk job. Communications pros spend a lot of time on the phone and keyboards. But, at the end of the day, that’s not where it really happens. Being relevant, connecting with others, developing a sense of what’s really happening — all of that happens best when someone is out in the real world.

5. Earning trust.
Communications pros earn trust when they’re informed. Have a ready tool kit of knowledge and experience, and have the courage to be honest and embody integrity.

So as you search for that special communicator, take these tips to the interview. Every great communications strategist will be prepared to respond.