Student Perceptions about Business Communication in Their Careers

By McPherson, Bill | Business Communication Quarterly, June 1998 | Go to article overview

Student Perceptions about Business Communication in Their Careers


McPherson, Bill, Business Communication Quarterly


The policies commission on Business and Economic Education, a national advisory committee, challenged business educators to develop students' business communication skills (Policies, 1997). There is little question among educators and business executives that excellent communication skills are requisites for today's jobs. Yet, most business teachers realize the difficulty of getting students to take business communication courses seriously.

Successful teachers know that students learn best when they value what they are learning as relevant. Teachers can often create learning environments that stimulate students' enthusiasm if they can relate topics taught in school to career or life goals of students. As students become more aware of tasks performed by professionals, they will be more cognizant of tasks they will be expected to perform when they enter the workplace and, thus, take learning more seriously.

This study sought to answer the following question: What are the perceptions of business communication students concerning their future professional tasks?

Literature Review

Business communication typically is associated with writing and reading as well as speaking and listening. Research on the opinions of executives and college graduates reveals that the ability to communicate effectively in business is ranked at the top of the skills necessary for job success (Chandler, 1995; Harcourt, Krizan, & Merrier, 1995; Locker, 1995). Harcourt, Krizan, and Merrier (1995) offer:

The higher the responsibility level to which individuals progress in an organization, the more time they spend communicating. Upper-level executives in many businesses or nonprofit organizations will spend up to 95 percent of working time communicating-speaking, listening, writing, reading. While some persons may spend as little as 10 percent of their work time communicating, it is estimated that an average of 60 percent of employee time is spent in some form of communication (p. 7).

Written and oral communication abilities are essential in business (Bell, 1994). The authors of Workforce 2000 predict that by the year 2000, 41% of new jobs will require high-level skills in reasoning, mathematics, and communication (Johnston & Parker, 1987).

Regardless of their field or career, students' chances of being hired are better if they possess strong communication skills. Out of 120 job descriptions appearing in the National Business Employment Weekly (published by The Wall Street Journal), almost every listing included this message: The persons we seek must have strong oral and written communication skills. From chief financial officer to pet buyer, these positions will be filled by people who can communicate well (Arnold, 1992).

If students want to rise in an organization, high-level skills, including the ability to speak and write well, determine how fast and how far they will be able to go. Joyce Cochenour (as cited in DiGaetani, 1982), an administrator at Allstate Insurance, pointed out:

If you want to stay at entry level ... you really don't have to write much. If you want promotions, on the other hand, writing becomes important. If you want to get into management positions, you're going to have to speak in front of groups and do some writing (p. 41).

When several candidates for a promotion all have good technical skills, differences in communication skills may decide who gets the job. Ben Ordover (as cited in Mandel & Yellen, 1989), explains his practice as a division president at CBS:

Many people climbing the corporate ladder are very good. When faced with a hard choice between candidates, I used writing ability as the deciding factor. Sometimes a candidate's writing was the only skill that separated him or her from the competition (p. 134).

Your technical skill in accounting, computer science, or marketing may get you your first job; the ability to speak and write effectively may help you keep it (May, 1987).

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