What Communication Skills Do Employers Want? Silicon Valley Recruiters Respond

Article excerpt

The purpose of this study was to analyze the satisfaction levels of Silicon Valley employers with the communication skills of newly hired college graduates. Employers reported that oral and written communication skills needed improvement in several areas, including the use of vocabulary and self-expression. College graduates' skills are not always adequate to perform the tasks required on the job. Employers said students needed stronger writing skills; more training on professional uses of e-mail; and additional education regarding self-expression, impression management, and avoidance of slang.

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Employment counselors are well aware that communication skills are in demand in the workplace. Successful careers require the ability to communicate effectively both orally and in writing; these critical competencies will become more valuable as technology intensifies the significant role of messages in the workplace. Language is a powerful force. People in the workplace need to communicate quickly and effectively in messages sent by e-mail and handheld instant messaging devices; in meetings and dyadic encounters; and, of course, in letters, memorandums, and reports.

In this study, I analyzed the survey responses of 104 Silicon Valley employers regarding their satisfaction with the communication skills of their newly hired college graduates. Results showed that employers were less than satisfied with overall communication skills of their new hires and recommended that students receive more training in both oral communication and written communication skills. In addition, they indicated the need for increased facility in using electronic media, such as e-mail and PowerPoint, and training in self-expression and promoting a positive self-image.

Reports from the Department of Labor's Secretary's Commission on Achieving the Necessary Skills show that employers rate communication skills as a top priority for both securing and retaining employment (North & Worth, 1996, 1998). Strong indicators continue to come from employers that oral and written skills are in high demand. Another analysis of Department of Labor data regarding future workplace skills determined that communication skills are essential workplace tools for the 21st century (Locker & Kaczmarek, 2001) and have been correlated with career success and increased financial rewards (Fisher, 1999). College alumni have ranked communication courses as the most important courses that led to their advancement and promotions (Gustafson, Johnson, & Hovey, 1993; Hinkin, 1996; Murphy & Hildebrandt, 1988).

Research shows that people employed in business require strong speaking and writing skills to manage multifaceted and rapidly changing environments (North & Worth, 1998). Electronic communication calls for high levels of writing skills and the ability to communicate precisely. Writing style must be concise and direct, and assiduous editing is required to achieve this. Both employment counselors and professors need to understand the strengths and weaknesses of their academic programs; better educate their students to prepare them to work in fast-paced, high-tech environments; and help students maximize the return on their educational investments. Among the best sources for understanding the necessary changes to meet these needs are those who employ newly graduated students.

A systematic search through the Business Communication Quarterly, The Journal of Business Communication, Journal of Business and Technical Communication, and Management Communication Quarterly from 1990 through 2002 yielded very few studies of employers' perceptions of the communication skills of the new hires. Indeed, business communication journals seem to have moved away from examining employers' needs. However, one study surveying Gulf Coast area employers reported that oral communication skills, problem solving, and self-motivation were the three most valued workplace competencies, and a second study found that the ability to follow instructions, listening skills, and conversational skills were highly rated in the workplace (Maes, Weldy, & Icenogle, 1997). …