Graduate Management News

August 2014

The Newsletter of the Graduate Management Admission Council

Focusing on Communication Skills Early to Set Students Apart from the Crowd

Companies are in the business of building their future talent and leadership pipelines; they need managers who possess not just technical skills but the requisite communication and interpersonal skills to be strong, effective leaders.

Soft Skills

As one European consulting recruiter explained, they need both “soft skills and real world skills.” One US tech sector recruiter echoed, “Communications, teamwork, and interpersonal skills are critical—everything we do involves working with other people.” 

Findings in the 2014 Corporate Recruiters Survey, a study of nearly 600 employers conducted by GMAC in partnership with EFMD and MBA Career Services & Employer Alliance (MBA CSEA), revealed what employers want most from new graduate business hires. Companies want people who can speak well, write well, listen to others, present well, sell ideas to others, and negotiate with others in the course of running a business—in other words, they want communicators, with a capital C.

Understanding which skills employers prioritize can help students stand out from the competition in the job search or for securing a promotion. Of five major skill sets employers consider most important when hiring recent business grads for a mid-level position, communications skills top the list, followed in order by teamwork, technical, leadership, and managerial skills. With the exception of one industry–manufacturing, where leadership skills were in greatest demand—this finding was true across all world regions and employers, regardless of industry or company size. 

In order of their importance in the workplace, employers ranked communications skills, on average, twice as important as managerial skills. [This may be a given as companies recruiting MBA or other specialized business degree-holders assume these students are equipped with the whole package of KSAs (knowledge, skills, and abilities) that the degree implies—core business knowledge, strong analytical, quantitative, and technical skills.] Overall, the top four skills employers seek in new hires are communications-related: oral and listening skills are ranked first and second-highest, followed by written communication, presentation skills, and fifth-ranked adaptability, a teamwork skill. 

Soft Skills

Communications Skills as Part of the Educational Experience 

Finding ways to assist students in developing and improving communication skills—be they interviewing, listening, writing, or presentation skills—is a good investment for schools, whether through course work or designing programming or co-curricular projects such as case competitions. 

How students communicate is often an illustration of the underpinnings of their personality and self-awareness. For some graduate management programs, getting students to work on their communication and interpersonal skills starts before students even begin their course work. 

During early orientation events for MBA students at the University of Maryland’s Smith School of Business, Neta Moye, academic director of the Smith Experience, featured several of these data points in presentations for students. “Information like this grabs the attention of students and helps them begin to focus on getting prepared for whatever they aim to pursue after their studies. Students want to be prepared for the market, and we have feedback from alumni that say their program helps them do that, and one of the reasons employers like MBA’s in their hiring mix is that they are prepared to be committed to careers and are high performers,” she said. “They can focus on their strengths and weaknesses, knowing exactly how many days until their first career tests – alumni mock interviews and career fairs,” added Moye. 

Gary Fraser, Assistant Dean of the Full Time MBA Program & Career Services at the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business, noted that his program also emphasizes communication and interpersonal skills at orientation. “We ask students starting at orientation to begin working on Brand You –thinking about their career and their personal brand, and examine if there’s a need to change the perception of who they are in their career, and to understand what challenges may exist.” 

One tool several business schools are using to shed light on personal and professional strengths is the Reflect™ self-assessment and development tool. Learn more about how it can help students develop strategic self-awareness to boost performance, in school and on the job

About the Authors

Paula BruggemanPaula Bruggeman is editor/writer manager in the Research Department at GMAC.

Michelle Sparkman-RenzMichelle Sparkman-Renz is director, Research Communications in the Research Department at GMAC. 

Follow @GMACResearchers on Twitter.