What Do Employers Want in a New Hire? Mostly, Good Speaking Skills

By Catherine Gewertz — August 28, 2018 1 min read
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What executives want the most when they’re hiring new people is strong speaking skills, but they have a tough time finding candidates who are good at it, according to a survey released Tuesday.

Good oral communication skills got the #1 slot among the 15 job skills that executives and hiring managers identified as very important in new hires. Eight in 10 executives and 9 in 10 hiring managers said recent college graduates really need good speaking skills when they come looking for jobs.

Oral communication ranked higher than critical thinking, ethical decisionmaking, and working in teams. It’s more important to company leaders than being able to write well, solve complex problems, or be innovative.

The Association of American Colleges and Universities commissioned the survey as part of its work, over the past decade, to find out what skills companies need from college graduates.

Oral communication has risen to the top of the list since the AACU’s last employer survey, in 2015, when it ranked fifth, with teamwork in the #1 spot.

Companies say they have a hard time finding candidates with the skills they want the most, however. While 80 percent of the executives said good oral communication skills are very important, only 40 percent said that recent college graduates were “well prepared” to handle duties requiring those skills. That 40-point gap gets even worse when executives are asked about job candidates who can write well, think critically or apply their knowledge to real-world situations.

This year’s study divides the top 15 skills into two sections: Eight that were rated important by 80 percent or more of the executives or hiring managers, and seven that got lower ratings. Here are the top eight:

Are you surprised to see the ability to analyze and solve complex problems among the seven with lower ratings? Ditto for creativity and innovation. The need for these skills has gotten a lot of attention in recent years.

Real-world work experience appears to boost employers’ confidence that job candidates will have acquired the most important skills. In the survey, more than 6 in 10 executives and hiring managers said they’d be “much more likely” to hire someone who had completed an internship or apprenticeship.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the High School & Beyond blog.