The #1 thing employers want most in a new hire

Are presentation skills important to employers? Sometimes I think that employers speak out of two sides of their mouths.

On one hand, they seem to let their employees give awful presentations without negative consequences. (How can there be negative consequences when everyone is doing it?) Not that every employer is that way, but many don’t seem to care.

powerpoint-tips-what-employers-want-1On the other hand, look at the National Association of Colleges and Employer’s latest report, “The Skills and Qualities Employers Want in Their Class of 2013 Recruits.”

What is the #1 skill/quality that employers want?

Ability to verbally communicate with persons inside and outside the organization

It’s true that there is more to verbal communication than presentation skills. Verbal communication includes 1-on-1 conversations with people. But certainly presentation skills are a significant portion of verbal communication.

(By the way, this isn’t something new. See my 2010 post about a similar report.)

Moreover, when employers graded their average new graduate recruit on skills/attributes, they rated verbal communication skills #6. Here’s how it went:

  1. Teamwork: A- (An average score of 10.82 in their rating system)
  2. Analytical/quantitive skills: A-(An average score of 10.63)
  3. Problem-solving ability: B+ (An average score of 10.48)
  4. Initiative B+ (An average score of 10.42)
  5. Work Ethic: B+ (An average score of 10.39)
  6. Verbal communication skills: B+ (An average score of 10.38)
  7. Leadership: B+ (An average score of 9.89)
  8. Written communication skills: B+ (An average score of 9.47)

Not that a B+ is that bad, but it’s still pretty low considering it was the most valued skill/quality and it came after 5 others.

What colleges need to do

Some colleges take this to heart and try to prepare their students.

But recently a professor wrote me, “I walk our halls and see students practicing their class presentations and I see lots of bullet points and words. ”

Here are the problems as I see them.

  • If they’re fortunate, students can take a good Communications courses with a professor who knows something about good presentation skills and there they practice giving effective presentations. But that’s one course.
  • In all the other courses, students give presentations without good feedback, because the faculty don’t know what makes a good presentation.
  • School presentations are usually academic. For this reason, students get little practice in preparing, designing or delivering persuasive presentations.
  • Finally, students see bad examples of presentations from their professors all the time. It’s no wonder that they graduate without good presentation skills.

What’s such a shame is that professors could make their students happier if they themselves did a better job of presenting. So colleges need to train all faculty in presentation skills. This needs to be part of the ongoing training that faculty receive throughout their career.

Presentation skills need to be a part of almost every class, with best-practices feedback given by a professor who knows what makes a good presentation.

What employers need to do

If companies really think that verbal communication is so important, they need to train employees to speak and present effectively. They need to set high standards during meetings and presentations.  Senior management needs to provide a good example when they speak.

Communication is crucial for a business. Communication is the basis for sales and decisions. Poor communication can cause serious problems in an organization. So let’s improve our verbal communication skills! Let’s get it done!

2 comments to The #1 thing employers want most in a new hire

  • Peter Bedson

    The point about academic presentations being terrible is a very good one. I was a management consultant so making good presentations is/was very important to me. I recently went to a meeting which was designed expressly to build a bridge between what academics are doing and real world practitioners and almost without exception the academic presentations were truly truly terrible. Every possible presentation mistake was there – slides with so much data on you couldn’t hope to read them, people reading their slides, graphs without axes, too many slides for the time, terrible animations and clipart and so on. Really good work was buried in all this rubbish to the point of invisibility.
    If kids see this through their university years it is no wonder that the vast majority of presentations are so bad!

  • Dave

    Bullet points be gone; slides should be dedicated to pictorial representations of real information by graphs and charts that are clearly understandable. If you need cues to make your presentation then have cue cards for yourself, don’t make others have to see and read your cue cards with you, plus let the audience take their own notes not your cue card handouts.

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