Three years ago a faithful reader of this column contacted me to share his success story.
He graduated from college into a slow job market. His resume was going unanswered, but once he landed a face-to-face interview, he stood out. He prepared for his interview by learning everything he could about the company, followed by eight hours of ‘rehearsal.’ According to the hiring manager, this young man landed his first job — a $40,000 position — because he could tell the company story better than the firm’s own salespeople.
He left the company a little over a year later to get a certificate in a STEM related field (coding and programming). Once again, resumes went unanswered. He could not match the technical experience of other candidates. But on his third face-to-face interview, he landed a position that pays over $100,000. And once again, the hiring manager said his communication skills made him a valuable employee.
I recalled that story while talking to the researchers behind a new survey of recruiters, hiring managers, and college seniors. The survey is called The Class of 2017: Jobs Outlook Report. It was conduced by iCIMS, a talent acquisition software company.
As a communication specialist, I was struck by this finding:
Sixty-five percent of recruiters and hiring managers say strong written or spoken communication skills is more important in an entry-level job applicant than their college major.
“Strong communicators have a competitive edge,” says Susan Vitale, chief marketing officer for iCIMS Insights.
Here’s the problem that all grads and job seekers need to know. The report finds a wide gap between what recruiters expect from entry-level job candidates and how those college seniors view their own communication skills.
According to the report, about 90% of college seniors are confident in their interviewing skills, while more than 60% of recruiters say their interview skills leave much to be desired. For starters, hiring experts recommend that job candidates become much more familiar with the company and the industry.
“Candidates think they’re doing homework, but there’s a difference between rattling off facts that they learned from a company website and crafting narratives around their experience,” Vitale told me. “Today there is more information available about businesses than ever before. It’s not enough to know when the company was founded, who the CEO is and where they’re headquarters are.” Vitale recommends that job candidates clearly explain the value they bring to the company, how it will benefit the customer, and help advance the company’s position in the market.
Vitale also points to a growing trend where communication skills make the difference. Hiring managers are increasingly saving time by asking for short 90-second videos of prospective candidates. They often use these videos to decide whether or not a candidate deserves an in-person interview. If a candidate cannot speak well or enunciate clearly, wears a sloppy wardrobe and records the video with an unprofessional background, it could prevent a follow-up interview even if the candidate looks good on paper.
Recruiters also say that they look for strong communication skills after the interview is over. According to the iCIMS survey, 74% of entry-level applicants do not send a thank-you note after completing the interview — no email, no phone call, no hand-written note. Nothing. Many hiring managers consider the lack of follow-up to be a red flag. If a candidate doesn’t follow up after the interview, what does that say about his or her ability to follow up with customers or senior managers?
The New York Times columnist and author, Thomas Friedman, once said that in this hyper-competitive global economy ‘average’ only guarantees below-average results. How will you stand out? Hiring managers are giving you more than a hint. They’re providing specific instructions.