It’s no secret that an MBA is a leg up in the world of corporate recruiting—a sort of shortcut on the path to that dream job. In fact, the 2017 GMAC Corporate Recruiters Survey found that, of the 859 global companies that responded, 86 percent planned to hire recent MBA grads in 2017, compared to 79 percent the year before.
But what, exactly, are these companies looking for in a newly minted MBA? Great references, job or academic history, and relevant skills all play a role, of course, but that same survey found that, more than anything else, employers are looking for candidates with strong communication skills. Adam Walker, a recruiter at Citigroup, elaborated in an article on MBA.com:
MBAs working at Citigroup tend to have particularly strong accounting knowledge coupled with great communication skills. Candidates must be able to handle the pressure that comes with banking, whilst being able to communicate effectively with clients and colleagues.
Though it’s got a reputation as a “soft” skill, communication is anything but. In fact, it’s the activity that drives 80 percent of our work on any given day. From entry-level employees all the way to the C-suite, communication is the foundation of success—or failure—in every workplace interaction.
What Does Strong Communication Entail?
There are countless communication characteristics we can measure, and the most important ones vary depending on the goals of any particular event. However, there are a handful of traits that can make or break communication in just about any setting.
Clarity: The Foundation of Any Message
Beginning with the most basic criteria, clarity is surprisingly difficult to come by in a professional setting. In fact, we know that businesses as small as 100 employees spend an average of 17 hours a week clarifying previous communication, which translates to an annual cost of at least $525,000.
While it’s easy to assume leadership communication is about demonstrating a deep understanding of complex ideas, the reality is that, unless the speaker can break those ideas down in a way that is easy for listeners to follow and internalize, his or her message will not land.
Sheryl Sandberg is one of the clearest
communicators we’ve measured.
Credibility: Making it Personal
Have you ever delivered an important message, only to be met with skeptical looks and comments that scream, “Who are you to tell me that?” When an audience questions a speaker’s chops, it’s likely because the speaker didn’t do enough work upfront to build his credibility with the other folks in the room. He hasn’t given them reason to believe he knows what he’s talking about.
While folks who already have strong reputations among their audiences don’t need to spend much time building credibility, speakers who are new to their audiences (such as job candidates or new hires) will need to spend a minute proving they’re qualified to comment on the topic at hand.
In an article we wrote for The Muse, we explained that brands build their credibility by citing awards and rave reviews from top clients, and employees can use similar tactics to show the boss they’re up for a challenge. Now, be careful. If you know you need to establish a little credibility with your audience, it can be tempting to get up on stage and recite your resume. But that won’t help you much. Instead, try to weave your experiences, accolades, and qualifications seamlessly into your message.
President Obama’s speechwriter, Cody Keenan,
is a master at building credibility.
Trust: Elusive and Vital
For communication to be effective, speakers must establish trust with their audiences. No matter how great the news or how inspiring the message, if they don’t trust you, they won’t listen. Simple as that.
At a basic level, a trustworthy person is someone we can rely on to say or do what is right. Unfortunately, in today’s world of “alternative facts” and bias-confirming newsfeeds, that feeling of trust can be hard to come by—even in the workplace. Fortunately, based on years of research, communication experts have actually isolated patterns in human speech that can help us build trust with our audiences. The patterns include both those associated with deception, like negative sentiment, and more positive traits, like first person pronouns or a level of detail that is cognitively difficult to convey.
This viral TED-Ed lesson shows how to
recognize trustworthy communication patterns.
Charisma: The X Factor
We talk about charisma a lot, particularly when we’re talking about leadership. It’s a quality we should aspire to as speakers, to help us inspire our audiences and gain support in our most important initiatives. But when we try to actually define charisma or talk about how to achieve it, we get into vague and elusive territory. We tend to attribute it to the luck of the draw—some people are just born with it.
However, thanks to communication research and analytics, we know charisma can be learned, and it all comes down to showing your audience that you’re invested in their experience. If they don’t believe you’re interested, how can you expect them to buy your message?
How Can MBA Programs Ensure Graduates Have the Communication Skills They Need to Succeed?
It’s clear that, when it comes to strong communication skills, there’s a lot to learn. The question is, then, as a higher-education professional whose primary goal is ensuring your students land in good jobs after they leave the MBA program, are you equipping students with the communication skills they need to succeed after graduation?
Traditionally, organizations looking to improve a team’s communication skills would bring in focus groups, consultants, or individual coaches to solve the problem. But at the university level, where there are too many students with differing needs and not enough budget or time for traditional solutions, there must be another option.
General workshops and seminars are one potential route but, with large groups like MBA cohorts, it’s nearly impossible to leave a lasting, personalized impression with something like a daylong group training. Textbooks, too, offer some support. But, again, with each student bringing different strengths and development opportunities to the table—not to mention different learning styles—textbooks tend to be a little too, well, textbook to really help.
What these organizations really need is an objective view of each student’s overall impact as a communicator and a detailed dive into the verbal and nonverbal communication traits driving that impact.
What if each student could upload a video—of a recent interview or presentation—and receive objective evaluations of their communication skills and personalized recommendations showing exactly what they need to work on?
And what if you, as the administrator or program leader, could receive aggregate-level insights that show you the students’ collective strengths and weaknesses and help you identify where to make improvements in group workshops or course curricula?
QC’s data-driven, automated approach to communication analytics offers exactly that, and we’ve supported MBA and EMBA programs at top schools across the country, including Stanford, Harvard, and the University of Texas at Austin.
This data-driven approach empowers each user to turn generalized feedback into granular insights that drive the lasting communication improvements they need to land plum jobs in the corporate world, and it provides leaders with the aggregate data they need to leverage the program’s overall strengths and weaknesses to create the support systems their students really need.