UM Students Conduct Research to Identify Communication Skills Desired by Employers

April 13, 2016

MISSOULA – University of Montana students in the Department of Communication Studies recently completed a research project to identify the communication skills most desired by employers.

According to a recent study conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, communication skills are among the most strongly desired characteristics of job candidates. However, few people receive formal training in how to actually display competent communication in a job interview.

To find out more about what competent communication looks like in a job interview, a group of UM students in Professor Steve Yoshimura’s Communication Research Methods course conducted a study to learn which communicative displays are most appealing to employment interviewers.

The students – Ashley Robertson, Allie Simon, Connor Gustafson, Lydia Howe and Colin Schifferman – contacted over 200 human resources managers in 41 states to find out what kind of interview behaviors are most appealing. They specifically examined what are known as “immediacy behaviors,” which are sets of verbal and nonverbal behaviors that people display when acting warm, likable and friendly, such as head nods, eye gaze, attentive posture, smiling and active use of gestures.

The students recorded three versions of a mock interview, with the one of the students acting as an interviewee who displayed either low immediacy, moderate immediacy or high immediacy during a one-minute segment of an interview with a career counselor at UM Career Services.

Using an online survey program, they randomly assigned the HR managers to watch one of the three videos, and then asked them to indicate how communicatively competent and how friendly, warm and likable the person seemed, and how likely they would be to hire that person if they were doing the interview.

Of the 39 managers who responded, those who saw the interviewee display high immediacy reported being more than almost three times as likely to hire the actor than were the managers who saw the person display low immediacy. The high-immediacy display also made the person seem more likeable and communicatively competent as well.

The students concluded that when employers say that they are looking for employees with good communication skills, they probably mean that they are looking for someone who seems responsive and attentive toward others.

“An important thing for an interviewee to know is that employers are looking for people who can get along and be responsive to the needs of others,” Yoshimura said. “Normally, this means using small nonverbal behaviors such as sitting attentively with one’s body oriented toward the interviewer, looking at the interviewer while listening, nodding his or her head while listening, gesturing while speaking and smiling at appropriate times during the interview.”

The study is now in preparation for publication review.

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Contact: Steve Yoshimura, professor, UM Department of Communication Studies, 406-243-4951, stephen.yoshimura@mso.umt.edu.