Thousands of Job References Weigh In: Entry-Level Job Candidates Should Focus on Being Better Communicators

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New SkillSurvey Study Identifies Top Areas for Improvement for Entry-Level Job Candidates

As Gen Z enters the workforce and a new crop of college students heads back to school, SkillSurvey today released data showing that communication skills continue to be a key area of professional growth for entry-level job candidates. SkillSurvey is the leading provider of online reference checking, and these study results are based on feedback from thousands of references for entry-level job candidates.

“In a tight labor market, like the one we are experiencing, a mix of soft and hard skills is critical for any candidate. But as an entry-level job seeker with minimal experience in the workforce, soft skills can make or break your candidacy,” said Ray Bixler, SkillSurvey CEO. “Being comfortable presenting a narrative, writing, explaining tasks, and effectively relaying information will give a candidate a real edge in this job market, regardless of the field they are interested in pursuing.”

According to recent a study conducted by LinkedIn, communication is currently the most in-demand soft skill. A 2016 report from NACE, the National Association of Colleges and Employers, came to a similar conclusion – when asked to assess candidate skills/qualities, employers rated communication skills as the most important. SkillSurvey’s research aligns with these findings and shows that communication, in various forms, is a common area for improvement for entry-level job candidates across a spectrum of jobs in the workplace from finance to nursing.

The SkillSurvey analytics team studied one thousand job reference reports on candidates for each of the seven most common entry-level positions: engineer; finance; IT; registered nurse; sales/business development; sales/account management and customer service. A vast majority of these references came from past employers and professors. The team identified these as the most frequently cited areas for improvement:

Where Can Entry-Level Candidates Improve?
(Communication-Related Categories Highlighted in Italics and with ***)

Job Title Top Areas for Improvement

Customer Service    

  • Attention to detail
  • Making high-quality decisions
  • Communicating clearly***


  • Staying up to date
  • Explaining financial concepts and information***
  • Using financial data to make decisions


  • Documenting program and code creation***
  • Staying up to date
  • Handling multiple projects

Registered Nurse    

  • Displaying confidence in nursing skills
  • Instructing others in processes/procedures***
  • Taking initiative

Sales/Business Development (Sales “Hunter”)    

  • Presenting information***
  • Negotiating with others to achieve an acceptable outcome***
  • Attention to detail

Sales/Account Management (Sales “Farmer”)    

  • Presenting info and advice in a logical, compelling manner***
  • Attention to detail
  • Persistence when faced with objections


  • Staying up to date
  • Software proficiency
  • Independently making decisions

“For entry-level job seekers, references are as important as ever. If you had an internship or co-op during your time in school, those supervisors are likely to provide insightful feedback about your work experience and can be excellent references. Make it clear to any reference you approach that you are career ready – and possess the ability to effectively communicate, pay attention to detail, and stay on top of your work,” said Bixler. “Knowing how to code or the basics of finance may get you in the door, but having strong soft skills is what will really impress a potential employer.”

Using SkillSurvey’s online, automated reference system, recruiters enter a job candidate and then choose a job-specific survey from a library of hundreds of options, which map to thousands of job titles in the workplace. Candidates enter their references, and confidential feedback by the references is submitted to the online system – typically in less than two days. In addition to quantitative ratings, feedback can be provided by references in the form of optional, open-ended comments on the candidate’s top three work-related strengths and areas for improvement.

About SkillSurvey®

SkillSurvey applies the science of human behavior and harnesses the power of insights and data to create a fuller picture of the people you recruit and hire. SkillSurvey makes the referencing and credentialing process more efficient and effective — by helping employers save time and money, by onboarding employees faster, and by growing revenues. Visit SkillSurvey at, and on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

SkillSurvey® is a registered trademark of SkillSurvey Inc. or its affiliates and registered in the U.S. and other countries.

© 2018 SkillSurvey Inc. and its affiliates.

Media Contacts

SkillSurvey: Stephanie Sabath, Sloane & Company, (212) 446-1873,

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Stephanie Sabath
Sloane & Company
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