Monthly Archives: July 2016

Setting the Tone Early—First Day Activities

[Instructors: Be sure to look at our first day writing prompts, which you’ll find in our Classroom Exercises post.]

We all know the feeling of standing in front of dozens of new faces for the first time with the daunting task of introducing your course’s goals and yourself. You may experience excitement, or you may be jittery with butterflies, but whatever you feel, your actions will set the tone for an entire term on that first day.

To help you usher in the new school year and set the tone for a positive learning experience, we’ve put together a variety of activities to make your first day seamless. Pick and choose!

shutterstock_186783779Create a welcoming environment that will persist throughout the term. Arrive early so you can greet and make eye contact with every student. When the students are seated, come out from behind the lectern. Move around the room and show enthusiasm. Share information about yourself as it relates to teaching the course: “This is my first time teaching business communication, and I’m so excited because I know this class will help every single one of you be more successful in your careers.”

Meet students/call roll. Because some students will inevitably arrive late, wait to take roll for about 10 or 15 minutes. Use that time to go around the room and ask students to reveal something about themselves (name, major, home town, or a fact not obvious by looking at the individual.) Start by modeling and tell students what you’d like them to call you: “Welcome to Business Writing 101. My name is Kerry Jones and I’d prefer for you to call me Prof. Jones. This is my third year as a business communication instructor, and I love teaching this course because past students tell me it’s the most useful class they’ve taken in college.”

Read/discuss parts of the syllabus. Instead of tine-worn tradition of reading the entire syllabus with the class, make an electronic version available prior to the first day. Inform enrolled students to read it before they attend the first class session. Then, rather than go over policies, spend time explaining the course goals and the rationale for readings and assignments. Setting objectives and expectations helps students know how to prepare for the entire term.

Interview instructor activity. Assign random groups of four or five. First have the students exchange contact information so they can later connect with several classmates if they miss class. Then ask them to come up with questions to ask you that are related to the course, assignments, or grading. Start the groups off by providing one guided question: “ Prof. X, what do you expect of students?” or “What can students do to earn top grades in your class?” Have the groups pick one student to read all of the groups’ questions as they “interview” you.

Create positive behavior lists. On the board, write two headings: Behaviors for Student Success, and Instructor Behaviors to Foster Student Learning. For the first heading, ask students to volunteer suggestions about how they can be responsible for their own learning. For the second, prod the students to define what they need from you as the instructor to facilitate their learning. If they hesitate, add points such as “Return student work quickly” or “Be available during office hours.” Be sure to call on various students, not just the eager beavers.

Now you are armed with the first day lesson plan. Have a great semester!

Do you have favorite first day activities you’d like to share? Start a conversation!


Welcome to Work, Generation Z—Now Learn to E-Mail! … College Grads Lack Communication Skills, Employers Say … Half of New-Hires Make the Same Huge Career Mistake

Welcome to Work, Generation Z—Now Learn to E-Mail!

Generation Z—those now in their teens and early twenties—have been described as even more tech savvy than millennials. Reports say many have had e-mail accounts since they were pre-teens. Despite their facility with technologoy, however, Generation Z has used e-mail as a read-only and outdated medium. Instead, this younger generation corresponds almost exclusively via texting and other communication apps.

shutterstock_127897745But now that the oldest members of Generation Z have entered the workplace as interns or new-hires, they are finding themselves playing catch-up to communicate with other generations. Because they have not been schooled in e-mail etiquette or in composing lengthier, thoughtful messages, the newest generation in the world of work is discovering that composing effective e-mails is a skill they must master. OMG!

From The Wall Street Journal

College Grads Lack Communication Skills, Employers Say

Hiring managers are underwhelmed by recent college grads and say they lack key skills, according to a recent survey conducted by PayScale.

The survey asked hiring managers about hard and soft skills that comprise the “Skills Gap,” those abilities employers expect college grads to have but that are found lacking or deficient.

Writing proficiency was named by 44 percent of hiring managers as the hard skill most lacking in new college graduates, followed by inadequate public speaking skills, which were cited by 39 percent of those interviewing new grads. The soft skills most absent were critical thinking and problem solving, which 60 percent of the managers claimed was under par.

Interestingly, 87% of graduates considered themselves ready for work; only 50% of managers agreed.

From Fast Company

Half of New-Hires Make the Same Huge Career Mistake

Nearly half of all workers fail to negotiate salary when accepting a new position, especially those taking their first jobs—and it’s costing them a lot.shutterstock_229398976

While a few thousand dollars more a year may not sound like much to haggle over, that lower salary comes back to haunt workers over time. Why? For one, raises and future offers are based on current earnings, so the lower the starting salary, the lower earnings are down the line and the slower the salary growth over time. Additionally, people who do negotiate their initial salary offers tend to renegotiate their compensation every few years. An analysis by claims that those who do negotiate initial salaries can earn up to one million dollars more over the course of their careers.

From Business Insider

Justifying a Course That Covers the Skills Employers Seek

by Dr. Mary Ellen Guffey

Do you have to fight to offer a business communication course in your department? I’ve received messages from instructors who ask me to provide justification for the course. It does seem incredible that we have to persuade administrators and colleagues of the need for a course that teaches so many critical skills our students need. But here goes.

Communication skills are consistently among the top skills that employers seek. Generally, employers want new hires to be competent in four major communication skills: writing, speaking, analyzing data, and thinking critically. All of these skills are taught in a typical business communication course. What other single college course better equips graduates to obtain the jobs they seek?

Managers Complain About New Grads’ Writing Skills

Survey after survey reveals that communication skills–including writing skills–are among the most sought-after career attributes of job candidates. Many of our graduates, however, fail to meet business standards. The most recent evidence, PayScale 2016 Workforce-Skills Preparedness Report, disclosed that 44 percent of managers feel that writing proficiency is the hard skill most lacking among recent college graduates.[i]

A survey of American corporation revealed that two thirds of salaried employees have some writing responsibility. About one third of them, however, do not meet the writing requirements for their positions.[ii]

Are colleges to blame? Sam Kirk, the founder of Youth About Business, thinks so. “I spent 12 years of my life recruiting and preparing college students for the transition from college to the workforce,” he wrote. “The number one weakness Corporate America said they faced with incoming talent was the inability to effectively communicate on a professional level. Their collegiate environment did not afford many opportunities for the development of this most critical skill. They interact mostly with peers and professors, and though this is great for the academic environment, the ability to convey an idea and generate a response that leads to profitability is not an outcome measured on the college campus. It is, however, the key to corporate advancement and a prosperous career.”[iii]

Business Writing Differs From College Papers

Adding ammunition to the argument, a recent article posted at U.S. News emphasized the need for training in business writing. “[Students] may have written papers in college, but those papers are not the same as business writing. Concisely communicating through email with coworkers, managers, clients, and customers is different.”[iv] In the workplace, conciseness, clarity, and organization are required, instead of writing a five-paragraph college essay that must reach an assigned word count.

Are Basic Skills Deteriorating?

Not only are graduates unable to communicate on a professional level, but some are having difficulty with even the basics such as grammar. An article in The Wall Street Journal reported that “managers are fighting an epidemic of grammar gaffes in the workplace.” Managers blame the slipping of skills to “the informality of email, texting and Twitter where slang and shortcuts are common.” Managers say that “such looseness with language can create bad impressions with clients, ruin marketing materials, and cause communications errors.”[v]

 Surveys Reveal Importance of Communication Skills

A 2014 survey of 400 employers conducted by Hart Research Associates for the Association of American Colleges & Universities revealed that four out of five employers considered communication skills very important for new hires. However, the survey also revealed that nearly two out of three employers found that new hires were not well prepared. Equally important, the survey revealed a gap between employers’ impressions and students’ more optimistic views. Employers thought that only 27 percent of new grads were well prepared with written communication skills, whereas 64 percent of students thought they were well prepared. Regarding oral communication skills, employers thought that only 28 percent of students were well prepared, whereas 62 percent of students thought they were.[vi]

 Students trained in business communication have a definite edge when employers seek to hire graduates with top skills. A college course in business communication provides valuable training in the skills employers seek for proficiency in today’s workplace.

[i] PayScale. (2016). Leveling up: How to win in the skills economy. Retrieved from

[ii] Do communication students have the “write stuff”?: Practitioners evaluate writing skills of entry-level workers. (2008), Journal of Promotion Management, 4(3/4), p. 294. Retrieved from http://search/

[iii]Farrington, R. (2014, May 28). The two key traits employers need from today’s college graduates. Forbes. Retrieved from graduates

[iv] Morgan, H. (2016, May 25). The top 4 skills new graduates need to improve. U.S. News. Retrieved from

[v] Shellenbarger, S. (2012, June 20). This embarrasses you and I. The Wall Street Journal, p. D1.

[vi] Association of American Colleges & Universities. (2015, January 20). Falling short? College learning and career success. Retrieved from