As the Class of 2023 enters the workforce, employers are seeing a lack of the skills necessary to
navigate the office. The solution: instruction on how to send an email, the right way to buttonhole
the boss and what not to wear.
Lindsay Ellis Follow
Recent graduates might be great at accounting or coding, but they need a little help when it comes
to dinner parties and dress codes.
Many members of the class of 2023 were freshmen in college in the spring of 2020, when campuses
shuttered due to the Covid-19 pandemic. They spent the rest of their college years partially in
virtual mode with hybrid internships and virtual classes. Students didn’t learn some of the
so-called soft skills they might have in the past by osmosis on the job, from mentors and by
practicing on campus.
To address deficiencies in everything from elevator chitchat to presentation skills, companies,
universities and recruiters are coming up with ways to train new hires and give them clear advice.
They are eating it up.
Recent graduate Joslynn Odom had her first hybrid internship after her junior year and found
working in person to be draining thanks to wearing professional attire and staying energetic
consistently. It made her realize that she needed to sharpen her communication and networking
Programming arranged by her college, Miami University in Ohio, has since helped. Just before
graduation she attended an etiquette dinner where she learned to follow the lead of more senior
leaders over dinner: Eat at their pace, discuss neutral topics and avoid personal questions. When
buttering bread, it is best to put a slab on one’s own bread plate before applying it to a roll,
and when cutting food, holding the fork
hump-side up is best, she said.

“Knowing that, I feel more confident,” she said.
William Lopez-Gudiel, 23 years old, interned last year for Warner Bros.
Discovery and found a presentation on office dynamics especially helpful. It covered dress codes,
navigating interpersonal relationships and what working in person is like, he said.
The company said it has offered similar guidance in the past. Some of it felt like common sense to
Lopez-Gudiel, who graduated in December from George Mason University and is a self-described
But Lopez-Gudiel ultimately appreciated the information, realizing that the pandemic may have
limited what soft skills he might have learned at past work experiences. He will be working at the
company full time as a software developer.
Many soon-to-be graduates are itching to get rid of Zoom and work face-to-face with co-workers
where their interpersonal skills will be quickly tested. In an April survey of about 700 Class of
2023 graduates from the virtual student-health company TimelyCare, 53% said they wanted a fully
in-person work environment, while 21% said they wanted to be fully remote.
New KPMG hires at the company’s training facility in Orlando, Fla., where KPMG teaches presentation
skills, the art of talking in person and how to resolve conflict in teams. PHOTO: KPMG
Graduates’ disrupted college experience might mean they struggle with the basics
reading colleagues’ cues or navigating a meeting, said Heidi Brooks, a senior lecturer in
organizational behavior at Yale University’s School of Management. In class, when students didn’t
have cameras on, that was harder to determine.
New hires will need to learn “those nuances of, how do you actually create enough connection,
visibility, ability to maneuver,” she said.
The missing piece for young professionals who have graduated since 2020, in fact, has been no real
proximity to mentorship and leadership, recruiters say.
“This is so much more important today,” said Sandy Torchia, vice chair of talent and
culture at KPMG, whose full-time hires this summer and fall will go to the
firm’s training facility in Florida where they’ll get new presentation training.


What soft skills are most important for young professionals to master? Join the
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They’ll practice scenarios involving conflict within teams, plus the basics of talking in person—as
simple as how to introduce yourself to a client or colleague. Key tips include maintaining eye
contact, taking pauses and avoiding jargon. It is also best to listen carefully to others, and to
adjust your introduction to highlight pieces of your background that will be most interesting to
The company has found that some young professionals are stiff, talk too fast, or rely too much on
filler words like “um,” as they presented. Some of the employees said they wanted to feel more
comfortable, too.
Allan Rubio, 21 years old was a freshman at Dartmouth College in the spring of 2020. Online classes
continued all through his sophomore year, which Rubio completed from his family’s home in Bangkok.
Course sessions stretched to 11 p.m. or sometimes 2 a.m. local time, he said.
Professors were far more flexible on deadlines during the pandemic, amenable to extensions if
students asked, he said. When Rubio had an in-person internship last summer, he realized his
manager, team or client depended on him meeting