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Sometimes I search for web developer jobs and one of the skills is "good written and verbal communication". Anytime I see it it looks like a red flag meaning that they don't want foreigners, introverts, or people with some kind of verbal or speech impairment. From my experience, anytime I apply for these jobs I don't even make it to the interview stage and it looks like it's because my name is foreign.

I also noticed that with this phrase they also mention that applicants need a permit to work in the USA. However, from my experience they also don't consider those with green cards or foreign accents.

So, my question is, what do employers really mean when they say "good written and verbal communication skills" if even some native speakers say that they don't have it? How could a foreigner ever be considered? Why would they even require this skill to be strong in a web developer if the position doesn't include any sales or writing?

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    "Must have a permit" means they don't want people who are applying and plan to then use the job offer as leverage to get a work permit. – Mark Feb 18 '17 at 20:12
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    Maybe they just want employees with good written and verbal communication? There are jobs where this absolutely doesn't matter, but there are jobs where it does. Period. – eckes Feb 19 '17 at 18:40
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    Good communications skills is best defined by what it isn't: POOR communications skills include: use confusing sentence structure, use wrong words, frequently interrupt others, distracted (texting etc while others are talking), fail to read carefully, skim or skip large sections when reading, misunderstand clear instructions, deliver incorrect instructions to others, fail to ask questions, assume knowledge on the part of others, talk down to others, go off on tangents, and many other behaviors which are entirely about communications skills and not about race, religion, or anything else. – barbecue Feb 19 '17 at 19:01
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    Discrimination is not a bad word. When you eat, you discriminate against non-foods and don't try to eat them. – Nelson Feb 20 '17 at 6:33
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    I'm an introvert with significant social anxieties. I can attest that it is very possible for introverts and people with social anxiety to have good written and verbal communication in a professional environment. Communicating regarding business processes, data, requirements, risks, timelines, etc., are the areas where I am most comfortable. Its "small talk" that pushes me out of my comfort zone. – Beofett Feb 20 '17 at 14:53
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It's possible some employers are blatant racists and trying any old trick in the book to avoid hiring foreigners. It's also possible you're reading too much into it. I think the latter happens way more often than the former.

Good communication skills is almost never about the language, but about your ability to express yourself clearly. There are ways to demonstrate that by maintaining a blog, etc. but that's outside the scope of your question.

However, from my experience they also don't consider those with green cards or foreign accents.

Correlation does not imply causation. I'm not familiar with US laws but I understand that a green card is a legal requirement. This may be a company's way of signalling their law-abidingness.

If a company is willing to consider green card holders they'll likely get far more applications than one who isn't. This means that, statistically, they'll get more CVs that are better-looking than yours.

The best way to deal with these "Schrodinger's racists" is to ensure your skill level eclipses any other factor. You can't do anything if they're dead-set against hiring foreigners, but you can certainly make yourself attractive to those who are willing to.

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    I particularly appreciate Correlation does not imply causation. The world seems to have forgotten this in past past one or two decades. – closetnoc Feb 18 '17 at 16:30
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    I think you misread OP's words. OP said they don't consider candidates with green cards (who are authorized to work, and who it's generally not legal to discriminate against except in certain fields where security clearance, etc. may come into play), not that they don't consider candidates without (who would not be authorized to work in the US except in a few special cases like pending or approved asylum). – R.. Feb 18 '17 at 19:47
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    @R..: "...not that they don't consider candidates without (who would not be authorized to work in the US except in a few special cases like pending or approved asylum)." Wait what? What happened to H1-B? It's the lifeblood of Silicon Valley... – Mehrdad Feb 18 '17 at 22:19
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    @closetnoc: youtube.com/watch?v=HL_vHDjG5Wk – Lightness Races in Orbit Feb 18 '17 at 23:45
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    Good point and in addition, communication is also about your willingness to express yourself. I've worked with people who wouldn't speak up when they had a problem, which meant that when we finally found out his task wasn't done we were almost out of time and it was much more stressful than it had to be to fix it. – Mel Reams Feb 19 '17 at 3:14
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Language skills are part of communication skills. That's just how it is. I read a lot of posts on The Workplace which clearly are written by non-native English speakers. Some are quite clear and some are not. Your proficiency with a language is not the only factor in whether or not you can communicate. My last boss was not a native English speaker and it was obvious, but he still communicated effectively so it didn't matter.

they don't want foreigners, introverts, or people with some kind of verbal or speech impairment.

I think you're misunderstanding what the point of this is.

In many fields, the ability to communicate is even more important than the technical aspect. A director at my company frequently says that communication problems are harder problems now than technical problems.

It's also a lot easier to hire someone who can "just code" than it is to hire someone who can "code and communicate."

What this means is the question isn't, "can the person speak fluent English?" but "can the person communicate effectively." English skills are part of that but I'd rather work with a non-native English speaker who had passable English but excellent communication skills than a native English speaker who thought communication was beneath them.

From my experience, anytime I apply for these jobs I don't even make it to the interview stage and it looks like it's because my name is foreign.

Don't make assumptions here. While there will definitely be those who do discriminate, in the tech industry you are not going to categorically be excluded based on your name.

The fact is that you are writing off something that is actually very important to employers - the ability to communicate effectively. This is actually more important if you are clearly a non-native English speaker as that's a primary concern anyone reviewing your application will have.

However, from my experience they also don't consider those with green cards or foreign accents.

One thing to consider is that the paperwork aspect of sponsorship is non-trivial. In addition, there are extra monetary costs. Some companies, particularly smaller ones, likely don't have experience in this sort of thing and/or the ability to actually sponsor those who otherwise would not be eligible to work.

Why would they even require this skill to be strong in a web developer if the position doesn't include any sales or writing?

I think you are fundamentally misunderstanding how important communication is. Over the course of my day yesterday I communicated with dozens of people - this is a fundamental part of software development.

Whether it's writing/reading specifications, tickets, or documentation, writing/reviewing code, communicating with customers or stakeholders, working with a team, participating in standups, asking others questions, a software engineer must be able to communicate effectively.

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    For what it's worth, too, your English in the question you asked is indistinguishable from native speaker English. If your cover letter was written with similarly good English you probably are showing people you can effectively write English - if you highlight some of your strengths in communication, you probably will have better luck in your application process. – enderland Feb 18 '17 at 15:42
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    @Grasper language skills are part of communication skills. That's just how it is. I read a lot of posts on The Workplace which clearly are written by non-native English speakers. Some are quite clear and some are not. Your proficiency with a language is not the only factor in whether or not you can communicate. My last boss was not a native English speaker and it was obvious, but he still communicated effectively so it didn't matter. – enderland Feb 18 '17 at 16:10
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    @Grasper, there's a big difference between English skills and communication skills. I work with someone who speaks perfect fluent English, but blathers on incessantly before getting to the point. It's not unheard-of for a thirty-second "is the server still running?" phone call to last half an hour. – Mark Feb 18 '17 at 20:15
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    @Grasper Dysfunctional management that doesn't prioritize well is not an excuse to avoid communicating, especially in a different job with people who might not spend inordinate amounts of time on trivial matters. – jpmc26 Feb 18 '17 at 23:29
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    @alephzero interesting... have you had people cheat their phone screening as well? – rath Feb 20 '17 at 10:11
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Why would they even require this skill to be strong in a web developer if the position doesn't include any sales or writing?

Probably the most important skill of a developer other than writing code is communicating with the rest of your team and your manager. You need to explain your code structure to the rest of your team, you need to give clear descriptions to the impediments you're facing to your manager (or scrum master, or whoever), and depending on the role you may well need to talk to designers, the support team and lots of other people, both inside and outside your company. That needs "good written and verbal communication", so it's a skill a web developer (or any other knowledge worker) must have. That you don't seem to think it necessary immediately raises concerns in my mind about whether you'd be able to do everything the role entails beyond simply churning out lines of code.

  • If what you are saying is true, I wouldn't have so many years of experience as web developer under my belt. I hardly ever need to communicate my code. The position only requires completing tasks. – Grasper Feb 18 '17 at 15:42
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    Many developers even have to communicate with clients. In these roles, you want your developers to be so well presented that they impress the clients. @Grasper Completing tasks requires understanding the task, asking questions to clarify the task, and sometimes expressing when a task is actually impractical. I don't know how you've avoided doing that over the years. The only things I can think of are someone on your team is doing it and then coming back to you with answers or working on very cookie-cutter projects where there really isn't enough variation for the difficulties to arise. – jpmc26 Feb 18 '17 at 19:39
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    I work at a tech company and would never hire a developer that only knew how to complete tasks. I need team members that can discuss ideas, challenge each other, and debate on the best solutions. That requires strong communication skills. That does not mean they have to be fluent in English (in fact I have worked with many successful developers that were not), only that they know how to confidently convey their thoughts. – Seth R Feb 19 '17 at 20:03
  • You missed "you need to communicate to your users". How else would you know what your users need? (OK, some rare jobs have BAs to cover that... I tend to find BAs well neigh useless) – user13655 Feb 19 '17 at 21:15
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    @DVK, if by BA you mean Business Analyst, it really depends. I have worked with BAs where it would have been easier for me to just work directly with the users, but a good BA is worth their weight in gold. Someone who understands what the user really needs AND can put it in technical terms the developers can understand and implement are incredibly valuable. They aren't common, though, and that's why your own communication skills can save the day. – Seth R Feb 20 '17 at 1:03
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If the requirement is "good written and verbal communication" and it is not verbiage, it is quite clear what is to be expected and it is neither racist nor does it mean foreigners or people with speech impediment. I will demonstrate.

A person who has the qualification knows that this skill is critical. He/she writes documentation or talks with laymen and people should understand immediately what the problem is, how it can be solved and how much time is needed. Let's say your client wants better typesetting support in your product. Then you inform him about the requirements of good typesetting (Readable font, correct hyphenation, harmonic size and format of heading) and tell him how much is currently implemented and how long (in this case 6 weeks) will be needed to meet the current demands. Even if this skill is not required, it is definitely a bonus point.

A person who has not the qualification, well, you know, it's a little bit complicated to explain. You have this text, I mean it's more correct to talk about layout, there are all kind of different things to explain like ligatures, widows and orphans and microtypography, all very important things to remember, you see. And it's very hard to judge, yes, yes, oh, I have made an own algorithm for the hyphenation, it is based on TeX, do you know TeX ? Oh, you do not know, oh, sorry, yes, yes, I get back to the question. Where was I ? Oh, yes, it is very complicated to estimate, wait, I have some memos here, do you see it ? It is very small, you mean, and hard to decipher ? Yes, I should typewrite it, but I like my handwriting, it is something personal, you understand ? Ah, I cannot give a hard estimate for implementing the hyphenation, it is a very fascinating topic and if I do not do my best, our speed of the product will be slowed down by at least 2%, perhaps even 4%. Oh, you are talking about the timeframe for the whole product ? Wait, wait, until you see it, it will be formidable...can you wait a moment, I need to get my papers, I forgot to take them with me....

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It is possible, but my experience is that companies are usually looking for people who can add to the business, and this means contributing more then just code to a spec, it means being able to help refine and define that spec.

To do this someone needs to be able to communicate, code does not exist in a vacuum, and there are always other stakeholders be they the senior developers, the architects, the UI types, the guy writing the backend, the manager defining the business logic, the security audit team or the accountant paying the bills.

Coding is EASY at least most of the time, developing a PRODUCT is hard and is a lot more then just writing code, and adding value to the product is what any company is looking for in an employee even if the job is superficially that of a code monkey.

We try very hard not to hire people who can only code, we want people who can add to the design and specification efforts, who can improve business processes and who are not afraid to push back when the stupid ideas come calling, doing any of these things effectively puts a higher value on communication then on bashing out javascript and HTML, and they are generally more important.

  • So the quiet coders can be unemployed. When you google search the jobs with least demand on communication, on the top of the list is web development. Try it! – Grasper Feb 18 '17 at 16:47
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    Not really, we don't hire for loud (That whole 'Brogrammer thing is just stupid), and it is not about being loud or extroverted, but I would like my people to be able to write a proposal for a spec change, or to suggest a new testing methodology, or whatever in clear English that I can forward to the stakeholders without needing to do a rewrite. – Dan Mills Feb 18 '17 at 18:49
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    @Grasper Everything in a job ad is going to be interpreted in light of someone's opinion, at least in part. Remember that job ad requirement lists are basically wishlists -- companies almost never get someone with all of the qualifications listed, so they have to prioritize what is most important among them if they want to hire anyone. And I happen to work as a software developer, and I can assure you that I communicate with people at least as much as I communicate with computers. Writing the code is the easy part; working with others to figure out what the code should do is hard. – a CVn Feb 18 '17 at 20:41
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    @Harper if by quiet coders, you mean coders that don't want to interact with other people, then yes, they will have a harder time getting a job. I'm sorry if that bothers you, but communication is an integral still, and developers that are great communicators are better at their jobs than ones that aren't. The good news is it's a skill, you can improve it like any other skill. You also aren't alone; most people are terrible communicators. That's part of why it's so highly sought after. – Kat Feb 19 '17 at 7:36
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    @Grasper - "Just Code" jobs are always on a very tenuous purchase. It seems every week new frameworks come out that eliminate the drudgery of coding. What is needed are people who can interpret the business requirements and develop solutions, both functionally and artistically. "Code monkeys" are often easily replaced by adopting a Javascript framework or a third-party control package. Technical skill is pocket change. Contextual understanding and synthesis are the "Coin of the Realm." – Wesley Long Feb 19 '17 at 16:32
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So, my question is, what do employers really mean when they say "good written and verbal communication skills" if even some native speakers say that they don't have it?

When I was interviewing people to hire, "good" would mean "good enough". I'd want to:

  1. be able to talk about work-related topics (software development)
  2. be understood
  3. understand what I was told in reply.

That's what "good" would mean to me. I wouldn't mind about a 'foreign' accent.

How could a foreigner ever be considered?

A lot of people learn to speak two or more languages, e.g. to speak English as a second language.

Why would they even require this skill to be strong in a web developer if the position doesn't include any sales or writing?

It has to be "strong enough". For example if I'm to be their team leader and someone doesn't really understand what I say when I talk to them, that's a problem.

As for why "good written skills" are important, even when you don't face customers, many jobs need you to read and write: emails, status reports, documentation, functional specifications, test cases, and comments (not to mention source code).

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I worked at a development company that asked for strong communication skills, and we discussed the policy at length. The intent was to hire developers who could communicate directly with clients, and, of course, with each other. Some hiring decision-makers were quick to notice mistakes in perfectly intelligible resumes or correspondences because they thought it was sloppy and wouldn't look good to clients. In that way, "good communication skills" was also code for "willing and able to create a grammatically flawless piece of writing if needed."

The effect could very well have been a lack of diversity. It's hard to know for certain, but it seems likely enough that it discouraged certain people from applying in the first place, that it disadvantaged people who grew up speaking a different language or dialect, went to an underfunded school with poor quality English instruction, learned English from ESL parents, had dyslexia, etc., and that it ultimately hurt our company by weeding out great developers and making us less diverse. To some extent, hiring people who wrote like us ultimately led to hiring people who talked like us, looked like us, thought like us, and came from backgrounds like ours.

  • Yeah, I also check the employees on linkedin and can see how diverse they are. And kind of see if they are open to foreigners. – Grasper Feb 18 '17 at 20:54
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    While this is useful insight on the topic, it doesn't seem to answer the question. – Masked Man Feb 19 '17 at 15:23
  • @MaskedMan. Really? I think it's the only answer here which does answer the question. – TRiG Feb 20 '17 at 10:18
  • @TRiG It does touch upon the effect of such requirements, but doesn't quite answer, "is there discrimination?" But I see what you mean. – Masked Man Feb 20 '17 at 10:30
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    @MaskedMan. It's the only one to say that discrimination is not always overt, or even intentional, which is a very important point skipped over by other answers. – TRiG Feb 20 '17 at 10:32
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While the other answers are good, I'd like to add another justification for good communication skills. Over time, I have noticed that it can reflect well-organized thought, which eventually is the basis for excellent code. A coder who plows through may get the job done and meet spec. But the one who really thinks clearly can produce software so good, he never has to look back. That thinking can show up in good communication, too.

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I have a number of things to say so I'm going to attempt to make this as brief as possible, but this is a complex topic so I apologize if this gets lengthy.

Before I begin: It is extremely unlikely that employers are "discriminating" by indicating that they want good written and verbal communication skills. While there may be some people out there doing that, it's honestly pretty ridiculous to imply that it's discrimination and I'll explain why in a moment.

Ok, so let's break this down a bit and look at a few factors I think you're overlooking:

1) Being a native speaker or fluent in a language has almost nothing to do with being able to communicate effectively. I know plenty of incredibly intelligent, native English-speaking people who can't clearly and concisely convey an idea to someone with a lower-level understanding. Which brings me to my next point...

2) Just because a job isn't a sales/customer-facing position doesn't mean the ability to communicate is less important. There are multiple facets of communication and being able to speak to strangers and empathize with people (sales) has basically nothing to do with being able to convey ideas and concepts effectively.

One of the most critical aspects of a software development position is the ability to work with team members, analysts and customers to identify and resolve issues. If you can't explain technical information or relate concerns effectively then you're going to waste valuable time re-discussing or even worse re-developing things because there was a lack of communication.

3) Frankly, I think IT is one of the most diverse fields you could discuss and that out of all the possible things you could complain about discrimination shouldn't be very high on the list. I've worked with people of all genders and nationalities, both in person and through online collaboration. If anything the stereotypical Asian/Indian engineer you often see in media/advertising is an indication that discrimination isn't a major issue.


As for your experience with interviewing:

I think that you're attempting to rationalize to yourself why you weren't selected, and if I had to guess I'd say it's because you're either overestimating the relative strength of your qualifications or your resume isn't doing a good job of highlighting why you're a strong candidate for the positions.

As another poster said: you're not being passed over for having a foreign sounding name in a field where a TON of companies are outsourcing IT services overseas and everywhere you look in the online community are developers of all races and nationalities. That's what I meant when I said it was a little ridiculous to imply, because I don't think you could pick another field that's as diverse or forward-thinking.

I would suggest that you try to keep an open mind about things and not be too quick to dismiss the importance of them. IT is a good field to be in, but just like a college education... it's not a magic bullet. There has been tremendous job growth over the past 20 years, but there has also been an explosion of people getting educated in the field. Some people seem to think you can't look without bumping into countless opportunities, but that just isn't realistic.


The point I'm driving at here is you still need to differentiate yourself from other candidates, and the number one thing for many companies is your ability to communicate. I'm currently a software developer, but I spent a decade working in sales/management and if I were hiring today I would MUCH rather an average programmer with excellent communication skills and a good attitude than a "rockstar" programmer with middling communication and a bad attitude.

  • Thanks for your answer. You must understand this isn't just mine experience. Many even native English speakers with i.e. Hispanic name felt they weren't preferred over other candidates. It's a big lie if you guys keep saying the language has nothing to do with good communication skill. It just doesn't make sense. Sorry. I also understand if the native speaker gets preferred over non-native. I would do the same but sometimes I think employers overvalue the need for the perfect language efficiency. – Grasper Feb 24 '17 at 19:03
  • @Grasper It's not a lie and I think you still don't understand the point I'm trying to get across. I'm not saying that people don't prefer native speakers over non-native, it should be obvious that someone perfectly fluent in a language is always preferable to someone who isn't. What I'm saying is that when someone says "communication" they aren't referring to your ability to speak the language, they are talking about your ability to convey ideas clearly. Also, I don't know many (read: none) people who would see a Hispanic name and assume they were a non-native speaker. – Aithos Feb 24 '17 at 19:22

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