Supporting career readiness in curriculum

While our students are preparing themselves academically, they should simultaneously be preparing themselves for a life of work and being able to find work. Whether in government, non-profit, or for-profit organizations, the competencies that employers look for is similar. We are grateful to our faculty for helping to share these ideas with students in the context of their curricula.

The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) defines Career Readiness as the attainment and demonstration of requisite competencies that broadly prepare college graduates for a successful transition into the workplace. In other words, Career Readiness means students can articulate how their college education prepares them for their future career.

A significant proportion of our students struggle with this and are not receiving the career and professional development they need to succeed in the workforce. Especially for our underserved student populations (first generation, low income and new immigrant students), making the transition into what feels more like a “career” does not just happen magically. Busy earning the degree and balancing their lives, most students put off important career development tasks until after graduation and, left to their own devices regarding how to proceed, flounder dramatically and suffer needlessly. 

While a degree is vital, we also need to help students with their career transitions. The populations that we serve are not necessarily established in their careers. 

Background on the model

What we are trying to do is infuse career development into the curriculum so that it is built into their college experience rather than tacked on as an optional component if time permits. If done right, a culture of career readiness could be the hallmark of a Metropolitan State University education and ongoing career management could be what keep our alumni returning to campus and giving back to their professional community. Drawing on both our Career Competencies and Career Steps (see below), we could weave at least one career component into every course creating a common language and building career readiness directly into their academic work. 

Curiosity

As Bill Burnett and Dave Evans illustrate in their book, Designing Your Life, curiosity invites exploration and helps students “get good at being lucky.” We need to cultivate this quality in our students and encourage a professional growth mindset. Curiosity is what leads people to explore, take action and try new things.

Connections

It is important that our students further develop their network while here, new connections will open doors and help students build their professional identity.  Student who tap into the campus community for support as they work on their career development tasks will receive feedback, solutions, and ideas to maintain momentum. A culture of collaboration around career development will make it easier for students to ask for help.

Clarity

As students work their way through the Career Steps and master the Career Competencies, they will gain clarity and form a clearer vision for what kind of work might be next and how to move in that direction. This clarity will keep the end goal in focus, and both increased retention and career opportunities will be the result.

Confidence

With expanding connections and growing clarity, students will have a greater sense of confidence that they know what their goals are and how to reach them. This confidence will inspire hope and in the end, increase the chances that they will stay the course academically and persevere to graduation. Knowing that Career Readiness is central to the University’s mission, students will make their transitions from school to a new world of work with the confidence that the entire Metropolitan State University community is behind them. 

As students progress in their education and career readiness work, we encourage them to develop the habit of taking action and reflecting on what they learned – a key career management practice that they can use throughout their careers. In the end, the Career Readiness model will help students achieve both goals of graduation and better work.

What Employers Want – Career Competencies

This list of 10 career competencies can be thought of as a skill set that, in theory, you should be able to put on a résumé or talk about in an interview by the time you graduate. The idea is that, as you work toward your degree, you can gain clarity and confidence to be able to describe how specific classes — as well as internships and other college experiences — helped develop a palette of skills, personal qualities, and strengths. 

  1. Professional Communication - The ability to articulate thoughts and ideas clearly with people both inside and outside the organization. Strong communicators are proficient in interpersonal conversations, public speaking, and writing effectively. They are also great listeners which we think is at least as important as verbal abilities.
  2. Critical Thinking and Problem Solving - The exercise of different points of view in analyzing issues, making decisions, and overcoming problems. People good at thinking critically and solving problems know how to obtain, interpret, and use knowledge, facts, and data to reach a goal or outcome. Since there are usually multiple valid points of view or solutions, there is room for originality and inventiveness here. 
  3. Ethical Decision Making - Acting ethically is the right thing to do, but it's not always easy. Often, conforming to a high standard of conduct is not about clear-cut right and wrong decisions.  It is the ability to collect and evaluate information, develop alternatives, and foresee potential consequences and risks.  Ethical decision making is the process of assessing the moral implications of a course of action, such as generating and sustaining trust; demonstrating respect, responsibility, fairness and caring; and consistent with good citizenship. 
  4. Innovation and Creativity - The practice of looking at the world differently, generate new ideas, and make connections between things that seem to be unrelated. This competency will demand a certain originality and energy to take a leap, try new things, and go beyond conventional approaches. 
  5. Leadership and Followership - In organizations, most everybody is both a leader and follower depending upon the circumstances.  Leadership is the ability to leverage the strengths of others to achieve common goals.  The individual is able to guide and motivate; and organize, prioritize, and delegate work.  Followership is the ability to take direction well; to be part of a team and to deliver on what is expected.  Good followers are diligent, motivated, and pay attention to detail.
  6. Teamwork and Collaboration - The cultivation of positive, collaborative relationships with colleagues and customers and an understanding of their perspectives, insights and diverse viewpoints. This competency requires a person to consider the needs, abilities, and goals of each group member.  The individual is able to work easily within a team structure, and can negotiate and manage conflict civilly.
  7. Diversity and Inclusion - Human beings are a complex species, and no one person will ever have complete mastery of all of the myriad dimensions of diversity, inclusion and cultural competence.  The ability to acknowledge the worth, dignity, potential, and uniqueness of everyone by honoring diversity and promoting social justice is critical and valuable.  Creating an inclusive environment involves the ability to explore and respect multiple cultural perspectives or worldviews, challenge individual biases, and participate in what may be difficult dialogues. 
  8. Community Engagement - Actively building an awareness of how communities impact individuals, and in turn, how individuals then impact, serve, and shape communities.  Community Engagement involves partnerships and coalitions to help serve as catalysts for identifying and addressing issues affecting well-being, and to influence change in policies, programs, and practices.
  9. Digital Literacy - The effective use of existing technologies to solve problems, complete tasks, and accomplish goals. Someone who demonstrates this competency is willing to learn to utilize new tools, adapt, and keep up with emerging technologies.
  10. Continuous Learning and Career Management - The active engagement in an ongoing process of exploring opportunities, gaining experience, and building skills that help one clarify their career goals and reach them. An individual effective at career management will know themselves and the Career Competencies well and be ready to articulate how their personal strengths and qualities, combined with and shaped by their liberal arts education, lead to career success. A certain curiosity about the world of work and a willingness to invest in networking connections, will lead to growing confidence and a meaningful, resilient career.

We started with two sources to develop our own set of career competencies – thanks to U of M CLA and the National Association of Colleges and Employers.

How to Weave Career Competencies into Your Curriculum

This is going to be a work in progress, but know that there is already a great deal of career-related activity happening in the classroom. According to a 2018 spring semester faculty survey, 43% of the respondents said they include a career development component in your syllabi (e.g. gather labor market information, use LinkedIn to explore career options, conduct informational interviews etc.)

Career Steps: Top 10 Things to do Before Graduation

Don’t wait until you graduate to take the necessary steps to define and reach your career goals. Entering the job market or making a career transition is much easier if the wheels are set in motion while still in school.  This no fee, no credit online workshop provides you with a career development to-do list of specific, action-oriented steps to point you in the right direction and help you move efficiently down your post-college career path.  Career Steps takes a rather daunting process (finding a career niche or a better job) and breaks it down into manageable pieces.

Signing up is easy for students: go to D2L, find the Self-registration section on the right, click on Career Steps!

Faculty, we built Career Steps with you in mind. There you will find learning assessments, assignment ideas, and discussion topics. If you would like to work some or all of the Career Steps into your courses, excellent. If you need D2L help, just contact Owen Hansen at the Center for Online Learning: online.learning@metrostate.edu

  1. Log into your Handshake account and use it. 
    • Handshake is our new online career management tool just for Metropolitan State University students and alumni. When employers contact our office to inquire about hiring a Metro student, we steer them toward Handshake to post their position. After we were up and running for just over a month, employers posted 650 jobs and internships in Handshake.
  2. Take a career assessment. 
    • Career assessments are tools designed to help you understand how your personal attributes (i.e., interests, values, preferences, talents and skills), impact your happiness and success with career options and work environments. Learning about yourself can offer insight to make more informed career decisions and to know how to build on your strengths. Being able to articulate what kind of work you want to do will make it far easier to enlist the help of others. Not sure? Welcome to the club!
  3. Build an online presence through LinkedIn. 
    • Think of LinkedIn as a Facebook for your professional life. Today it is essential to have a LinkedIn account and use it. This section introduces you to the tool and helps you get started.
  4. Join a Professional Association or Group. 
    • Professional associations or groups are outstanding sources of new networking contacts. These are groups of people in your field who come together regularly for professional development activities, networking and sharing information.
  5. Conduct at least 4 Informational Interviews. 
    • An informational interview, or career conversation, is a structured conversation to collect information about an occupation, career field, industry or company. In this chapter you can learn about informational interview benefits, how to arrange one, and how to conduct one.
  6. Develop a Target List. 
    • A Target List is simply a list of the top 30 places where you’d like to work. This can be both a great way to organize your search and get more specific regarding your ideal work environment and employer.
  7. Make a point to participate in some university workshops, seminars and special events. 
    • An important element in most careers is serendipity -- chance happenings that pop up and lead to something unexpected. This chapter is designed to help you think through what might be some of those “right places.” We think this is one of the real advantages to being in college: exposure to a wide range of people, ideas and happenings . . . right on campus!
  8. Find a fresh opportunity in your field. 
    • Finding a fresh opportunity in your field: internship, part-time job, volunteer, serving on a board or a committee is all about testing fields of interest and being in the right place at the right time. Even if it’s short-term, you want to have some kind of experience to add to your resume and talk about in interviews.
  9. Get in the habit of connecting with and talking to other human beings -- aka networking. 
    • Everyone is aware of the importance of networking to your career. Around 80% of jobs are found this way. This module is designed to help you think of some ways to get started.
  10. Have beautifully crafted, rock solid, dazzling resume and line up your references. 
    • Your resume is one of your most important marketing tools. Its purpose is to get you an interview. Most people focus on the resume format, but this chapter emphasizes the importance of content (i.e. resume building experiences). Also, it is important to stay in touch with the 3-4 people in your inner circle who will serve as your references. Cultivate and nurture these important relationships. Have your reference list ready should an employer ask for it.