Maybe this is just me, but “career readiness” seems like a kind of funny term. The first time I heard it, I thought to myself: Career readiness? I was career-ready the minute I had to start paying rent.
Someone did eventually set me straight—career readiness isn’t about what life stage you’re in. Rather, it’s defined by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (“NACE”) as “the attainment and demonstration of requisite competencies that broadly prepare college graduates for a successful transition into the workplace.” Or, for those of you who got bored halfway through that sentence like I did, it’s the “stuff” you need to know to make the jump from college to real life. NACE was even kind enough to break it down into eight core competencies. And I’m here to break them down even further.
Critical Thinking/Problem Solving
A mind is a terrible thing to waste. Being able to assess a problem and make decisions is crucial to getting anything done, be it in school or in the workplace. Critical thinking can help you in nearly all aspects on the job, whether that’s coming up with a creative solution to an issue or thinking through a problem logically, step by step.
This is all about expressing yourself and your thoughts in a professional, effective manner. It encompasses everything from writing an email (ostensibly without sending it to someone for a proofread first) to public speaking. Communicating your points in a way that is straightforward and easily understood is imperative in the workplace, so make sure you’re getting the most out of those comp classes before you start job hunting.
Playing nice with others is something we’ve been learning how to do since kindergarten, but that doesn’t mean it can’t still be a challenge. We’ve all had the group project that went poorly because someone couldn’t be bothered to pull their weight. This competency is all about not being that person—it means you can lend your strengths to a group in a positive, reliable way. Essentially, lifting your teammates up instead of bringing them down. Taking point on your next group project is a great way to learn the best ways in which you contribute to a team.
Being able to use and learn the latest and greatest tech advances is an advantage often ascribed to the younger generations—but that doesn’t mean we know how to use every piece of tech or software. Regardless of how often our parents call us to help set up their new printer or other device. You don’t necessarily need to teach yourself Java or Klingon or whatever it is those software developers are up to, but it’s important that you’re digitally literate enough to be able to teach yourself the programs you’re likely to come across, whether it’s a new CMS or actually knowing enough about Excel to call yourself “proficient.” Take a look at some job postings in your desired field—do any programs come up frequently? It might be wise to learn how to use them now, be it in a class or on your own time.
This always struck me as kind of a weird one for transitioning from college to the workforce—chances are really good that, at least for the first few years of your career, your chances to demonstrate leadership on the job are going to be few and far between. Even so, being able to effectively (but not tyrannically) guide a project is an important skill, even when you’re not a manager. You may have to help some interns get their feet wet or teach a coworker how to do something that you’re more familiar with. So take any leadership opportunities you can find, whether that’s in class or through extracurriculars. That way, you’ll be more comfortable at the head of the table.
Can you show up on time and complete the work expected of you? Do you know how to dress for the office and how to appropriately raise your concerns in the workplace? These are some of the lynchpins of professionalism. It’s important that you both work hard and work well when joining the workforce. An internship or an on-campus job can help you become more familiar with what’s expected in a professional environment, so check out the opportunities available to you. (Hint: Visit your campus’ career center.)
Career management skills are about understanding your field, your potential career trajectory, and your value as an employee. It means you can identify opportunities for growth, asses your own skills to see where your strengths and weaknesses lie, and can advocate for yourself in the workplace. Basically, if you can look at a job listing and say why you can or can’t do that job, you’ve got the basics of career management down.
This is a very fancy way of saying that you should be both aware of other cultures and identities (racial, gender, sexual orientation, religious, etc.) and accepting of them. You’re simply not fit to join the workforce if you can’t be tolerant of other people and their worldviews—that’s just the way it is. The best way to gain intercultural fluency is to surround yourself with diverse people. Making friends who are different from you is so important and can go a long way to combat ignorance.
Getting career ready can be tough, but having a set of goals can be a huge help when preparing. Make sure you check in with your campus career center to see if they have other career readiness tools for you, so you can set yourself up for career success.