The Online Learner’s Guide to Career Readiness

career readinessCareer readiness is a term used frequently in career counseling circles and an important concept for students to understand, too. It can be the result of doing well in your courses and graduating with a certificate or degree and a marketable set of skills, but there’s more to it than that.

Whether you are a new graduate, working student, or experiencing a career transition, how can you make sure you are ready to meet your career goals? This guide outlines specific knowledge and tasks designed to help you achieve career readiness.

Know what employers expect and want.

The National Association of Colleges and Employers conducts and annual survey resulting in a list of qualifications most important to recruiters. The 2013 list of candidate skills and qualities employers want includes the following abilities as “very important” or “extremely important:”

  • Working as part of a team
  • Making decisions and solving problems
  • Planning, organizing, and prioritizing work
  • Verbally communicating with those inside and outside the organization
  • Obtaining and processing information
  • Analyzing quantitative data
  • Performing the technical aspects of the job.

Assess your current level of readiness.

So, how well do you already meet the expectations of employers? Taking a closer look at your current knowledge and skills will help you determine where you may need to focus your efforts in the future. Think about how you could describe a recent task or project you’ve completed to illustrate your readiness to contribute to an organization in each of the areas listed above, and use the following online tools to help you identify some of your career readiness strengths and weaknesses:

  • Teamworking Skills Exercise: The University of Kent (UK) Career and Employability Service understands the need for graduates to be able to work as part of teams and in different capacities. Respond to items in this questionnaire based on your past experience and find out more about seven common team roles, such as “encourager” and “evaluator.”
  • Critical Thinking Strategies: Being able to critically consider problems (in all areas of your life – work, school, and family) can help you to gather the information you need, identify possible solutions, and make more effective decisions. This self-assessment from Pearson Education presents a helpful list of strategies and encourages you to reflect on your own abilities in these areas.
  • Communication Quiz: MindTools offers this online evaluation of your “speaking, listening, writing, and reading” communication skills. Find out more about the communication process and how to plan for effective communication at work and beyond.

Stay up-to-date with hiring trends.

In addition to staying current on the latest developments in your industry, you should also have a regular set of resources that help you understand where and how people are finding jobs. Even if you’re already working, being aware of changes can be helpful. Identify a combination of general reports, as well as more specific sources providing information directly related to your career field of interest.

  • Government Resources: The U. S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics provides a wide range of employment and career planning information, including monthly reports on unemployment numbers and job openings. Explore the Occupational Outlook Handbook for job profiles that include employment requirements and projections.
  • Business Publications: Forbes and Business Insider are just two of the resources you’ll find online, which not only cover issues related to the economy and how employers are currently finding qualified candidates, but also make predictions for the future.
  • Professional and Trade Organizations: Consider joining an association that represents your field or industry. Some have expensive membership fees, but you can ask for student rates, as well as explore any resources made openly available online. Look for newsletters, webinars, research reports, and job boards to find out more about employment trends.

Gain practical experience.

Developing competencies in the skills that employers value can take place inside and outside of your online course requirements. This step is especially important for those who may be planning a career change or entering the workforce after a break, and for new graduates coming into the job market at entry-level. Look for relevant, practical experience opportunities that increase your career readiness, including:

  • Internships: Your formal academic program may include an internship, practicum, or other type of field work to help you gain skills and learn more about life after graduation. These experiences often immerse you in a workplace environment and allow you to work alongside professionals in the field you’ll be entering. You may want to initiate your own internship-type experience if it’s not required.
  • Volunteering and Community Service: Donating your time and talents to an organization in need of assistance can enhance your skill set and expand your local network. Set up times to meet with the organizations in your area that are working on projects of interest to find out what opportunities may be available.
  • Part-time or Contract Employment: As an online student, and one that may already be working, you don’t want to overload your schedule with extra jobs. But taking on a new position or small project in your field can help you gain the experience you’ll need to build your portfolio, or even transition to a new career.
  • Course Assignments and Capstone Projects: If you have some flexibility in the topics you address in your classes, which may vary widely, think about how you could explore a new career field or increase your knowledge of a relevant area of your current field, in your courses. Work with your instructor to find out what might be possible.

Continue learning and networking.

As the nature of work and careers continues to change, so must our approach to managing our own career development with the goal of maintaining readiness to evolve along with the needs of employers and industries. Schedule some time to seek out new opportunities for professional development and networking.

  • Professional Associations: As I mentioned previously, getting involved with the organizations monitoring your field can have multiple benefits, including access to skill development workshops and webinars, certificate programs, conferences, and speakers’ series. Local chapters and offices can also help you build a professional network in your community.
  • Open Education: From online tutorials and demonstrations to fully featured MOOCs, if there’s a topic you want (or need) to learn more about, chances are you can find helpful resources online. Open education options can be a great way to explore something new, and some opportunities lead to certificates or even academic credit. Use sites like OCWSearch, CourseTalk, and Open Culture to find out what’s available.
  • Social Media: Stay connected with classmates and instructors, colleagues and employers through social media accounts and activities. Participate in networking sites that are focused on career development (e.g., LinkedIn) and popular with professionals in your career field.

Connect with your Career Center.

Professional career advisors are working with students at your school, but you have to reach out to make the connection. Contact your Career Center for more information about the services and support provided in the following areas, and ask questions!

  • Employer Partnerships: Career centers work hard to help students and hiring companies meet each other. Through events ranging from information sessions to virtual career fairs, find out which employers are already interested in working with graduates from your school and program.
  • Resumes and Portfolios: Are examples of your skills and qualifications included in your resume? What about your work portfolio? Career advisors can help you present what you’ve accomplished in the past and convey your potential for the future. Make the most of the support available for resume writing, portfolio development, and interviewing practice.
  • Alumni Networking: How did previous students in your program get hired after graduation? Ask your career advisors about formal programs that connect current students with alumni, as well as assistance related to placement before and after you graduate.

Colleges and universities are more focused than ever on providing the learning experiences that prepare you for your future. Career readiness is an important goal that includes skill development, knowledge of the modern workplace and hiring practices, and understanding the changing expectations of employers.

As you complete your last classes of 2013 and move ever closer to graduation, take advantage of all the resources available to get ready, and stay ready, to make successful career decisions.

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Source: Inside Online Learning Blog