What is career readiness and do you possess it?

Many college students believe that the college degree is their key to career success. It’s the knowledge gained in the classroom that makes them the qualified candidate for the job.

This is true…somewhat.

Yes, understanding concepts and topics specific to your chosen profession is important. But preparing for the world of work involves much more than earning a degree, certificate or diploma. The National Association of Colleges and Employers has outlined what makes a college student ready to successfully transition from college to career. Check out the seven skills below and determine your career readiness. Ask yourself how you measure against other graduates and job seekers. What are things you could do to improve the skills you currently lack?

Critical Thinking/Problem Solving: Employers want new hires who can receive information and use it to solve problems. They hire candidates capable of examining ideas and interpreting facts and data to make decisions.

Oral/Written Communications: All industries require solid communication skills. Being able to clearly and concisely share information through writing (emails, memos, documents), public speaking (talking in front of a group) and interpersonal communication (one-to-one or small group meetings) is essential.   

Teamwork: Can you successfully function within a team? Can you manage conflict? Are you able to work with people of diverse cultures, races, religions and viewpoints? Your individual contributions are important, but companies function in teams.

Technology: Computer skills are used in every job setting. It’s the type of computer work and amount that varies.

Leadership: Are you able to lead others either by being in charge or setting a good example of a strong work ethic? Can you prioritize and organize your responsibilities? Do people look to you as someone who can motivate them to be involved?

Professionalism: The employee who is always late to work or doesn’t submit projects on time won’t be an employee for long. Neither will the employee who refuses to understand the importance and effect of professional conduct in a work setting, from the way you talk to the way you visually present yourself.

Career Management: Students who are ready to join the world of work after college know how they want to contribute and what they’re capable of doing. Thus, they know what jobs to look for and how to apply.  During the job interview, a solid candidate can discuss their strengths, skills and experiences in relation to the job opening.  

Look for ways you can improve skills, from taking a computer course (technology) or public speaking class (oral communications) to visiting Career Services (career management, professionalism).


What you’re missing if you don’t complete an internship

Many academic programs and majors require students to complete internships and co-ops. Some do not. If an internship isn’t mandatory for your area of study, and your schedule allows time to pursue one, give it strong consideration.

When you don’t complete an internship you miss out on the chance to:

1.       Get hands-on work experience. Possessing practical knowledge about an industry boosts your qualifications.  You can create an “Internship” or “Related Experience” category on your resume, and then talk about relevant job duties and projects during an interview. Very impressive.

2.       Gain an edge in the job market. Two candidates interview for a job. Both earned the same degree. One candidate has minimal work experience while the other has completed one or more relevant internships. Who initially appears more qualified for the job?

3.       Have the chance to try a career path before committing to it. Reading about a profession through career exploration websites is helpful. But nothing beats the chance to experience a career before committing to it. In addition to doing the actual work, you’ll have the chance to talk with people working in the industry.  

4.       Network with professionals. Most jobs are found through networking. During your internship you’ll meet people who become colleagues, supervisors and mentors. They’ll recommend professional groups to join, LinkedIn resources to check out and additional people to meet.

5.       Learn how to work in an office. Following an office dress code and other office policies, arriving at work on time, handling conflicts within a work setting, interacting with professional peers and supervisors. It takes skill and practice to learn these concepts.

6.       Apply classroom knowledge to work environments. Academic preparation shows your ability to learn concepts. Internships give job applicants the chance to apply concepts to real-world settings. This is what employers are interested in hearing about.

7.       Develop skills. Employers look for skills when reviewing applications. In addition to industry-related skills you develop transferable skills that are critical for success in many job settings.

8.       Acquire references. References vouch for your abilities to perform tasks or use skills to succeed in a job. It’s important to acquire professional references. Internship supervisors and coworkers serve that purpose.

9.       Become more confident. Getting experience builds confidence. If an interviewer asks if you can do something, you won’t have to rely on hypotheticals (“Yes, I could do that if I have the chance.”). You can say “Yes I definitely can do that,” and provide concrete examples.

7 questions to help figure out if you’re ready to make a career decision

Do you know what you want to be? What career are you going to pursue? Have you decided a career plan? Do you know what you want to be?


The pressure to pick a career is all around you. But maybe you aren’t ready to choose right now. Think about these seven questions.

Do you:

Have no career interests? When someone asks you what careers look interesting to you, you can’t name any. It’s tough to find a career of interest if you’ve already eliminated the majority of options.

Have too many career interests? Every job looks interesting. It’s just as hard to make a decision when almost every job looks interesting.

Rely on others to do the research for you? Who is more curious about your career plans, you or family members? Are others scheduling appointments for you with career counselors? Do they attend the meetings with you and ask most questions and supply most answers? Decisions about careers begin and end with you. You will be the one pursuing the degree and job opportunities.

Want to keep all options open? A long list of career options is a great place to start. But refusing to let go of career ideas, especially the ones that conflict with other factors, makes it tough to decide. For example, the student who wants to be a doctor may need to eliminate this option from the list if she dislikes science courses or doesn’t want to commit to long-term education plans.

Hope to narrow your focus right away? Narrowing your focus is a good idea as long as it’s done for the right reasons. Picking something just to “get the decision over with” isn’t a good strategy.

Need to tend to other matters? If there are personal concerns to tend to, it’s important to address them first. Stresses from external circumstances can affect decision making and hinder your ability to make a solid career decision right now.

Lack work experience? If you haven’t experienced doing assigned duties, meeting goals, working with others and having a supervisor, it can affect your ability to make a career decision. Every job, full or part-time is an introduction to the world of work.

If you answered yes to any of the above, don’t worry. There are steps you can take to begin the process of finding a career path.

1. Start noticing jobs around you. In your neighborhood and in your family; on campus and in books, movies and television. What are your reactions to them? Start a “cool jobs list” by simply writing down jobs that look interesting. Don’t worry about education requirements, skills or salary. Just pay attention to interests.

2. Begin a journal. What are your likes and dislikes? What did you enjoy as a child? What hobbies do you like now? Who do you admire and why? What type of environment do you prefer (indoors, outdoors, quiet, loud, lots of people, no people)? Answers to these questions help you learn about yourself, a critical first step in the career search.

3. Meet with a career counselor. The conversation that takes place may reveal that you aren’t ready yet to make any decisions. And that’s okay!  A career counselor can provide information that gets you thinking about careers that you’ll consult when you are ready. A career counselor can also help identify other resources that might provide more immediate assistance that you need.

Not everyone figures out career plans at the exact same age or year in school. Being a deciding student is okay as long as you’re taking steps to learn about yourself and the world of work so that you’ll know what information to use when you’re ready to decide.



Informational Interviewing Part III: What questions should you ask?

Once your informational interview is set, it’s time to consider what questions you want to ask.

The worst question to spring on someone? “So, can you tell me what your job is like?” First, you should have some basic knowledge about the profession before meeting with someone. Second, this particular question encompasses a lot of ground. Asking open-ended specific questions keeps the interviewer from feeling overwhelmed and helps you learn more about the profession. You’re talking to someone doing a job you might want to do someday. Make the most of this opportunity.

Here’s a list of sample questions to consider asking:

Questions about the job

  1. What kinds of tasks do you do on a typical day or during a typical week?
  2. What tasks take up most of your time?
  3. What do you like about your job?
  4. What things do you find challenging or frustrating?
  5. Skills that I really enjoy using include (fill in blank). Do you use these skills in your job?
  6. What characteristics should a person working this job have?
  7. Do you usually work independently or as part of a team?
  8. What is the typical career advancement path for this job?
  9. What advice would you give to a new professional entering this field?
  10. My research showed that an issue this field is facing is (fill in blank). In your opinion is this true?
  11. How is this profession changing?
  12. How is technology affecting this field?

Questions about working conditions

  1. What are your typical hours per day and per week? Are these hours typical for this job?
  2. Does this career require or include travel?
  3. How does this career affect other aspects of your life (family time, leisure time, etc.)?
  4. Is this job typically done in an office?
  5. As a male or female, would I face any unique challenges in this job?

Questions about training and education preparation

  1. What educational background is best suited for this job?
  2. Are there particular courses a student might take that could be beneficial?
  3. What are some examples of out-of-class experiences that would be helpful (volunteering, internship/co-op, campus clubs or organizations)?
  4. What is your educational background?
  5. What previous work or other experience helped you prepare for this field?
  6. When did you decide to work in this profession and why?
  7. What other careers did you consider beforehand?
  8. What general advice would you give to help people prepare?
  9. What resources would you recommend for me to learn more about this profession?

Questions about other careers and contacts

  1. What careers would you say are similar to this profession?
  2. Can you suggest others I could talk to in this profession? Do you have their contact information?
  3. What resources would you recommend for me to find additional contacts?
  4. Is there any other information you’d like to share with me?
  5. May I contact you in the future with additional questions I might have?

Type your list of questions before the meeting and bring the list with you. Additionally, bring a notebook to write down information you learn; but, don’t focus on writing everything down during the interview. Doing so is distracting and takes away from the conversation. Rather, write down your answers and reactions to what you learned immediately after the meeting.

Send a thank-you note to the person with 24 hours after the meeting. Reference specific items you talked about in your conversation. Keep in touch. If you take specific actions as a result of the meeting (select an academic program, volunteer, obtain an internship) be sure to let the person know.

Finally, pay it forward. When you are an established professional and someone contacts you to request an informational interview, say yes.

Mirror mirror on the wall: Career assessments aren’t crystal balls

There’s an old saying: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. This expression rings true when talking about career assessments.

Career assessments are surveys that can help a person examine their interests, abilities, values or preferences as they relate to different jobs or industries. The theory behind most career assessments is that people function best or enjoy their work more in professions that best compliment who they are. Discover what interests, abilities, values and preferences make you tick and you’ll find a career.

Sounds perfect, right?  Not so fast. Many people have high expectations about what a career assessment actually is.


A career assessment isn’t a test that:

  • Tells you what job you should pursue
  • Directs what academic program/major to study
  • Provides the answer to “what should I do with my life.”

Many people who take assessments expect all of the above and are disappointed when results fail to deliver. So should you bother taking career assessments? If approached with the right perspective they can be very helpful.

Career assessments can:

  • Confirm some career interests you may already be considering
  • Enlighten you to new career interests you may have never thought about
  • Provide lists of careers and academic majors  to explore further
  • Give you a better sense of who you are as an individual

Hop online and you’ll find many career assessments that people can take on their own. You receive the results immediately after completing the surveys. Be aware that many of these assessments aren’t scientific. In other words, their design and results haven’t been proven to be valid. Additionally, taking the assessments and receiving results isn’t as important as what you do with those results.

Meeting with a career counselor is the best first step in taking career assessments. A counselor first determines if assessments may be beneficial or if your career needs could be met through other avenues such exploring careers. If your counselor believes assessments could help, he or she can suggest which one would be most appropriate. Through CPCC Career Services, CPCC students pay a fee of $10-$20 for assessments that cost hundreds of dollars when administered through private counseling practices.

The conversation you and your counselor share when reviewing the assessment results is extremely valuable. You’ll dissect what the information means and develop a plan of what to do next. It might be researching careers, volunteering, talking to people in different jobs or another career action step.

So the next time a friend suggests that you “take that test that tells you what career you should do,” remember that the test doesn’t exist – because if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is!

But meet with a career counselor to see if an assessment could help develop a career action plan. This plan puts you in the driver’s seat of determining what career you should pursue.



The hard truth about soft skills: In the job search they matter!

   A recent LinkedIn article talked about the importance of soft skills in the job market. The phrase “soft skills” is misleading. Look up the word soft in the Thesaurus and you’ll find synonyms like lenient, lax, weak, even spineless. Talk about giving soft skills a bad rap.

The reality is, while solid academic performance and technical skills are critical, employers value soft skills just as much and in some cases even more. According to a Job Outlook 2013 report published by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), soft skills make graduates stand out among their competitors in the job search. It’s great that you earned a high grade point average, but how well did you do working in teams on class projects? Your knowledge of Excel, PowerPoint and other computer programs is important, but so are your interpersonal skills.

Here’s a checklist of soft skills employers look for when recruiting job candidates:

  Communication skills (listening, verbal and written): Employers need employees who can effectively explain an idea through conversation or in writing. It’s also equally important that an employee listen to other colleagues’ ideas and points of view.

Interpersonal Abilities: Can you relate well to your coworkers? Are you good at building relationships? Bottom line, can you positively interact with others for the work day?

Planning/Organizing: An effective employee designs, plans and executes a project in a specific amount of time. Planning and organizing involves paying attention to details and knowing how to use your time wisely and effectively.

Teamwork: It’s tough to find a job that doesn’t involve interacting with others on some level. Can you work with other professional to achieve a common goal?

Flexibility/Adaptability: How well do you handle changes? Work assignments and conditions don’t always go according to plans and employers want employees who can easily adapt to these changes.

Problem Solving/Creativity: How creative are you at figuring out new approaches? If there’s a problem to solve, how do you go about doing it? Can you use available resources to offer solutions?

Multicultural Sensitivity/Awareness: This is perhaps one of the most critical soft skills as the world of work continues to diversify. Do you have an awareness of and sensitivity to other people and cultures?

Reference these skills on your resume and cover letter. Be prepared to talk about your experiences using these skills during job interviews.

If you’re concerned that you lack some of the soft skills employers seek, think of ways to begin developing them:

1. Identify the soft skills that need fine tuning. Ask friends, family and peers what areas they think you could improve. Use a skills checklist to evaluate.

2. Take some classes that could help you develop your soft skills. A public speaking course can help you improve your presentation skills. Look for leadership focused courses that develop teamwork skills or classes where you’ll polish your writing abilities.

3. Get involved in student groups  where you can develop soft skills in a fun environment.

4. Volunteer with an organization or group where you’ll develop skills, meet others and get involved with your community.

5 possible reasons you’re having trouble pinpointing an academic program – and what to do about it

Why is it difficult for some students to choose an academic program? Whether you’re a recent high school graduate or adult learner, selecting which program to study sometimes causes fear and anxiety. Self-assessment and career exploration are critical steps in the process. But you still might be stuck. What could be the reason and how can you persist to find the program that best suits you?

1. Are you relying on feedback from others? Seeking input from family and friends is understandable. They may offer different perspectives and ideas you haven’t considered. After others have offered their perspective, ask yourself what you believe you should study?

Families play different roles in different cultures. Some cultures stress individuality while others emphasize family first. What is your family dynamic when it comes to making choices? What are your thoughts about this? If you’re struggling to find balance between receiving input from others and making the decision for yourself, look for ways to develop your decision making skills.

2. Do you have too many interests and can’t eliminate any of them? One student may equally love health care and business. Another student enjoys the arts but really wants to work in a field where he is helping people. Both may have difficulty narrowing down their options because they fear that focusing on one means they’re giving up the other.

Not necessarily. If you enjoy art but want to help people, could working in the museum’s education or membership departments satisfy both interests?

Volunteering is a great way to channel interests. Is your interest is in one field strong enough to pursue as a profession or would volunteering be a good fit?

Do some research about the different occupations that are possible with the academic programs or majors you’re considering. You may be surprised by the options.

3. Is nothing grabbing your attention? Other students have difficulty choosing a major and finding any careers that look appealing. Consider talking to a career counselor. You may have some false or exaggerated perceptions about the world of work that are keeping you from making decisions.

Have you worked in the past? Making decisions with no previous experience is tough. Working a part-time job – even if in a field that’s of no interest in the long-term – gives you a better perspective of the world of work. Volunteering can expose you to different career fields, too.

4. Are you selecting programs of interest that don’t match your skills? It’s tough when skills and interests collide. A student may have a strong passion for the nursing profession, but struggles to pass science classes. Another student may be focused on engineering but doesn’t do well in math. If you find yourself having to consider a different academic program because of your skills sets, take a look at what your strengths are. Additionally, what other programs capture your interests? You may not yet know if you’ve been focused on unrealistic career paths for so long.

5. Are you concentrating too much on the “hot jobs lists?” Websites and magazines publish “Top 10” lists highlighting job areas with the best growth, stability and salaries. All are important factors to consider, but none should be the sole reason for choosing an academic program or career path. Skills, abilities and interests play larger roles in career satisfaction and success than predictions on “what’s hot” in the job market.   

At the end of the day you’re the person who’ll be attending the classes, writing the papers, working on the projects and taking the exams as part of your chosen academic program focus. Ask yourself what’s keeping you from making a decision and seek out solutions that could help.