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Career Readiness for College Graduates: Continual Learning

career readiness for college graduates


Career Readiness for College Graduates: Continual Learning

Let’s talk about career readiness for college graduates. Don’t feel like reading? Listen here!

Talk to any employer in the United States, and you’ll quickly hear about the lack of qualified, career-ready candidates. It’s not a technical talent gap; hard skills have nothing to do with this. Employers are seeing a high number of otherwise qualified candidates who simply lack career readiness.

What Is Career Readiness?

Career readiness is a mix of skills and training which prepares job seekers for career fulfillment and success. The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) considers career readiness a “foundation from which to demonstrate requisite core competencies that broadly prepare the college educated for success in the workplace and lifelong career management.” 

How can college students and recent college graduates become more career-ready?

Career Readiness Competencies: Skills and Attributes

NACE identifies eight core competencies for career readiness: 

  • Career development 
  • Communication 
  • Critical thinking 
  • Equity & inclusion 
  • Leadership 
  • Professionalism
  • Teamwork 
  • Technology

Other organizations emphasize additional career readiness competencies, including planning, work ethic, financial literacy, social-emotional learning, open-mindedness, and perseverance.

First Things First: Career Development

When you hear the term career development, what comes to mind?

For most college students and recent college graduates, career development simply reminds them of the career development or career services office on campus. Most students do not avail themselves of these services. But, students are typically familiar with some career development aspects like resume writing and interview coaching.

college graduate

However, career development runs deeper than career services. 

In fact, students and grads need to dive into career development before they worry about applying for jobs. The best time to start working on career development is long before college. But most educational institutions and parents don’t understand this, so almost all of us don’t receive any real help with career development until we are adolescents or young adults.

So what does career development entail, and how can you focus on this aspect of career readiness if you’re a recent college graduate?

Create a Growth Mindset

We hear about the importance of having a growth mindset, of being a lifelong learner. What does that really look like, and how can you get there?

People with a growth mindset tend to feel motivated to learn continuously. Researchers and educators use the term growth mindset to refer to people’s underlying beliefs regarding learning and intelligence. When we believe our brains can grow — which they can — we actually learn more readily and achieve higher standards in academics and in the workplace, too.

desk view

Ultimately, it’s about seeking opportunities to learn and grow. 

Note: there’s a big difference between learning and growing because you’ve actively sought it out versus learning from circumstances that necessitate it. 

For example, let’s imagine you work as an administrative assistant at a childcare center. But one day you arrive at work, and every single teacher is gone. They’re all late because of a major traffic accident blocking the main highway. Kids are arriving left and right with parents dropping them off and driving away. What do you do?

You quickly learn to improvise. You might call for help, or maybe you attempt to handle it on your own. You find something to occupy the kids, like a movie or a game. You put all the kids in one room because there’s no way you can move from room to room and keep them safe. Within five minutes, a few teachers finally arrive. But it felt like hours to you!

In this scenario, you were forced to learn and grow. The kids didn’t present an option to you. You had to deal with it on your feet.

We can learn and grow this way, but there’s a less painful way: seek opportunities rather than wait for obstacles to pop up.

Become a Continual Learner

For employers, retaining current employees and investing in training and reskilling is a smarter, more cost-effective strategy. A recent study by Deloitte found that software engineers must completely reboot their skill sets every 12-18 months to keep up with technology advancements. 

Would it be best to wait for technology to cancel your current program or to learn the newest program at your own pace — before your company chooses to switch?

Look for opportunities that give you the chance to learn and advance your skills.

Cross-train. If your employer offers you the chance to learn a colleague’s tasks (cross-train), do it! You’ll build new skills and gain insight into another aspect of the organization. In addition, you’ll develop rapport with a colleague — and networking is also a huge part of career development.

Ask for help. If you feel stuck, don’t flounder and waste time. Ask someone for help. If no one is available, check Google and YouTube, but don’t rely on the internet to solve all your problems. Ask a friend or coworker who can model a skill or process for you. Hands-on learning can save you time and helps cement concepts.

Praise yourself. We typically think of praise as something we give others to acknowledge their achievements and celebrate their successes. And it’s definitely beneficial to surround yourself with positive people who will praise you when you grow and learn.

But not all of us are surrounded by positive people. And more and more people work remotely and are mostly alone throughout the day.

It’s essential to start praising yourself, acknowledging your accomplishments, and celebrating small milestones in your work life. 

college graduate

Self-acknowledgement is a key to developing a growth mindset and fostering further learning.

Stay engaged. When you stay engaged at work and accept opportunities for training, professional development, and cross-training, you stay focused on your purpose. By staying focused on your goals, you’re less likely to become bored or feel unfulfilled. This purpose-passion can also fuel further learning.

Incorporate professional and personal development into your daily routine. Make it a habit! Don’t just attend the annual professional development days your company hosts — barely paying attention and doodling notes or scrolling through your newsfeed to pass the time. 

Push yourself to learn when it’s not required. Subscribe to a daily newsletter related to your industry. Listen to a motivational podcast each morning while you get ready for work. Find simple ways to incorporate learning so that it becomes habitual.

Spend time with people who challenge you. Like attracts like. To deliberately learn and grow, though, it’s better to connect with people who are unlike you.

Maybe they’ve had different life experiences or grew up in a completely different demographic. The type of diversity doesn’t really matter; it matters that you seek to communicate with and build relationships with a diverse group of colleagues, friends, and community members. 

Your brain will form new synapses each time one of your “unlike” friends suggests a new concept, mentions her perspective which differs from yours, or invites you to meet her friends, who are also unlike you.

Putting It All Together

Becoming a continual learner with a growth mindset is one of the key steps in career development. The more willing you are to learn and grow, the more attractive you will be to future employers, and the more easily you will adapt to the ever-changing workplace landscape.

college student
Picture of Bethany Wallace
Bethany Wallace
Bethany Wallace partners with mission-minded organizations to build better workplaces through soft skills solutions. Bethany aids leaders in strengthening workplace relationships through communications consulting, training, executive coaching, keynote presentations, & career coaching. Bethany enjoys presenting research at conferences and contributes regularly to major publications & recognized podcasts, including Glassdoor, College Recruiter, Zip Recruiter, Jobscan, FlexJobs, the New York Daily News, BusinessTech, Human Resources Online, Life After Teaching, Love Your Story, The Conversation Guy (10 Minute Mindset), Everyday People Podcast, The Success Chronicles, and more.

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