Jade Perry, Coordinator in the Office of Multicultural Student Success at DePaul University
One of the aspects I love about my job is working with first-year students on career planning and professionalism, through a grant program at DePaul University. While our team works on career skills such as resume writing, cover letter formation, networking, and more… I also ensure that we have an early conversation about self-efficacy.
Self-efficacy is a theme that our entire office incorporates into our learning outcomes, programs, and initiatives. However, there is a specific reason why this is particularly salient for first-year students. Bandura (1993), the seminal scholar associated with this theory, asserts that “Effective intellectual functioning requires much more than simply understanding the factual knowledge and reasoning operations for given activities.” So what does that mean for my first-year students? It means that while they can glean factual knowledge from the career skill workshops, assessments, and advising we provide, they also need to build a sense of self-efficacy for these things to have a strong impact.
Self-efficacy includes “people’s beliefs about their ability to exercise control over their own level of functioning and over events that affect their lives.” The career exploration process is one such event / process that affects their lives, and as educators, we are asking them to engage. We are prompting them to create professional documents, build networking skills, attend career counseling appointments to talk about strengths, interests, skills, and more. But self-efficacy determines whether or not they believe they can engage in the ways we know they need to.
Our students will not engage with career planning in their college tenure, if they do not have a strong belief that they are capable of engaging with it… and that this engagement will reap benefits. So, opportunities that will build this belief in students should happen on four levels, according to Bandura’s work: a) performance outcomes, b) physiological feedback, c) verbal persuasion, and d) vicarious experiences. Here are some examples specific to professionals working with students on career planning/skill building:
- Performance outcomes: Within the cohort of first-year students, each student is asked to complete career-related tasks such as scheduling and conducting an informational interview, crafting professional correspondence and going to have documents reviewed, and visiting a career fair. Then, we ask them to reflect on the experience both verbally (discussions within their cohort) and through written work, so that they can assess their performance outcomes… with particular attention to what they did well and what areas they’d like to grow in, for future career exploration. Breaking our career counseling / supervisory appointments to focus on specific tasks associated with the career discernment process, might enable us to have conversations about what happened / how students are feeling about what they were able to accomplish, in a safe space.
- Physiological feedback: Have you ever worked with a student to chart out career goal-setting, and you can see their eyes get wide, palms getting a bit sweaty, and other signs of physiological feedback? As educators and counselors, asking questions in one-on-one settings about how career exploration tasks make students feel on an emotional and physiological level can be a helpful tool to mitigate some of these effects.
- Verbal persuasion: Sometimes, our students just need a pep talk. They have the information. They know what needs to be done. But some encouragement from us can also influences their beliefs about their own capabilities! Many times, these conversations stem from our students perceiving that they have “failed” at something: e.g., they didn’t get to the career center on time; they felt too nervous to talk with a recruiter. Re-framing these conversations to say, “It sounds like that must have been a rough experience. But you are capable of engaging with the process! How can we brainstorm a plan B together?” might make a huge difference in self-efficacy beliefs.
- Vicarious experiences: Peer mentors, alumni, and / or professionals in students’ fields of interest are invaluable in providing some of these vicarious experiences. As we build self-efficacy for students, these voices allow them to “see themselves” or receive more information about ways they can engage with the career exploration process through hearing the experiences of others!
Self-efficacy building strategies for first-year students incorporates opportunities for them to listen, learn, go, explore, and implement!
When students come to us, there may be some who are not exactly ready to “go, explore, and implement.” First-year students are transitioning into their collegiate journey and may not feel that they have enough to offer a professional workplace yet. As educators, we want to ensure that they emerge saying: “I can do this!” after engaging in the educational outcomes we have planned for them. So, having early conversations with students about self-efficacy also allows a point of reference for when students are not “exercise(ing) control over their own level of functioning and over events that affect their lives.” If we have explained the concept, we can then have intentional conversations to discern: Do they believe that their individual engagement with career exploration is something that they can control (i.e. setting up and attending career advising appointments, attending workshops, taking professional development opportunities)? Or are they primarily waiting for university staff to externally? Do they quit on a project requirement when they face difficulties (“this is out of my control”) or do they seek out help when faced with difficulties (“help-seeking is within my control, and I am capable of that”)? This helps us to understand some of the barriers our students might be facing, and informs how we advise them.
Overall, coaching students through their career exploration with a self-efficacy lens allows students to connect a) what they know, b) how they feel about what they know, c) level of motivation, and d) output of career goals. Setting this foundation in the first year of student’s collegiate journey allows them to have a sense of empowerment as they move through other academic years, make post-college success plans, and apply for jobs!
Bandura, A. (1982). Self-efficacy mechanism in human agency. American psychologist, 37(2), 122.
Bandura, A. (1993). Perceived self-efficacy in cognitive development and functioning. Educational psychologist, 28(2), 117-148.