Continuing Professional Development: The Key to Success

Lakeisha MathewsLakeisha M. Mathews, Director, Career and Professional Development Center, University of Baltimore
Twitter: @RightResumes_CC
LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/lakeishamathews/

In today’s microwave culture students have been misguided to believe that great careers are built overnight. It’s true, a decade ago a student could find success by merely completing their academic work and showing up in the career center spring of their last semester and still land a great job. However, in today’s competitive, fast-paced world, the labor force evolves rapidly and students need more than their degree and a few job-search tips to obtain lasting career success. Today’s graduates must embrace life-long learning beyond the classroom in order to reap the benefits of their academic work. Knowing how to develop one’s self professionally and identify the best professional development opportunities is the “new” employability skill for graduating seniors.

In some industries, like information technology (IT), employers have made it clear that education alone will not land you a job with their company. Instead, employers are seeking IT candidates with three attributes: experience, education, and professional certifications. Like IT students, all new graduates who want to thrive in their careers will have to identify the attributes employers in their industry are seeking beyond their degree.

Professional development opportunities are plentiful and include: attending conferences, joining professional associations, registering for MOOCs, reading books, receiving mentoring, volunteering, taking assessments, accepting a leadership opportunity, conducting research, etc. Employability skills are not always learned in the classroom. For instance, attending a conference can teach a student how to network and deliver a professional pitch; becoming involved in a professional association can provide an opportunity to build leadership skills; and reading a book about employability skills or biographies of successful individuals can provide examples and testimonies of successful business behaviors.

Students experiencing barriers to employment can also benefit by working with a career adviser or mentor to create an Individual Development Plan (IDP). An IDP is a great goal setting and professional development tool that can supplement academic learning and increase employability skills. By being proactive, students can gain a competitive edge and remain employable throughout their career.

Career Services Competencies, Predictions for the Future, and Hugs

kevin grubbA post by NACE Guest Blogger, Kevin Grubb.
Assistant Director at Villanova University’s Career Center.
Twitter: @kevincgrubb
LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/in/kevingrubb
Blog: “social @ edu”.

 If I had to sum it up what happened today at the NACE conference for me in as little words as possible, there you’d have it.  Let me cut right to the chase and tell you some of what I have learned today in my sessions, mixed in with some commentary on my part.

Career Services Competencies

This morning, members of a NACE task force on career services competencies, Laura Melius and Sam Ratcliffe, debuted the association’s career services competencies.  What a cohesive, thorough document.  It describes, from basic to intermediate to advanced, the skill set needed to be successful in career services.  There’s no way I could possibly explain it all in a blog post, so let me tell you where to find it right now: on your mobile device, download the NACE conference app.  From the home screen, click on “More” in the bottom right corner.  Then, click on “Resources,” and then click on “Career Services Competencies.”  There you’ll have it!  NACE will also be releasing this on their website soon.

What I definitely can share with you is all of the ways our group thought the competencies would be helpful in our everyday practices.  Here’s just a little bit of what we brainstormed:

The competencies can help us…

  • With the performance management process and staff development, using the competencies as a benchmark to start from
  • Create and change job descriptions of positions within offices to match what is needed at a college or university
  • Demonstrate where staff or the office needs to get resources, to improve budgets for professional development and staffing
  • Show senior leadership at our institutions what we do and what we need to do
  • In the recruiting process for our offices: we can assess candidates’ competencies in interviews

And where do we see the competencies going from here?  Sam made it clear that this is a “living document” – one that we should consider for revision and review regularly.  As our jobs and the career services landscape continues to evolve, so should the competencies.  There will be a feedback form on the NACE website with the document for us all to add our voices.  In addition, NACE plans to build a continuum of learning & resources based on this competency guide.  There is talk of creating a certification program based on the competencies, though that will take time to properly develop.  After looking at the document myself, I am excited to see where this could lead us.  Take a look!

The Future of Career Services

One of my afternoon sessions was this one, led by Tom Devlin, Tom Halasz, and Marilyn Mackes.  I’ll start off by saying – this was packed!  Here’s a quick shot of the room which does not do it justice (I tried):

Tom, Tom & Marilyn put together a thought-provoking, conversation-starting, and funny presentation.  Smart & funny is a combination I think of like cookies & milk – they are good alone, and even better together.  Each of these three had that mix of both.

The presentation centered around three major points, and I’ll the cliff notes version here to help you get a flavor of it.  Would love to hear your thoughts on the future of career services, too, so please share in a comment!

The higher education landscape is dramatically changing.  Colleges & universities have limited resources and revenue.  The growth period for high school graduates is officially over, and will be in a decline for the next 10-20 years.  MOOCs, social media, and other technologies are shifting how work gets done and the expectations of students.  On top of that, there are several initiatives at the state and federal level that seek to define the outcomes or “ROI” of higher education.

Sounds pretty grim, yes?  I almost hid under my chair (…kidding).  In challenge, lies opportunity, and that’s there we, career services, come in.  Cue emphatic and uplifting trumpet sounds.

Now, we have the opportunity to define ourselves as campus-wide career services leaders, partnering with faculty who may need us more than ever.  For many, we may want to consider focusing on more than just the first-year experience, but consider the sophomore experience.  How are we providing support to students at a critical time in their academic lives – when many choosing or honing in on majors and some of the tough decisions?

Where could this all be going?  Tom Devlin provided some of his thoughts going forward, which included: online appointment scheduling with an interactive and customized response to the appointment scheduler’s needs.  So, when a student consider pre-med enters that in to their appointment notes for the counselor, a sort of “road map” for exploring pre-med options appears and suggests ideas for the student.  Tom suggests we may be focusing as much or more on internships as we are right now on post-graduate opportunities.  They are becoming the “first job” for everyone.  Perhaps we will develop better relationships with third-party providers who can help us perform some tasks we need to complete, but are not as high on our list of priorities.

What I thought was most interesting about this session was that Tom, Tom, and Marilyn opened up the floor to hear our thoughts and “predictions” for the future.  I’ll share mine and hope that it allows you to share yours on this blog in a comment.

One of my specialties is definitely social media.  Yes, I am a millennial, but no, I don’t spend all day on it – I promise.  Anyway, I teach a 1 credit class I created at Villanova on how students can use social media in their job searches.  What I am noticing from that, when I reflect on the bigger picture of a lot of their questions and concerns, is this.  We need to help students jump this psychological hurdle of looking at themselves as students to begin considering themselves as professionals.  With social media, the “personal” and “professional” world collide, and it happens for students faster and sooner than ever before.  Whereas one funny, perhaps not most impressing moment was private before, now it might be public and online for unknown others to view via social media.  If we can help students understand themselves, their skills, and their experiences as professional and valuable, they are much more likely to feel proud and confident talking about all of this online.  Then, they attract others with similar professional interests to them, and thus become better networked and viewed more favorably by those in seats of recruiting.

At the end of the first full day at the conference, the only other big reflection I have is that today there was so much hugging.  Hugs and warm greetings around every corner I turned, and I am actually not exaggerating.  So, if I can send you one non career services or recruiting related item from Orlando, it’s a hug from everyone at the NACE conference.