The Year of Thinking Critically: NACE Career-Readiness Assessment in Action

by Janet R. Long

While critical thinking skills have long been considered a core measure of student learning, critical thinking increasingly appears in the vocabulary of the co-curricular, and notably in the domain of career services. Not only did critical thinking and problem-solving skills rank as the second highest career-readiness competency in the recently published 2016 Recruiting Benchmark Survey, a NACE survey of employers, but the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report also ranked critical thinking as the number 4 in its Top 10 Skills for 2015 and projected it would catapult to second place by 2020, just behind its first cousin, complex problem-solving!

Here at Widener, where I coordinate student learning outcomes for our career services office, critical thinking is top of mind across campus: it is the designated focus area for assessment across academic and administrative units for the current academic year.

As a career services team, we have embraced this focus by challenging our own critical thinking about ways in which we evaluate student learning and success. Here are a few examples:

  • New Approaches: Looking for a way to jump-start the year—and admittedly, to make assessment less dreaded—we held a pilot “data lab,” inspired by the work of University of Richmond Bonner Center for Civic Engagement Director Dr. Bryan Figura. In a data lab, participants evaluate “artifacts” of student learning.

Typically, the process is organized around a theme to make it more engaging and features rotating stations through which participants first review artifacts independently and then come together to reflect and discuss findings. For example, the University of Richmond used a Harry Potter theme to examine student learning in the realm of civic engagement.

For our own office, we selected student career-related writing for our pilot data lab and created a True Crime/CSI theme that had us literally playing detective while examining crime scene “exhibits” such as resumes, cover letters, and reflection papers. As just one take-away from this process, we decided to revise our resume rubric to make student learning outcomes better align with our critical thinking objective. From a programmatic perspective, we also introduced a longer-format interactive resume clinic in lieu of shorter, presentation-oriented sessions.

  • Rubric Audit: We extended our rubric review to student interviewing to ensure that we were truly collecting data that would inform our learning about student learning. Specifically, we revamped the Interview Content section to help both counselors and employers more explicitly rate how well students connect knowledge, strengths, and experiences to their qualifications and competitiveness for specific opportunities. We piloted the new rubric during a week-long event, Mock Interview Mania, and have already uncovered areas for improvement.
  • New Assessment of Existing Programs: As one example, we added a pre/post-test student self-evaluation for Seekers, the semester-long career exploration program that we facilitate for our liberal arts students at Widener, to an existing student reflection requirement. Several of the Likert-scale items pertain directly to the application of critical thinking skills to career-readiness process steps.
  1. I understand how my personal values may impact my career choices.
  2. I can confidently articulate my major strengths and how they connect to my employment or graduate study goals.
  3. I can confidently describe the skills I have learned through liberal arts coursework in language that a potential employer will understand and value.
  4. I can draw from my campus involvement, service, and leadership experiences to develop an effective “elevator speech.
  5. I know how to locate and navigate resources found in the Career Exploration and Professional Development sections of the Career Services Campus Cruiser Office.
  6. I understand how to network to pursue internships, jobs, or graduate programs in a way that leverages my personal style and strengths.
  7. I am confident in my ability to arrange and conduct an informational interview.
  8. I can list my top five targets for jobs, internships, or graduate programs.
  9. I can confidently and professionally use LinkedIn as a tool to connect with Widener alumni in support of my goals.
  10. I can use my critical thinking skills to confidently respond to challenging interview questions.
  11. Overall, I believe that my liberal arts education is preparing me for life after graduation.
  • Unifying the Units: In the most far-reaching initiative to date, our career services office has actively partnered with our peer units within Academic Support Services, including Counseling, Disability Services, Exploratory Studies, Student Success and Retention, and Tutoring. My colleague Jocelyn Manigo, director of tutoring services, and I were asked to co-chair this initiative, starting with aligning language around critical thinking across the six areas. In an upcoming post, I will elaborate on our process and learning to date.

What kinds of assessment initiatives are you piloting in your own offices? How are you getting colleagues to buy into the process?

Janet LongJanet R. Long is a NACE blog contributor and the career liaison to Widener University’s College of Arts & Sciences. She also coordinates student learning assessment for the career services office and co-chairs assessment for the broader Academic Support Services unit in partnership with Jocelyn Manigo, director of tutoring services.

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