Career Research: How to Measure Career Success

by Desalina Guarise and James W. Kostenblatt

This is the first of several blog posts that will explore career-related research and feature interviews with those researchers. Let us know if you have individuals you would like to see featured.

As recipients of a NACE Research Grant, we will be kicking off a study this fall to explore the long-term impact unpaid internships have on career success (30 institutions are participating and we are looking for more partners to join; contact us if interested!) As a part of this project, we began exploring how to define  and measure career success—a complicated and somewhat nebulous concept. Luckily, we came across a research study recently published in the Journal of Organizational Behavior, “Development of a New Scale to Measure Subjective Career Success: A Mixed-Methods Study” 37.1 (2015): 128-53, where Dr. Kristen Shockley and her colleagues did the heavy lifting for us. We will be using both objective measure of success (i.e. salary) and the subjective measures Dr. Shockley developed in our study.

In an interview, Dr. Shockley shared details about her research and the release of the “Subjective Career Success Inventory”—a 24-item questionnaire and validated measure of career success that resulted from the study.

Tell us about your professional background. How did you come to focus on career-related research?
I did my undergraduate degree at the University of Georgia and my Ph.D. in Industrial organizational psychology from the University of South Florida. From beginning of my doctoral program I was interested in how people manage work and family and how to have a fulfilling work life and personal life at the same time.

In the article, you mention that measures of career success have evolved over time, shifting from objective measures to subjective measures. Tell us more about this evolution.
Years ago, you started at one company, paid your dues, and retired from that company. Now people have something like seven jobs over the course of their career.  With this shift people’s values have also changed. When we interviewed people for the study, they spoke about how important it is to having a meaningful personal life outside of their career as well as clear work/life boundaries. They also want to feel like their work is meaningful. When we looked at the existing career research, they used to measure career success very objectively—you are successful if you make a lot of money. The previous subjective measures were just about satisfaction. That’s where this career success model—the subjective model—came from; it takes into account these newer values. 

Tell us about your development of the Subjective Career Success Inventory?
We began by conducting interviews and focus groups with people from all different types of careers. We then transcribed all of the interviews, coded them, and came up with themes. Finally we focused on testing the scale for validity and reliability. The research took seven years from start to finish and we ended up with a 24-item questionnaire broken out into eight dimensions or categories that were important to these professionals when assessing their own career success: recognition, quality work, meaningful work, influence, authenticity, personal life, growth and development, and satisfaction.  

What implications do you think this has for practitioners like ourselves in career services?
Practitioners already know that it’s a daunting task for students to pick a field to go into. It’s important to have some sense of what you value and how likely it is that those values will map onto careers you are considering. This research further supports the importance of students reflecting on their values and thinking beyond objective measures of career success when decision-making. 

What are you working on now with your research?
Right now I’m trying to establish an inventory for the family-friendliness of different career paths using data from O*Net.  Hopefully this will help students and professionals make decisions about which career path may be right for them.

If you’d like to participate in research exploring the long-term impact unpaid internships have on career success , contact Alina Guarise or James Kostenblatt.

Alina GuariseDesalina (Alina) Guarise, Associate Director of Career Advancement Center at Lake Forest College




James W. Kostenblatt

James, W. Kostenblatt, Associate Director, New York University’s Wasserman Center for Career Development

Helping Students Find Expertise

KKathryn Douglasathy Douglas, Associate Director Career Development Office, Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies
Twitter: @fescdo

Words that rhyme with expertise:
Appease, Bhutanese, breeze, cerise, cheese, éminence grise, freeze, journalese, marquise, overseas, Portuguese, seize, sneeze, squeeze, Stockton-on-Tees,
trapeze, valise, vocalese, wheeze – selections from Oxford

Part of my job is to encourage students going on the job market to think about their areas of expertise. My goal is for them to confidently position themselves as candidates with specialized knowledge—not only as doers with hands-on experience to quantify on their resume with start and end dates, and not only as technical, language, or soft skill wizards with long lists of certifications and skills. Although these elements are important too.

I have read drafts of resumes where I can barely tell that a student has just spent two to six years taking courses, conducting complicated research, and learning broadly and deeply.

And so I ask them about coursework, concepts, areas of expertise.

  • Student: “But I can’t include x on my resume, I don’t have any experience doing it!”
  • Me: “Do you know anything about x?”
  • Student: “Well, yes, [insert impromptu dissertation on x].”

During these impromptu dissertations, I jot down some of the specific, interesting keywords that roll off a student’s tongue—COP21, LCA, renewables, EPI, deforestation free, paw paw, NRDC, camera trap, biophilic, Hotshot, CEQ, ecosystem services, bioswale, carbon neutral, Clean Air Act, systems thinking, Peace Corps, biochar. I might ask for clarification of a few terms, and suddenly there are more keywords. In a career counseling session, students do not have to worry about impressing me. And if I ask the right questions, they reveal that they do know something. And usually it is a lot of something.

It doesn’t matter if I’m working with a career-changing masters candidate with 10 years of work experience or an international student straight out of an undergraduate program—transitioning from student to expert is intimidating. Most students balk when I ask them to tell me about their expertise.

Afterall, students are students. They are learners. Faculty are the experts.

Surrounded by faculty experts and by peers who know a lot of the same things, students tend to think of themselves as:

  • knowing significantly less than others, and
  • not knowing anything special.

While I ask questions to tease out specific knowledge and reflect it back, I suggest the following knowledge scale to help students frame and think more objectively about their expertise:

  • For the past two years I have focused on…
  • I have expertise in…
  • I have thorough knowledge of…
  • I have knowledge of…
  • I am thoroughly familiar with…
  • I am familiar with…
  • I have heard of it.

When an advisee finishes describing the statewide coastal resiliency planning, renewable energy finance mechanisms, or conflict resolution strategies in small rural communities in a developing country they have been focusing on for two years (but failed to mention on their resume because it wasn’t part of their work experience), I hand them a Post-It note (or three) with keywords and concepts I have gleaned.

And then I prompt them with these questions:

  • Are there any areas included here in which you can confidently claim expertise?
  • Can you use some of this language to summarize a two-year academic or professional focus?
  • Can you identify two or three topics from this list in which you have thorough knowledge?
  • Do you have anything to add to knowledge and expertise you haven’t included in your cover letter and resume?

Unpacking knowledge, focus, and expertise is a key process for accurately and strongly presenting oneself.  Once these elements are thought out and well articulated, they can be emphasized on a resume (in a variety of ways including a bullet or bullets under degree of Selected Coursework, Projects, or Focus, or with a separate, brief “Research Interest” or “Special Focus” section), highlighted in a cover letter, and included when answering a range of interview questions.




Assessment Tools and Career Decision Making

KKathryn Douglasathy Douglas, Associate Director Career Development Office, Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies
Twitter: @fescdo

I regularly get questions about the value of assessment tools from the graduate student populations I work with. The follow question came to me via e-mail:

Q. What do you think about aptitude, personality, and interests tests in helping to guide career decision making? (Examples: Johnson O’ Connor Research Foundation’s aptitude testing program, Myers Briggs, Strong Interest Inventory, etc.). How do I align my interests and background with the results of such tests? And does following these test results really lead to a more satisfying career?

A. In general, a higher degree of self-awareness is always a good thing in terms of career development. Aptitude, personality, and interests tests, or assessments, can help define aspects of yourself that you may not already have a good sense of, and may save years of making less than ideal choices about career direction and focus, i.e. from learning the hard way. Many of us are strongly influenced by supposed-to-be’s, cultural ideals and other external forces. Having a better understanding of one’s proclivities and making career choices accordingly, you are likely to be more directed, satisfied and productive.

In an interview with The New York Times career columnist Marci Alboher, Peggy Klaus, author of The Hard Truth About Soft Skills: Workplace Lessons Smart People Wish They’d Learned Sooner, groups self-awareness with other “soft” skills: “The hard skills are the technical expertise you need to get the job done. The soft skills are really everything else—competencies that go from self-awareness to one’s attitude to managing one’s career to handling critics, not taking things personally, taking risks, getting along with people, and many, many more.” Self-assessment tests are a good way to boost your self-awareness as well as to identify areas you might want to work on.

Different assessment tools measure different qualities and leanings, and can be useful in helping to discover strengths, weaknesses, and preferences that you may not be fully aware of or perhaps assume that everyone possesses, i.e., they can help you take a more objective view of yourself. They are part of self-assessment that can help you define and articulate career goals, but are not necessarily going to give you hard and fast answers regarding direction. You are the final interpreter and arbiter of any such tests, but going through the process will likely lead to some personally resonant and new information that can inform your career planning, areas for personal and professional development and goal setting.

To illustrate the application of self-assessment tools to career development, let’s look briefly at the Myers-Briggs personality test, which is based on Jungian psychology and which identifies 16 personality types. In addition to discovering your own type, knowledge of personality types can be extremely useful for navigating interpersonal relationships when you are working on teams, collaborating with colleagues, and interacting on all levels with individuals and groups.

Here is some basic information on the INTJ (Introvert, Intuitive, Thinking, Judging), a rare personality type:

“Hallmark features of the INTJ personality type include independence of thought, strong individualism and creativity. Persons with this personality type work best given large amounts of autonomy and creative freedom. They harbor an innate desire to express themselves; that is to be creative by conceptualizing their own intellectual designs. Analyzing and formulating complex theories are among their greatest strengths. INTJs tend to be well-suited for occupations within academia, research, management, engineering, and law. Differentiating the INTJ personality type from the related INTP type is their confidence. They tend to be acutely aware of their knowledge and abilities. Thus, they develop a strong confidence in their ability and talents, making them “natural leaders.” It is this confidence that makes this personality type extremely rare. According to David Keirsey it is found in no more than 1 percent of the population.” Source:

How can this understanding be applied to career choices and personal development?

If you are an INTJ, you might want to be looking for positions where you have a high degree of autonomy and can work creatively on long-term strategic planning, rather than one where you are doing highly energetic short-term management as part of an interdependent team. You might want to focus on organizations that have a reputation for being extremely well-managed, as opposed to one where your role will be to efficiently create order and be a mentor to young people. INTJ’s are often “surprised when others don’t see things the same way.” If this is something you newly understand about yourself, you might spend some time developing the ability to build consensus around your ideas, an area that might not come naturally to you.

This kind of introspective work can certainly help in career development and in other areas of your life, can bring a depth to understandings you may already have about your personality, interests and aptitudes, and can be especially helpful if you find it difficult to accurately assess yourself.

Counselor or Editor? When Does Wordsmithing Stop Serving Our Students?

Janet LongJanet R. Long
Founder, Integrity Search
Career Liaison to College of Arts & Sciences, Widener University
Twitter: @IntegritySearch
Blogs from Janet Long.

While you don’t need an undergraduate English degree to become a higher education career counselor, I often draw on it as much as my counseling preparation and recruiting background. While the “juicier” student appointments may revolve around career exploration, interest assessments, and job-search strategies, a large percentage of appointments are dedicated to creating and revising resumes, cover letters, personal statements, and increasingly, LinkedIn profiles.

Our office, like most, conducts year-round workshops and posts online resources to help students with all of these communication formats. However, we find that the overall area of career-related written communication remains daunting for many students. This is neither an isolated nor insignificant finding.  A recent survey conducted by Hart Research Associates on behalf of The American Association of Colleges and Universities compared student and employer perceptions of career preparedness. While 65 percent of students surveyed believed that their written communication skills were work force ready, only 27 percent of the employers surveyed agreed.  NACE’s own extensive employer research revealed that oral communications ranks first among seven critical competencies associated with career readiness, with nearly 92 percent of respondents agreeing that is it absolutely essential or essential.

Like all of us, I want my students to succeed, whether in nabbing that long-shot, ultra-competitive  summer internship or gaining admission to a coveted graduate program. As an office, we are also keenly aware that the quality of written materials ultimately reviewed by potential employers and graduate schools reflects on institutional reputation.

While we can offer guidelines with supporting examples to assist in creating career deliverables, it is more difficult to help a student who struggles not only with the language of career-readiness, but with more basic issues of grammar, syntax, transitions, and overall flow. As both a student champion and a natural fixer, I struggle with where to draw the line between helpful wordsmithing and unhelpful enabling of a written communication deficit that begs to be addressed outside of the career services office. Like many of us, I tactfully refer students to our on-campus writing center. We can encourage, but not require.

Recently I assumed responsibility for leading our office’s assessment of student learning outcomes.  Among the areas we are examining as a team, the overarching area of what we have framed as career articulation, oral as well as written, has come to the forefront. While we will continue to use specific rubrics for resumes, essays, etc. as day-to-day teaching tools, we are exploring the use of a multi-measure rubric to help us better assess whether and to what extent students are applying learning from one form of communication to another.  For example, does mastering the 30-second elevator speech cross over to crafting a compelling LinkedIn summary or acing the dreaded “Tell me about yourself” interview question?

How is your career services office addressing the NACE written communications competency, both in your day-to-day operations and in assessment? What kinds of partnerships are you forming on campus?













Career Advising for Introverts: Should It Be Different?

Janet LongJanet R. Long
Founder, Integrity Search
Career Liaison to College of Arts & Sciences, Widener University
Twitter: @IntegritySearch
Blogs from Janet Long.

NACE blog team member Chris Carlson wrote eloquently about networking for introverts earlier this year. His piece inspired me to think more deeply about the role of introversion in higher education career services. As both an introvert and the career liaison for the liberal arts student population at my university, I recently began to include material on introversion and extroversion in the semester-length career exploration series I facilitate, The Seekers. To my surprise, student feedback about these sessions has been nothing short of profound. For many students, there is a powerful sense of self-recognition accompanied by relief that they don’t need to reinvent themselves to enter and thrive in the world of work. I began to consider the implications for career advising overall, given that up to 50 percent of the general population describe themselves as introverts.

It often helps to start by defining terms. It can be easy to take for granted my Myers-Briggs training and decades to make peace with my own introversion. In informal polling I have found that most students still associate introversion with shyness or social awkwardness rather than with primary energy source. More disturbingly, they may view introversion as a flaw or deficit that warrants correction.

I like to start with basic MBTI definitions and then pose a classic question that can help students differentiate their preferred style. For example, “If you had an unexpectedly free weekend, would you rather attend several parties or catch up with a couple of friends individually?” I like this question because it challenges the false dichotomy of alone versus with people. Introverts may also prefer to spend time alone (as do extroverts at times). The difference lies in where they gain their main source of energy and how they prefer to recharge.

Our career services office, like many others, offers career fairs, speed networking events, and practice interviews for jobs or internships. With the best of intentions, we teach students to “put themselves out there,” to navigate cocktail/mocktail conversation, to develop compelling 30-second elevator talks, and to formulate responses to both hardball and softball interview questions. This is all helpful and necessary. But the nagging question remains, are there different and potentially more effective ways to broach these topics with students who identify as introverts? Do I as a counselor—albeit an introverted one—jump too quickly to tactics without first acknowledging and exploring how students feel about these processes and their perceptions of what society expects of them? I think that too often we treat introversion as something to be overcome rather than celebrated for its potential contributions.

As one example, last semester in The Seekers, I conducted a mock interview clinic in which we practiced responses in five common question areas. Halfway through the session, one brave student interjected that while she appreciated the tactical advice, none of it helped with trembling hands during actual interviews. Another student, who projected as poised and self-assured throughout the semester, jumped in and offered that the responses made her feel phony. Their comments led to a lively and connected conversation during which the students listened to and coached each other about how to reconcile internal feelings with external expectations. While their concerns were perhaps not unique to introverts, they created an important “aha” for me: that I needed to create more space within the group to be reflective and introspective about professional skills development.

I have recently started to draw on Susan Cain’s Quiet Revolution research on introversion, showing excerpts from her TED talk on The Power of Introverts where she laments external pressures to “pass” as an extrovert and helpfully differentiates introversion from shyness. One of my favorite lines is that “the key to maximizing our talents is to put ourselves in the settings that are right for us,” an exhortation to consider work environment and career choices through the lens of temperament as well as talent.

Ms. Cain’s poise and presence in a public speaking situation tends to surprise students and can start conversations about how introverts not only function but thrive in visible and influential positions. Similarly, Wharton professor Adam Grant’s research on effective leadership, The Hidden Advantages of Quiet Bosses, includes the finding that introverted leaders are more likely to engage their teams by encouraging individuals to develop their own ideas. I have found it useful to offer examples of well-recognized role models from all walks of life, from sports to business, who describe themselves as introverts, from Bill Gates, Mahatma Gandhi, and Rosa Parks, to Michael Jordan, Christine Aguilera, and Julia Roberts .

These are some additional strategies that I have found effective in provoking both reflection and discussion:

  • Combining personalized career assessments to give students more self-insight. I have found that StrengthsQuest and MBTI play well together. For example, a student who shows a preference for introversion on the MBTI may also hold “individualization” as a top strength. Integrating a “strengths” perspective into an introversion/extroversion discussion encourages students to move away from a deficit mindset.
  • Designing more intimate networking forums. This semester our office will pilot a home-based gathering for a limited number of students and alumni in selected fields to interact over a leisurely meal. Our hope is that such forums can complement the larger speed-networking formats and that each will each hold appeal for different types of students.
  • Scheduling one-on-one follow-up appointments. While this may sound like a no-brainer, students are typically more inclined to make appointments keyed to specific deliverables rather than more open-ended discussion about areas of discomfort. While not every student needs or wants this type of support, I think it is important to remind students that the suite of career counseling tools available to them goes beyond resume tweaks.

NACE career advisers, are you having these conversations in your offices? It would be interesting to learn more about employer perspectives as well.


Is Career Counseling for Everyone?

Melanie BufordMelanie Buford, Program Coordinator/Adjunct Instructor, Career Development Center, University of Cincinnati

The other day, a colleague posed an intriguing question. I told her about my work in the career center at the University of Cincinnati, and after a contemplative pause, she said:

“Do you think career counseling is for everyone? I felt lost after graduation, but my husband never used career services. He knew what he wanted to do and he’s doing well now.”

I’m sure that most of us don’t find this surprising. Though a great many students come to career services desperate for some sort of post-graduate direction, there are certainly those who have chosen a path and may only want another set of eyes on their resume or some similarly light support. There are still those who never come at all, likely relying on their friends, family, and the Internet to fill in their gaps.

Of course, I can only speak from my own experience, but I believe that there are benefits to one-on-one career counseling that even the most prepared would find helpful. A few of those benefits are:

Career counseling creates space for exploration.

For every student who struggles to choose one career direction, there are those who have prematurely narrowed their options. Students bring different strengths and personalities to the career development process. Decisiveness can certainly be an asset, but so can the ability to tolerate the uncertainty of exploration. The best decisions combine reflection and action, and career counseling provides the space and support to do both.

Career counseling prepares students for a changing job market.

We know that as technology, Millennials, and global communication reshape the world of work, the relevance of today’s positions isn’t guaranteed. If a student chooses to pursue one career today, there is no guarantee that technology may not eliminate the need for that work before that student reaches retirement. With self-driving cars on the horizon, who’s to say what human services we’ll need in another 30 years? Students need to be familiar with current market trends, and the variety of talents and interests they have to offer. This knowledge, combined with the ability to self-promote, will prepare them for the possibility that their career of choice may not always be a viable path.

Career counseling provides frameworks and language for grappling with career challenges yet to come.

A core component of most career development programming is some sort of personality or skills assessment. One thing that the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator tells you, for example, is whether or not you prefer introversion or extroversion. Those who prefer introversion tend to feel more comfortable in workspaces that allow for independent work and alone time to recharge and develop ideas. Those who prefer extroversion, on the other hand, tend to have a need for collaboration and the ability to work with other people for energy and inspiration.

One of the staff members at the UC Career Development Center tells a story about a young man she counseled a few years ago. We’ll call him David. David was an extremely hard-working student who graduated from UC’s College of Engineering and Applied Sciences with a near-perfect GPA. He was hired by a well-known tech company and was making a six-figure salary as a new graduate. Ostensibly, this was a career success story, and yet, within a few years, David came to us for help. He was shocked to find that despite his interest in the work, he was miserable in his new position. So much so that he reported feelings of exhaustion and hopelessness, classic symptoms of depression.

After a few sessions with David, it became clear that his unhappiness didn’t stem from the work itself, but from the environment. My colleague administered the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, and David reported a clear preference for extroversion. During a typical workday, however, he had almost no human contact, from the moment he arrived to the moment he left. Once David had language for interpreting this experience—that he had needed more interaction with people as part of his day—he was able to communicate this need to his supervisor. He was eventually moved to a new role as a sales representative for the product and was much more satisfied.

David knew he was unhappy in his role, but without the language for interpreting these feelings, he struggled to act on them. Even students who are satisfied in their current work may reach a point where their needs are no longer being fulfilled. Career counseling can provide a framework to understand why they aren’t thriving.

As many career development programs at public colleges and universities are being downsized, the relevance of one-on-one counseling will be an increasingly pressing issue. We will need to be innovative as we prepare students for a lifetime of career success, not simply a post-graduate job.



Data Collection Toward a 100 Percent Knowledge Rate

BlessVaiBless Vaidian, Director, Career Counseling for Pace Career Services – Westchester, and Founder, Career Transitions Guide

Is a 100 percent knowledge rate possible with a first-destination survey? That’s to be determined each year and with each effort. Due-diligence requires universities to extend maximum effort to try to achieve a 100 percent knowledge rate for all our students. The task of collecting and reporting data is a huge undertaking trusted to many career offices. Whether you are trying to meet the NACE deadline for data collection or your own office deadline, creating a systematic approach and incorporating “best practices” into your labor makes capturing career outcomes more manageable.

Lay the Foundation

Its essential to be able to analyze data with ease, as well as know ahead of time what questions to include in your outreach attempts to students. Follow the suggestions outlined by NACE in your database fields and match it to your first destination surveys. Bring in your school’s technology department to help create the database, as well as the electronic surveys that capture the responses fed into it. Once that’s done, a time line for when, where, and how you will collect data can be drawn out. Cap and Gown surveys, employer surveys, surveys to the campus community, classroom visits, social media searches, follow-up student surveys, calls and e-mails have to be systematically laid out on a timeline. Learn assessment best practices by attending conferences and events to know how others are capturing information. Make sure you use the NACE links on the topic and talk to Ed Koc, NACE’s Director of Research, Public Policy, and Legislative Affairs or his great team if you have questions. Koc is offering a webinar on the first-destination initiative in early January for NACE members. A solid foundation and plan of action will serve you well in the long run.

Designate a Point Person

If the college community knows that career outcome information has to be sent to a designated individual within their school, then more outcomes can be captured. Often university staff members possess career outcome information and never pass it onto career services. The human resources and admissions departments within your school may have first-destination information on numerous students who were hired or went onto graduate school at your institution. The designated point person should monitor the first destination survey numbers, solicit information from university sources consistently, and create a strategy for follow-up with graduates. It takes many people, numerous efforts, and even call-centers to capture data for bigger schools. But designate an expert to manage the whole process, set the timeline, and be the “face” of the initiative in order to drive the results.

It’s Not a Career Services Issue, It’s a University Issue

Helping students find opportunities and creating a path for successful outcomes is not just a career services goal. Higher education is a partnership of many units working collaboratively to ensure retention and capture every student’s career outcome. Long before first-destination surveys go out, building relationships with the campus community is where data collection really starts for career services. Meetings with the university community to build bridges, foster relationships, and outline the process is crucial. Students share career outcome information with professors, academic advisers, financial aid representatives, leaders of student organizations, and college staff. These sources become vital in the collection process and have to be included in the journey.

Keep the Community Vested

It is essential to make survey efforts and progress visible to the campus community. Every dean, faculty member, and university staff  member should know what the career office does. Career outcome and knowledge rate information should be displayed in infographics, charts, and reports on a regular basis with college partners. If others understand what goes on behind the scenes and where the numbers are, then they will be more apt to assist with first-destination information. It also keeps departments interested and looking forward to the next update.

Mandate Attendance 

Universities that promote, encourage, or even mandate attendance at career service events and one-to-one meetings with a career counselor can create more successful outcomes. Students that have worked with career offices feel more comfortable sharing career outcomes, and should be told that post-graduate follow-up will take place after graduation. Career services also helps students find pre-professional experience through internships that build resumes and lead to full-time offers. They offer networking opportunities with employers and alumni that have job leads every semester. Increased student engagement with career centers increases the “knowledge rate,” and also increases “outcomes.” Its a simple formula.

Multiple out-reach efforts to capture information throughout the year are made to graduating seniors, college partners, and employers to track career outcomes. I would love to hear your school’s best practices and ideas to reach that “100 percent knowledge rate.” Wishing each of you success in reaching your university’s goal and capturing outcomes.