Career development often involves some form of self-assessment tool to help a client gain insight as they move to a new career. However, moving from the results of the self-assessment to career or job identification is challenging for many career changers. In higher education, we administer several different types of self-assessments focusing on personality type, skills, values, and strengths. We expect that students will be able to use the available information to identify a fitting career path or job based on their results. Unfortunately, that is not always an easy task and can often leave students feeling frustrated.
At the SIT Graduate Institute, we recently took a step back to see where our students may be struggling and have worked on developing methods to help guide them through a process from the self-assessment to an action plan. Starting with understanding Alignment, we then look at Keywords, LinkedIn, and Job Descriptions before arriving at an Action Plan.
To understand how the self-assessment results can guide career exploration, we aligned the steps next to each other to give a visual representation. The Interests area, in Self-Assessment, can lead to identification of Organizations that are doing a particular type of work. The Skills that a student has or is developing align with the required functions that are described in the Job Description. The Values that the students have identified should align with the working Environment at the organization. This information could be available on the organization’s website, but often times can be found through an informational interview with an employee. Finally, the Personality Traits align with the overall Fit of working within the organization. It will become evident to the applicant if the job is a good fit through a site visit or an interview for the job itself.
Figure . Self-Assessment to Career Exploration framework modified with permission of Martin Tillman, President, Global Career Compass (2011)
It can be difficult for career changers to articulate what they would like to do or what they are interested in, despite results from their self-evaluations. Students in higher education programs are more likely to be aware of what they do not want to do rather than how they will be able to apply their degree after graduation. To help them focus on their career, we ask them to list words that reflect interests they are passionate about. This could be from their classes, readings, things that they are learning from other students, or things that are in the news. We ask them to list what types of impact they want to have made by the time they retire. Finally, we ask them to list the skills they want to apply to these issue areas (these can come directly from course syllabi, the students’ learning plans, or degree competency areas). Now we have a list of some great key words that our students can use in their career exploration.
LinkedIn to Identify Organizations and Alumni
Using these key word lists, we move to social media. We give a brief overview on how to search for organizations by using the students’ key words in LinkedIn. Students are also introduced to the My Alumni search field, located in the drop down menu under the Connections tab. Using their laptops, students begin searching LinkedIn using their key words to find alumni doing the type of work they are interested in doing. Students use the large search bar at the top of the LinkedIn page to find organizations that align with their interests, organizations that are making the desired impact, and organizations that reference the skills the students are hoping to use. Students are asked to make note of alumni who are working or have worked at these organizations so they can arrange informational interviews with them in the future.
Now that we have identified a variety of organizations and seen through our alumni what doing this type of work might look like after graduation, we move into looking at specific job descriptions. We introduce a variety of degree-specific job databases and encourage students to go directly to the employment pages of the organizations’ websites. From this point students identify what jobs within these organizations address their interest areas, their impact areas, and their skills. We ask them to make note of the job titles, specific requirements and salary, so as their research continues they will have a deeper overview of the job market. This is a good time to introduce search agents, which will send the student an email link to a new position when a job description matches their search criteria.
The last piece that we cover is setting SMART goals (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, time-bound) and techniques for mapping out how to get to the positions. How can students expect to achieve their goals if they have not carried out the above plan and set aside time for completing SMART goals?
Having a strategic career action plan is essential in today’s competitive job market. We ask the students to review and adjust their plan periodically. How do students get to where they want to go if they have not identified realistic steps (through Alignment, Key Words, LinkedIn Connections, and Job Descriptions) to begin the process? The effort they put into planning their goals is directly related to results they will see in achieving their goals.
Squeak Stone is the Director of Career and Practicum Services at the SIT Graduate Institute in Brattleboro, Vermont. She holds a Master of Science in Organizational Management and has been working with students in higher education for over a decade in various capacities. Squeak is currently involved with establishing the first dual state Career Development Association chapter for Vermont and New Hampshire. You can reach Squeak at firstname.lastname@example.org