What Does "Career Competencies" Mean to You? Redefining Them via Your Own Voice

By Gaeun Seo and Heather Fortenberry

As technology innovation is continuously reshaping the workforce, transferable skills, also known as soft skills or 21st-century skills, have become critically important to career success in today's world (Mitchell, Skinner, & White, 2010; Robles, 2012). Although many higher education institutions have successfully provided technical or hard skills as a part of their educational curriculum, recent graduates often fail to recognize core transferable skills that employers highly value or demonstrate their proficiency in these areas (Robles, 2012; Schooley, 2017).

To reduce such a gap, the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE, 2019a) defined career readiness by articulating eight career competencies highly valued by employers. These competencies allow career services professionals and students to recognize core transferable skills that help students become career-ready for a successful school-to-work-transition. Ever since, career professionals, faculty, and other advisors have integrated these competencies into various learning activities (e.g., NACE, 2019b).

Two Campus Interventions

Despite such concerted efforts, connecting their campus experience with career competencies is often foreign to students when their daily campus co-curricular activities are not obviously related to future work. This article shares two successfully implemented career interventions allowing career professionals to focus on empowering students with the skill to connect their experiences and ability to articulate career competencies. More importantly, these interventions enable students to recognize that career competencies are something embedded in many aspects of their daily lives, not something they could only gain from paid or off-campus experience. After these two interventions, more campus partners connected with the career services office. Staff also developed other interventions and resources to incorporate these competencies in professional development conversations with student employees.

1. Brief Career Readiness Competency Self Reflection Assessment

Motivated by the student union program manager, the first intervention focused on demonstrating how the student employment program influenced students’ career readiness. A weekly reflection online survey was designed for the student union peer advisors to identify the career competencies they used or developed through their daily activities as peer advisors. With collaboration from the program manager, eight prompt questions relevant to the four pre-selected NACE competencies were developed. Over an eight-week period, the peer advisors received a weekly e-mail inviting them to respond to one of the prompt questions and share their individual experiences based on their work activities. Career practitioners analyzed the brief reflection data and used the findings to define the career readiness competencies highlighted by the peer advisors. They presented the results in an infographic report, which allowed the peer advisors to recognize how their daily activities translated to the career competencies. Internal and external stakeholders also viewed the results to understand the value of the program.

Seo And Fortenberry Image

Figure 1. An Example of the Redefined NACE Career Readiness Competency

Tips for implementation in your own career services offices
This career intervention is a long-term project that requires buy-in and the abilities to design surveys, collect and analyze data, and disseminate the findings in an easily understandable way. This intervention also requires a thoughtful data collection plan if practitioners plan to collect data directly from students. If possible, career professionals are encouraged to work with those who have experience with learning outcomes assessment or those who have any research experience. If that is not the case, hiring a graduate student as a research assistant can be another great option. Lastly, it is critical to think about feasible, but not demanding ways to increase students’ response rate.

2. Co-Op Officers Career Readiness Competencies Roundtable Discussion

The second intervention was developed for student leaders (Co-Op Officers) living in campus cooperative housing to increase awareness of how their collaborative residence experience was helping them build skills that prepare them for future work. Instead of the learning outcome assessment, a brief roundtable discussion, a more hands-on and practical intervention, was implemented to help their students to articulate the values of their experience in their resume as part of their professional development training. During the session (40 minutes per session), 15 co-op officers selected two NACE career readiness competencies and were asked to share their relevant examples. Based on their example, the student leaders were able to shape their story into a one-line bullet point to demonstrate the chosen competency with their language in their resume.

Tips for implementation in your own career services offices
This intervention is easily implemented for any campus student employment programs. Any career professional familiar with the NACE career readiness competencies can lead it. Considering the interactive nature of the discussion, the intervention would be more effective when limiting the number of participants to less than 20 students per session. Lastly, any relevant information to a target audience (e.g., job description) helps presenters facilitate the career competency-reconstruction process with students’ own voice.

Cultivate a Culture of Career Readiness

These successfully implemented interventions might inspire other career professionals to reflect on practical ideas that can be used in their own settings to empower students to demonstrate career competencies more authentically. Student success is a collective responsibility of the entire institution, not solely based on career services. However, as Dey and Cruzvergara (2014) emphasized, career professionals must be one of the major driving forces that cultivate a culture of career readiness to empower students to build and demonstrate career competencies more authentic to who they are.

Learn more information on the two career interventions shared in the 2019 NCDA Global Career Development Conference by viewing our conference materials.



Dey, F., & Cruzvergara, C. Y. (2014). Evolution of career services in higher education. New Direction for Career Services, 148, 5-18.

Mitchell, G. W., Skinner, L. B., & White, B. J. (2010). Essential soft skills for success in the twenty-first century workforce as perceived by business educators. Delta Pi Epsilon Journal, 52(1), 43-53.

National Association of Colleges and Employers. (2019a, January). Career readiness for the new college graduate: A definition and competencies. Author. Retrieved from https://www.naceweb.org/uploadedfiles/pages/knowledge/articles/career-readiness-fact-sheet-jan-2019.pdf

National Association of Colleges and Employers. (2019b). Career readiness resources: Practices. Author. Retrieved from https://www.naceweb.org/career-readiness/competencies/practices/

Robles, M. M. (2012). Executive perceptions of the top 10 soft skills needed in today's workplace. Business Communication Quarterly, 75(4) 453–465.

Schooley, R. (2017). Why are soft skills missing in today's applicants. Murray State Theses and Dissertations. Retrieved from https://digitalcommons.murraystate.edu/etd/42


Gaeun SeoGaeun Seo, Ph.D., CCSP, GCDF, is currently working at Weill Cornell Medicine as a Career Consultant. She specializes in the career development of graduate and international students as well as learning outcomes assessment supporting evidence-informed practices in the career development field. In addition, she has published her research and other work via a wide range of outlets related to the field of career and professional development. She may be reached at gas4001@med.cornell.edu.


Heather FortenberryHeather Fortenberry is currently working at Cornell University as a Career Coach. She is passionate about empowering students with the skills and confidence to explore their career goals through collaboration with her colleagues. As a campus-career liaison, she has worked with a wide range of campus partners to provide professional development opportunities for students from diverse backgrounds at Cornell. She may be reached at hao3@cornell.edu.

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1 Comment

Paul Timmins   on Saturday 12/14/2019 at 12:32 PM

Thanks for sharing these very practical suggestions. Helping students translate their experiences into language that speaks to employers is an important way we can help them connect with the world of work.

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