Follow These Steps to Career Success
By Pat Corrigan & Peter Titlebaum
Nelson Mandela said, "Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world." But, what if your education is missing elements essential to making the jump from student to successful professional? It is commonly thought that many of our nation's students in higher education are receiving only limited instruction in key aspects that are important in sculpting a professional career.
In order to illustrate this point, let's begin with the most obvious example, the resume. Few students in higher education take a course that teaches how to build a noteworthy resume capable of capturing the attention of potential employers. If resume-building is addressed at all, it is far more likely to simply offer a format and require the student to replicate. Even though it has been reported that in the field of job searches, most resumes get less than 10 seconds of consideration or, at very least, are electronically reviewed, little attention is given instructionally to how to create resumes from the employer's perspective. Most would agree that maintaining an updated, properly tailored resume is an important piece of the career puzzle. To think a student can neglect this side of his education indicates that other career-building aspects might also be missing.
Five overarching career development components are the foundation of the professional portfolio. These include: academics, leadership skills, knowledge of industry trends, conferences/publications, and mentorship. According to the Merriam Webster Dictionary, 'academic' can be defined as having no practical importance: not involving or relating to anything real or practical. This can be translated to mean that although a person can possess endless amounts of knowledge, without the ability to apply it, it is insignificant in the real world.
The system of higher education in America is accountable for much of the blame. Education has been geared toward preparing students with a solid academic background often devoid of practical application beyond academia. For those who do not receive education on how to market themselves, apply or interview for a job, create a portfolio, resume and cover letter, or other aspects that can be taught in schools, their degrees have fallen short of the goal of creating new professionals in the workplace. Obtaining career-development abilities in combination with a sound academic background allows for the greatest professional potential. Additionally, staying current on literature in the field in which one wants to work is vital. If you do not have the knowledge, employers are going to find someone who does.
From early education, parents and guidance counselors should have informed students to assume leadership roles in order to get accepted into a good college. The same is true for those who aspire to go on to graduate school, except now the motivation should be largely self-driven. The point at which leadership stops for many is upon getting a job, when the newly-minted graduate starts at the lower end of the corporate ladder.
Many professions require CEUs, or continuing education units. A CEU is a unit of credit for an accredited program designed for professionals who need certificates or licenses to maintain current professional minimum standards. While continuing to gain education is certainly a positive, limiting growth to just maintaining minimum standards will not equip individuals with a plan for career advancement. They must grow their leadership skills in addition to industry knowledge.
The problem might not be obvious. When the individual progresses to middle management, unless that level satisfies his lifetime career objectives, he is likely to want to further climb the corporate ladder. The professional world is dynamic. Before being entrusted by the organization to shape and direct others, one must be able to chart and manage one's own professional growth. Accepting a leadership role is more than directing others; it can have an impact on the advancement of a career as well as create relations with like-minded professionals.
It has been said that "the only thing that is constant is change." New trends in business are all around us. Simply look at the history of the economy over any period of time to notice changes. It is also true when looking at a profession that trends dominate. Recognizing trends and understanding their progression can help an individual anticipate where that trend could lead in the future. Consider the impact that could be made if a job candidate brings recommendations to the job interview that demonstrate a keen understanding of the industry in which the company operates. The combination of trend recognition and with an understanding of the core strengths of that business can lead to significant advancement for the company and the individual who led the charge.
Companies invest billions of dollars in research and development every year in order to provide viable products and stay ahead of their competition. R&D investment, properly spent, ensures the future of the company. Students should attend conferences and read industry publications starting in college. Many conferences are held every year that encourage student attendance. Participation provides a perfect opportunity for students to start marketing themselves and hold conversations with professionals in their field of interest. One can solidify a commitment to a chosen field, and obtain an idea of where the profession is headed. Additionally, at many conferences, students can give presentations alongside an academic adviser, providing a valuable experience notable on a resume. Once graduated, an invitation to present at a conference is unlikely until an individual advances in his or her career and is viewed as an industry insight leader. Just as companies highly value the R&D function in the context of future company growth, individuals should invest similarly in their own development to allow the best long-term career potential.
Perhaps the easiest way to maintain knowledge about current trends in an industry is through trade publications. Students and seasoned professionals should routinely review publications and contribute to the pool of available literature with insights of their own.
Role models help shape the distinction of right from wrong, however these people might not know how much impact they have on those who are observing their professional behavior. While many role models are present in life, such as coaches, teachers, advisers and employers, very few have formally been asked to assume this position in a relationship. The full value of the interaction will not be realized until both are clear about the impact the mentor has on the student. Mentorship takes place when someone teaches or gives advice to a less experienced person. Mentoring can be much more effective with established meetings and agendas so the mentor can shape content to align with the goals of the relationship.
Although these five elements—academics, leadership, trends, conferences/publications and mentorship—are all important, they must be blended to solve the professional puzzle for success. The question is, Do these measures indicate how prepared a student is for the business world, or is this merely a measure of readiness for more school? As previously stated, many career aspects are lacking in today's educational curriculum. Students are expected to do their homework, earn good grades, obtain solid employment, and perform well in their fields. However if a change does not take place in higher education, students will continue to slip by without ever hearing the words "portfolio," "resume," "cover letter," etc., or experiencing a conference and talking to professionals.
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