Chapter 4: Career Exploration & Pathways

Professional Skill Building & Networking


Soft skills pre-assessment

Rate yourself on a scale of 1-5, with 5 being the highest, on the following soft-skills as they relate to your college experience. Be prepared to share examples of how you have excelled with soft-skills and in what areas you could use improvement:

  1. I work well in teams.
  2. I attend every class on time and stay for the whole class period.
  3. I turn in assignments on or before the deadline.
  4. I participate in class discussions by offering relevant information that continues the conversation.
  5. I use professional communication in email and all online activty.
  6. I am open to learning new things.
  7. I can see things from other perspectives.
  8. I can work with people who have different backgrounds and beliefs than my own.
  9. I can focus on the task at hand and avoid distractions.
  10. I can communicate with a variety of people and engage in face-to-face conversations.
  11. I know how to problem solve and make decisions.
  12. I can accept feedback about my work and behavior.
  13. I am ethical and honest.
  14. I am flexible and can change my plan to accomplish the task.
  15. I am enthusiastic about getting the job done.
Communication—the human connection—is the key to personal and career success. —Paul J. Meyer, motivational speaker

What Employers Want in an Employee

When hiring, there are two main types of skills that employers look for: hard skills and soft skills.

  • Hard skills are concrete or objective abilities that you learn and perhaps have mastered. They are skills you can easily quantify, like using a computer, speaking a foreign language, or operating a machine. You might earn a certificate, a college degree, or other credentials that attest to your hard-skill competencies.
  • Soft skills, on the other hand, are subjective skills that have changed very little over time. Such skills might pertain to the way you relate to people, or the way you think, or the ways in which you behave—for example, listening attentively, working well in groups, and speaking clearly. Soft skills are sometimes also called “transferable skills” because they can be easily transferred from job to job or profession to profession.

Employers want individuals who have the necessary hard and soft skills to do the job well and to adapt to changes in the workplace. Soft skills may be especially in demand today because employers are generally equipped to further train new employees in the specific hard skill needed beyond what they have learned in college—by training them to use new computer software, for instance.

It’s much more difficult to teach an employee a soft skill such as developing rapport with coworkers or knowing how to manage conflict. Soft skills are developed in coursework and through campus activities, such as student clubs. Many employers look for students who have been engaged in campus life, as that indicates the development of soft skills.

Specific Skills Necessary for Your Career Path

The table below lists four resources to help you determine which concrete skills are needed for all kinds of professions. You can even discover where you might gain some of the skills and which courses you might take.

1 Career Aptitude Test (Rasmussen College) This test helps you match your skills to a particular career that’s right for you. Use a sliding scale to indicate your level of skill in the following skill areas: artistic, interpersonal, communication, managerial, mathematics, mechanical, and science. Press the Update Results button and receive a customized list of career suggestions, based on data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. You can filter by salary, expected growth, and education.
2 Skills Profiler (Career OneStop from the U.S. Department of Labor) The Skills Profiler creates a list of your skills and matches your skills to job types that use those skills. Plan to spend about 20 minutes completing your profile. You can start with a job type to find skills you need. Or if you are not sure, start by rating your own skills to find a job type match. When your skills profile is complete, you can print it or save it.
3 O*Net OnLine This U.S. government website helps job seekers answer two of their toughest questions: “What jobs can I get with my skills and training?” and “What skills and training do I need to get this job?” Browse groups of similar occupations to explore careers. Choose from industry, field of work, science areas, and more. Focus on occupations that use a specific tool or software, and explore occupations that need your skills. Connect to a wealth of O*NET data. Enter a code or title from another classification to find the related O*NET-SOC occupation.

What is Networking?

In the context of career development, networking is the process by which people build relationships with one another for the purpose of helping one another achieve professional goals. When you “network,” you exchange information.

  • You may share business cards, résumés, cover letters, job-seeking strategies, leads about open jobs, or information about companies, organizations, or a specific field.
  • You might also exchange knowledge about meet-up groups, conferences, special events, technology tools, and social media.
  • You might also solicit job “headhunters,” career counselors, career centers, career coaches, an alumni association, family members, friends, acquaintances, and vendors.

Networking can occur anywhere, any time. In fact, your network expands with each new relationship you establish, and the networking strategies you can employ are nearly limitless. With imagination and ingenuity, your networking can be highly successful.

A series of stick figures connected by dotted lines.

We live in a social world. Almost everywhere you go and anything you do professionally involves connecting with people. It stands to reason that finding a new job and advancing your career entails building relationships with these people. Truly, the most effective way to find a new job is to network, network, and network some more.

Once you acknowledge the value of networking, the challenge is figuring out how to do it. What is your first step? Whom do you contact? What do you say? How long will it take? Where do you concentrate efforts? How do you know if your investments will pay off?

Explore Technology

Explore the LinkedIn website and consider creating a profile.

Strategies for Networking at College

  • Get to know your professors: Professors can give you information about careers, letters of recommendation, and leads on job openings, internships, or research possibilities.
  • Check with your college’s alumni office: You may find that some alumni are affiliated with your field of interest and can give you the “inside scoop.”
  • Check with classmates: Classmates may have leads that could help you, so engage others in conversations and provide suggestions to them as well.

Strategies for Networking at Work

  • Join professional organizations: You can meet many influential people at local and national meetings and events of professional and volunteer organizations. Learn about these organizations. See if they have membership discounts for students or student chapters. Once you are a member, you may have access to membership lists, which can give you prospective access to many new people to network with.
  • Volunteer: Volunteering is an excellent way to meet new people who can help you develop your career, even if the organization you are volunteering with is not in your field. Just by working alongside others toward common goals, you build relationships that may later serve you in unforeseen and helpful ways.
  • Get an internship: Many organizations offer internship positions to college students. Some of these positions are paid, but often they are not. Paid or not, you gain experience relevant to your career, and you potentially make many new contacts. Check for key resources.
  • Get a part-time job: Working full-time may be your ultimate goal, but you may want to start out by working in a part-time job. Invariably you will meet people who can feasibly help with your networking goals. And you can gain good experience along the way, which can also be noted on your résumé.
  • Join a job club: Your career interests may be shared by many others who have organized a club, which can be online or in person. If you don’t find an existing club, consider starting one.
  • Attend networking events: There are many professional networking events taking place around the world and online. Find them listed in magazines, community calendars, newspapers, journals, and on the websites of companies, organizations, and associations.
  • Conduct informational interviews: You may initiate contact with people in your chosen field who can tell you about their experiences of entering the field and thriving in it. Many websites have guidance on how to plan and conduct these interviews.

Strategies for Networking at Home and Beyond

  • Participate in online social media: An explosion of career opportunities awaits you with social media, including LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and many more. You will find an extensive list of suggested sites at CareerOneStop. Keep your communication ultra-professional at these sites. Peruse magazine articles, and if you find one that’s relevant to your field and contains names of professionals, you can reach out to them to learn more and get job leads.
  • Ask family members and friends, coworkers, and acquaintances for referrals: Do they know others who might help you? You can start with the question “Who else should I be talking to?”
  • Use business cards or networking cards: A printed business card can be an essential tool to help your contacts remember you. Creativity can help in this regard, too. Students often design cards themselves and print them on a home printer.

Sources for Developing Professional Networks

The bottom line with developing professional networks is to cull information from as many sources as possible and use that information in creative ways to advance your career opportunities. Below is a summary of sources you can use to network your way to career success:

  • Meet-up groups
  • Conferences
  • Special events
  • Technology tools
  • Social media
  • Career centers
  • Alumni association
  • Professional organizations
  • Volunteer organizations
  • Internships
  • Networking events
  • Magazine articles
  • Websites
  • Career coaches
  • Headhunters
  • Career counselors
  • Family members
  • Friends
  • Coworkers
  • Advisors
  • Classmates
  • Administrators
  • Coaches
  • Guest speakers
  • Part-time jobs
  • Job clubs
  • Vendors
  • College professors

Networking for career development

Follow some of the suggestions below for obtaining and engaging with networking contacts:

  • Find information about five companies or people in your field of interest, and follow them on Twitter.
  • Get an account at four social media sites that you’ve not yet been active with that may enhance your career.
  • Find names of three people who interest you (peruse magazine articles, online sites, or other resources), and write an email to them explaining your interests and any requests you may have for information.
  • Sign up for newsletters from two professional organizations in a field you want to know more about.
  • Find and attend one in-person or online event within a month.
  • Once you have gained some experience, write about it on one of your social media sites.

For additional ideas and inspiration about networking for career development, watch the following video, Hustle 101: Networking For College Students and Recent Grads. The speaker, Emily Miethner, is a recent college graduate and the founder and president of NYCreative Interns “dedicated to helping young creatives discover and then follow their dream careers.”



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