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Eye on Psi Chi: Fall 2015

Identifying and
Communicating Your Skills
From College to Career: Part 1

Paul Hettich, PhD, and Hilarie Longnecker, MEd, DePaul University (IL)
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An online survey of 400 employers was conducted for the American Association of Colleges and Universities entitled Falling Short? College Learning and Career Success. In this report, employers stressed the importance that graduates possess “both field-specific knowledge and a broad range of knowledge and skills” (p. 1) in order to achieve long-term career success (Hart Research Associates, 2015).
Between 80% and 85% of the respondents believed the most important learning outcomes or skills achieved during college are effective oral and written communication, working effectively in teams, ethical judgment and decision making, critical thinking and analytical reasoning, and the ability to apply knowledge and skills to real-world settings. The last of these outcomes is particularly important to employers.
Between 56% and 70% of this sample rated the following outcomes as very important: analyzing and solving complex problems; locating, organizing, and evaluating information from multiple sources; innovation and creativity; staying current on changing technologies and their applications to the workplace; working with numbers and understanding statistics; and analyzing and solving problems with people from different backgrounds and cultures.
Before you confidently conclude that you will possess these skills by graduation, consider the report’s finding that
  College students are notably out of sync with employers in their perception of their preparedness on a wide range of skills and knowledge areas, however. Students express much greater confidence in their level of preparedness in all areas than employers indicate they see demonstrated
(Hart Research Associates, 2015, p. 2).

In fact, on all but two of these outcomes, at least twice as many students, compared to employers, expressed favorable perceptions of their workplace preparedness. Although the emphasis in your coursework is usually on content (i.e., the mastery of concepts, theories, and research), recruiters are far more likely to seek evidence of your skills and abilities than your knowledge of psychology. Ask yourself:
 1. Can you identify the most important skills you have achieved during college and provide evidence of their attainment? 
 2. How effectively can you communicate this information on a resumé?
In the first of this two-part series, we provide guidance for answering Question 1; the Winter 2016 column will address effective communication in a resumé.
Identifying Skills
Because skills will be your currency in the workplace, that is, what you contribute in exchange for compensation, putting language around and prioritizing your skills is key to developing your career plan. By understanding the skills you possess and which you prefer to use, you will be better equipped to select a path and present yourself as a strong candidate.
Your campus career center likely offers tools that can help identify your skills, as well as assist in developing a plan for strategically communicating them to employers. For example, SkillScan® publishes a deck of 64 color-coded cards, each describing a different transferable skill that can be applied in a variety of work situations (e.g., public speaking, brainstorming, and organizing). When sorted by color, various skill categories such as communication, humanitarian, and analytical become apparent. A career counselor might begin by encouraging you to sort the cards into three piles: skills you would like to use, skills you feel indifferently about, and skills you do not wish to use. Next, you might be asked to identify the skills in each category that you currently possess. Note that identifying a skill as one you would like to use does not necessarily assume that you have experience in doing so (more on this later).
Having a strong sense of your proven skills will be of great help in discovering possible first destination positions. Use them as keyword terms when conducting job searches or researching paths on LinkedIn® and other databases. Ask contacts about their early career use of your preferred skills during informational interviews. Through such research, you will come to better understand the types of opportunities for which you are most competitive. The skills you perform well will also come in handy when authoring a strategic resumé and preparing for interviews.
In addition, explore the other two categories as well. Those that you feel indifferently about, yet have strong aptitude and/or experiences in, may help you obtain an entry-level position in your organization or industry of choice. Likewise, carefully considering the skills you do not wish to use in order to identify the true deal breakers (i.e., those representing activities that would be so dissatisfying that a position including them would not be a possible fit) is valuable in helping to narrow down potential next steps.
To conduct a skills assessment like the one described above, consult with your campus career center. They may offer SkillScan or a similar tool. However, a generic list of transferable skills (easily found on the Internet) could be substituted if you wish to conduct the exercise on your own. Simply replace the card sort step with circling those skills you would most like to use and crossing off those you prefer to avoid.
Applying and Building Your Skills in the Marketplace
Next, carefully consider your level of competency in each of the skills you find most rewarding. Recall in detail a time you have successfully utilized each skill, ideally in a work setting, but also draw from course projects, student organizations, or other experiences. For skills that you do not have solid examples of or need to further develop, speak with your career counselor about ways to build your experiences through activities such as internships, volunteer work, campus involvement, or targeted entry-level positions. Recognize that mastering all of your desired skills may not be immediately feasible. Your career counselor can help you identify those that might represent a good starting point.
When it comes to establishing and meeting long-term career goals, consider conducting a gap assessment. A gap assessment offers you the opportunity to identify skills that would constitute a sort of “prerequisite” to achieving long-term success in your chosen profession. To do so, you might start with An Online Career-Exploration Resource for Psychology Majors (Appleby, Millspaugh, & Hammersley, 2015) described in the current Eye on Psi Chi issue on page 17. This publication offers links to professional profiles, videos, and other resources that detail day-to-day work activities and required competencies for a variety of career possibilities for psychology majors. If you are less certain of your intended path, also consult with you faculty mentor and career counselor about options given your list of preferred skills.
After reviewing career profiles of interest and comparing them to your list of confirmed skills, ask yourself: What skills are necessary to be qualified for those careers? What positions, education, or other opportunities might allow me to gain those skills? What is the most logical and feasible series of steps I could take over time to achieve that long-term goal? That is, how can you, through a series of positions and experiences, incrementally work toward closing the gap between where you are professionally and where you wish to be? Through this exercise, you are essentially identifying your ultimate career destination and working your way backward to develop a strategy for getting there. Certainly, with experience, this end goal may shift or change completely. However, starting with a plan will allow you to be strategic in identifying and pursuing opportunities.
In conclusion, we identified important skills employers seek, emphasized the importance of being realistic about your skills, and summarized a process for ascertaining those you possess and seek to apply. In the next issue of Eye on Psi Chi, we will focus on how to translate your experiences into skill statements and communicate them on a resumé.
References
Appleby, D.C. (2015). An online career-exploration resource for psychology majors. Society for the Teaching of Psychology’s Office of Teaching Resources. Retrieved from http://www.teachpsych.org/page-1603066
Hart Research Associates. (2015). Falling short? College learning and career success. Washington, DC: Hart Research Associates. Retrieved from Association of American Colleges and Universities website: http://www.aacu.org/leap/public-opinion-research

Paul Hettich, PhD, Professor Emeritus at DePaul University (IL), was an Army personnel psychologist, program evaluator in an education R&D lab, and a corporate applied scientist—positions that created a “real world” foundation for his career in college teaching and administration. He was inspired to write about college-to-workplace readiness issues by graduates and employers who revealed a major disconnect between university and workplace expectations, cultures, and practices.

Hilarie Longnecker, MEd, has over 12 years of experience in university career services. As an assistant director at DePaul University’s (IL) Career Center, she designs and delivers one-on-one and large-scale career development services through coaching, events, and resource development. She currently advises the university’s science and health-oriented students, as well as manages the center’s Peer Career Advisor Program.

Copyright 2015 (Volume 20, Issue 1) by Psi Chi, the International Honor Society in Psychology


 
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Eye on Psi Chi is a magazine designed to keep members and alumni up-to-date with all the latest information about Psi Chi’s programs, awards, and chapter activities. It features informative articles about careers, graduate school admission, chapter ideas, personal development, the various fields of psychology, and important issues related to our discipline.

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