College Maturity

The transition from high school to college to early employment is crucial in career development. A successful transition depends on maturity, being able to prioritize learning while becoming more self and socially aware. In Aspiring Adults Adrift, the authors take their study (started in Academically Adrift) further to understand the lives of early career professionals soon after graduating from college.

Time Management
Time Management

College graduates are still having a difficult time finding satisfying employment. In a recent article in HBR, a study points out that employees also recognize the existence of a skills gap – something employers have been talking about for the last couple years[i].

Internships, apprenticeships, and volunteering lead to greater employment possibilities and are becoming fundamental as employers and colleges work to close the skills gap. This type of work relationship is good for a few reasons. First, students practice skills as they learn them in the classroom. Second, students explore and experiment in jobs without over committing. Third, employers influence what is being taught in the classroom. Finally, it is cheaper for employers to assess a candidate’s skill set (as opposed to a direct hire).

According to the study, students are not using their college career services to land future employment. A career center’s biggest contribution is to setup career events, where students link up with employers who have a relationship with the college. In addition, career services help students perfect their resume (and this should be moving towards an online personal brand, I argue). The Obama administration is pushing a new college rating system that makes colleges accountable for “dropout rates, earnings of graduates and affordability”[ii]. Career centers, being a bridge between employers and a college, should face an expanded role in courting employers and ensuring their graduates have the necessary skills.

One of the major themes of the book is that higher education needs to reverse the course towards consumerism and concentrate on improving academic rigor. This is challenging because of the above-mentioned college rating system. On one-side there is pressure to improve graduation rates (currently 60 percent of undergrads), and on the other-side there is pressure to get students to work harder with a more difficult curriculum. Perhaps both can be accomplished in the long-term, but would require a major change in social norms – college students showing up ready and willing to learn on day one.

Still the book makes clear a social element has its place in a college experience, for these reasons: 1) it “plays a highly stratifying role in partner selection” (even though people marry later in life); 2) it introduces students to a diverse student body; 3) it is meant to cultivate the “whole man”. Students must learn a balancing act – work commitments (studying and being in class) versus play – that exists throughout the rest of their lives.

In the eyes of graduating college students, everything is peachy. According to the study: 95 percent reported their lives would be better than those of their parents and 90 percent of seniors reported being satisfied with their college experience.

To improve learning in college, educators, policy makers, and parents are going to have to work together – make true learning the primary objective of college.

Colleges and universities thus have a responsibility to address the lack of academic rigor and limited learning we have reported… Consumer satisfaction is not a worthy aim for colleges and universities.

What I like about this book is it speaks the truth of the average college student. It is something I can surely relate to with my college experience. For many, the social experience is overwhelming. We get tunnel vision about earning a credential – the degree – rather than actual learning and building skills needed for a career. In Paying for the Party, two sociologists study women in a public college and come up with similar conclusions. Speaking about partying is taboo because there are deep privacy and trust concerns within a circle of friends (and we all grow up at different times). But I am not suggesting changing the social scene. My suggestion is to treat college from the beginning like a job: you do the necessary work, spend the time, and meet a learning expectation, and then are free to do as you please. In my opinion, it all comes down to: time management, learning commitment , self-control, self-awareness, and social awareness.



Richard Arum and Josipa Roska. Aspiring Adults Adrift: Tentative Transitions of College Graduates. (University of College Press, Chicago 2014)

It’s Up To You

It is up to you regarding career development. The quicker you realize this, the quicker you are on a career path towards happiness and success. Moreover, you become an active participant and therefore increase the effectiveness of what you are trying to accomplish; for example, you show up to a performance review well versed on what you want to learn from it (rather than just attending it as a formality). This process of taking self-ownership and accountability plays out in many facets of career development: lifelong learning, building skills, career planning, and pulling feedback.

Up To You
Up To You

The traditional education model has changed. Before you went to college for four years to ‘become educated’ and then were employed for the rest of your life. However, due to the rapid adoption of new technologies, you are expected to participate in lifelong learning. It is up to you to for a self-guided education – a combination of taking courses, following influencers, and reading articles, blogs, and books. Do not depend on college administrators, professors, and parents to tell you what degree to major in and what courses you should take.

If you are employed, it is up to you to build and validate your skills. Tap into your employer’s resources by getting them to fund courses and certifications, provide mentoring, advise on making advancements, and perform 360 interviews and assessments. So if any of these things are not part of their standard routine, consider trying to get them to make it part of their routine (at least with you). However, do not depend on the employer to guide and make decisions regarding your career. (In A Skills-Based Approach to Developing a Career, I discuss what things you should be doing during the building and validating stages of developing a skill set. Check out the website:

Do not leave your destiny into the hands of your employer. Take a pro-active approach to your career and create opportunities for yourself.[i]

Feedback is a critical component of online personal branding. The key is to pull feedback to you.[ii] It is up to you to get others – supervisors, managers, peers, etc. – to give you feedback and make the feedback as useful as possible.

Career planning is only effective when you are self-aware.  It is up to you to learn more about your core-competencies, passions, and values through self-reflection, testing (personality, strengths, and interests tests), and interviewing those who know you best. Hopefully, parents and professors expose you to subjects and disciplines that might interest you (but do not go as far as telling you what career to pursue). It is up to you to decide on your career pursuit.

There is a lot of discussions regarding what colleges should do to get their graduates a job and employers should do to develop their employees’ careers. No question these two influencers have the resources, knowledge, and experience to make significant contributions for their students and workers, respectively. And they should be obligated to do so (especially with colleges because getting a job might be considered part of a college education ROI). Still, I think the biggest gains in job placement and career success come from self –aware, – knowledgeable, and –driven professionals. Now more than ever, we have the resources in place with online learning platforms for persons to take control of their education. For many, it is a matter of maturity; it is up to you.

Thoughts for further discussion regarding education:

  • Low-income students have a disadvantage because many have to work while they are full-time students (in high school and college). Can we provide resources (living expenses) so students are fully dedicated towards learning (and their future can be up to them)?
  • In Academically Adrift, the authors provide evidence that students are not learning much in college. In a follow-up study, a third of the students report “studying less than five hours a week.”[iii] Some are distracted by jobs and/or social activities and some simply lack motivation. Should colleges target maturity rather than teaching issues?


[ii] Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen. Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well. Penguin (2014, New York).

Original Image © Depositphoto/ olly18 #7626816



Career Planning Angles

Career planning is challenging because there are so many factors to consider – core competencies, skills, passions, relationships, and simply making a living; in addition, the workplace is always changing due to adoption of new technologies and globalization (which is why there are some naysayers to career planning). In A Skills-Based Approach to Developing a Career, I take on career planning from a functional angle: the building and validating of a skill set.[i] Of course, I talk about weighing career passions and capital during the planning stage. Recently I read Finding Your Element by Ken Robinson who comes from an emotional angle: “an inward journey to explore what lies within you and an outward journey to explore opportunities in the world around you” (page 5).[ii] Interestingly there is a lot of overlap in our two angles.

Career Planning Angles
Career Planning Angles

I talk about taking personality, interests, and strengths tests to become more self-aware, so you avoid threading against your internal self. Similarly, Mr. Robinson says, “finding your Element involves understanding the powers and passions that you were born with as part of your unique biological inheritance (page 22).” He suggests meditating, mind mapping, and creating a vision board to identify your uniqueness and taking some of the same tests I suggest (like Gallup Strength Finder).

I talk about identifying and building your career capital – core competencies that you have an almost innate understanding to develop. It is part of Cal Newport’s “craftsman-mindset”. [iii] I love the way Mr. Robinsons expresses the same concept (related to your Element):

finding your natural talents and honing them in practice: it is a union of nature and nurture (page 36).

I talk about delivering YOU (a product) to a target market, so you think of ways to differentiate your skills to an audience. (This is the most practical way to plan a career.) What I call your target audience, Mr. Robison calls your tribe (the more popular buzz word).  He says: “Part of being in your Element is finding out what the world you want to be in – what sort of culture you enjoy and who your ‘tribes’ are (page 188).”

There is no denying career planning should be a journey into your soul. For many of us, besides sleeping, we will spend more time doing career related work than any other thing in our life (some estimates put it between 15 to 30 percent). I standby the importance of striving for career happiness and fulfillment. Regardless of the source of your career plan, whether it comes from a functional or emotional angle, take the results and translate them into a skill set. You can then create an action plan to build each skill – a sensible way to prepare for a dynamic workplace.

[i] Ryan Frischmann. A Skills-Based Approach to Developing a Career. Trafford (2013).

[ii] Ken Robinson. Finding Your Element. Penguin Group (New York, 2013).

[iii] Cal Newport. So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love. Hatchett (New York, 2012)

New Book: A Skills-Based Approach to Developing a Career


Skills-Based Approach
The beauty of a skills-based approach is its simplicity and flexibility.

A Skills-Based Approach is centered on the development of a skill set throughout a career. It is a progression of four stages: planning, building, presenting, and validating. In the book, I walk you through the stages by describing their intended objectives and specific ways to achieve them. There is a lot of attention given to career planning because it is one big advantage in adopting a skills-based approach. Proper career planning increases the likelihood of finding career happiness and fulfillment.

Ways To Plan Your Career
Ways To Plan Your Career

An underlying premise is building transferable skills that can be used across disciplines and subjects, so professionals have a foundation to build their career on. They can adapt to changes in career requirements due to globalization and the rapid adoption of new technologies. Furthermore, the demand for emerging transferable skills can be tracked so professionals build them to increase their future marketability.

Skill sets are being used by many professional web services, such as on LinkedIn and Monster Jobs platforms. Both have built search engines where recruiters can search on skill sets to find candidates. It makes sense to summarize your rational or functional value with a skill set.

The book also provides tabular examples of people in different professions and career stages practicing a skills-based approach. (These tables are downloadable as templates from the website).  I believe it is easy to apply a skills-based approach as you plan and develop your career.

Finally, the book shares the results of a survey I conducted in December 2012 to understand three questions. Are recruiters searching for candidates based on their skill set? What should be key drivers in career planning based on skills? What are effective ways to build and validate skills?

Here are links: purchase the book , supporting website , Pinterest, and Twitter.

I frequently Tweet about the news related to the fundamentals of a skills-based approach: creating an effective career plan, building skills in a cost-efficient and effective way, presenting a skill set on changing platforms, and validating skills with new technologies.  

So I cover the buzz with new learning channels (MOOCs), online badges (Mozilla), and online personal branding. I also discuss advancements in the use of skill sets: their portability across platforms, making them searchable, and a universally accepted list of skill definitions.