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Career Readiness and Why It Matters

Learn more about career readiness and discover actionable strategies to help students find their way and excel in their careers.
Career Readiness and Why It Matters

There seems to be a staggering discrepancy between skill sets employers need versus what students and recent grads bring to the table.

According to a study, 40% of business leaders think that recent college graduates (classes 2020–2023) are unprepared for the job market. Their main concerns? The perceived lack of work ethic and communication skills.

Career readiness programs can be the key to bridging this gap effectively.

The problem is that career readiness might seem broad and vague – even intimidating – to many.

But there are strategies to help both students prepare for the workforce and companies get what they need from students in terms of skills and knowledge.

Which is what we’ll help with.

After reading this article, you’ll:

  • Know what career readiness is and what it encompasses
  • Understand your role in ensuring students’ career readiness
  • Have practical strategies to enhance it
  • Know how to measure success and outcomes


interview preparation for universities

Understanding Career Readiness

When we say career readiness, we refer to the skills, behaviors, and competencies students need to successfully navigate their chosen career path.

The term encompasses all stages in one’s career, from job hunting and resume creation, to interview preparation and performance, to continuous on-the-job success.

Career Readiness vs. Employability

These two are not quite the same.

Employability is focused on the immediate ability to gain and maintain employment. It refers to the attributes and skills that make graduates attractive to employers in the job market. This is what most career centers focus on and what we want to warn you about.

Career readiness, on the other hand, is broader, yet more nuanced. It encompasses employability skills too, but it’s equally focused on career and self-development skills. So, it’s dedicated to helping people develop and thrive in the long run, in any position, throughout their careers.

Career readiness helps students:

  • Land a job after graduation
  • Showcase employability skills
  • Be fulfilled and successful in a job
  • Have the technical skills needed for a job
  • Learn and develop continuously
  • Develop lifelong career management skills (self-assessment, goal setting, networking, burnout awareness and prevention, personal branding…)

National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) emphasizes the importance of career readiness in helping students transition into the workforce effectively and managing their careers in the long run.

NACE outlines these competencies as the most important signals of being career-ready, and the ones schools and colleges need to prepare students for:

  • Career and self-development
  • Communication
  • Critical thinking
  • Equity and inclusion
  • Leadership
  • Professionalism
  • Teamwork
  • Technology

As you can see, career readiness, unlike employability, is about the long-term game.

Sadly, a lot of academic institutions focus on employability much more than career readiness, mainly because it’s easier to measure.

“X% of our graduates find employment in their desired field within X months of graduating.” Job done? Not quite.

That approach is precisely what hurts students. Getting and maintaining employment is obviously important, but without proper career readiness, graduates are less likely to choose careers they are happy with, thrive in their roles, advance, and adapt to shifts within their industry or profession.

Components of Career Readiness

So, what can you do to focus on career readiness? In this section, we’ll help you assess where your students might be lacking or needing more careful guidance.

Academic Knowledge and Technical Skills

Put simply, academic knowledge and technical skills refer to what students learn during their time at school or college. Depending on their major, that can be anything from programming, to graphic design, to writing, to data analysis, and other.

And sure, developing those competencies mostly boils down to how well the courses are taught and how diligent the students are. But you can help them solidify this knowledge by encouraging them to engage in internships, workshops, and practical projects aligned with their studies.

Initiatives like the X Culture project are a fantastic opportunity for students to gain international business experience and work on real-life projects. Some similar organizations and projects include Enactus, AIESEC, capstone projects, and the GLOBE Program.

This hands-on experience will help them solve problems by applying their skills and knowledge in real-life scenarios.

Soft Skills

Soft skills refer to basic (but often difficult to measure and develop) elements that allow students to work well with others and navigate the work challenges effectively. Although somewhat intangible and related to personal characteristics, soft skills are just that: skills.

Unlike natural talents, skills can and should be practiced. Soft skills are no different as they play a key role in a person’s ability to succeed in their career.

Some employers argue that soft skills are the primary focus in their hiring process because hard, technical skills can be learned on the job and measured easily.

Also, hard and soft skills are interdependent. Mastering key soft skills will help students quickly grasp hard skills.

For example, a person with superb problem-solving and research skills will master a new platform quickly and independently. Even if they encounter a problem, they will know how to break it down and connect it with their pre-existing knowledge or basic principles of that platform’s operations. They will independently research the problem and know where and how to look for solutions without relying on someone else to help.

Employers know this – and it’s why they value soft skills so much.

Professional Behavior and Work Ethic

Professional behavior and a strong work ethic are the basics needed for a successful career and a productive, respectful work environment.

That’s why employers check and prioritize punctuality, reliability, and accountability for one’s actions when hiring.

In practice, this means things like being on time for work and meetings, meeting deadlines and goals, producing high-quality work, and overall being a responsible team member.

Most importantly, it means employing people who take ownership of their work and contribute to the success of their team or the company.

Career Management Skills

Career management skills include a group of skills like job search, resume writing, interview preparation, and negotiation skills which will be of immense value to students throughout their professional lives.

Job search tactics refer to knowing how to find and apply for relevant jobs.

Resume writing encompasses one’s ability to effectively summarize and present professional experience, accomplishments, education, and skills in a concise, organized manner. It also means tailoring resumes for Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) and specific jobs, as well as aligning experience with job requirements.

Here’s the list of step-by-step guides on the main topics for career readiness:

✔️ Pro tip: Other than the job search skills, there are different important skills to help students achieve career sustainability and long-term success. This is why it’s important to include courses on these high-level, long-term career management skills, too.

They include:

  • Recognizing and preventing burnout
  • Understanding work-life harmony
  • Building a personal brand
  • Self-care and mental health awareness
  • Cultural competence (the ability to work and communicate with individuals from all over the globe)

These skills are what will make students career-ready instead of merely “employable”. Meaning, they will help them navigate their careers with resilience, seize growth opportunities, and develop into well-rounded professionals.

Experiential Learning

Experiential learning helps students bridge the gap between theoretical knowledge they learned in school or college and its practical application in the workplace.

You can encourage experiential learning by organizing internships and co-operative education (co-op) programs.

This means immersing students in real-world professional settings and helping them gain hands-on experience in their fields. By engaging directly with industry tasks, they can learn the nuances and subtleties they wouldn’t otherwise.

Both internships and co-op programs can take place during the studies so students aren’t left with zero practical experience afterward. This will give them an advantage when they start looking for a job — beating the age-old paradox of “you need experience to get a job, but you need a job to get experience.”

Career Centers’ and Counselors’ Strategies for Ensuring Students’ Career Readiness

Confession time: It was early July 2018 when I graduated from my master’s and defended my thesis with flying colors. That marked the beginning of the most miserable period of my life. I was lost and clueless about what to do next. Long story short, it took almost 5 years and 2 low-paying, unfulfilling jobs for me to finally figure out what I’m good at and what I’d like my career to be.

The sad part is I’m one of millions of students who face the same struggles. But as someone from a career center, you can help them avoid my scenario. This is a big responsibility and one of the most noble things you have the honor to do, so use that opportunity.

Below are the main areas you can work on to help students figure out their professional path.

Assessment and Evaluation

Career readiness assessments will help you evaluate students’ preparedness for the workforce. They focus on areas like career interests, skills, values, and personality traits.

Understanding the results of these assessments is key and interpreting them is a subtle process that requires expertise, patience, and empathy.

Key steps to cover when working with students to assess their career readiness tests:

  • Highlight their strengths. Identify and highlight students’ strengths, helping them understand these objectively and figure out how they can use them in the workforce and through different career paths. Don’t assume they know their strengths – students often struggle with recognizing and objectively assessing their capabilities.
  • Identify areas of improvement. Recommend resources, courses, or other tools and materials to help them improve.
  • Compare interests with career paths. Help students figure out if they’re aligned and give suggestions of careers students might find fulfilling based on their interests, personalities, strengths, and weaknesses. Then, give them guidelines on how to research these careers and gather more information on their own.
  • Create action plans. Create clear, actionable, personalized plans that include educational pathways, experiential learning, and strategies for skill development.

But you should also work on assessing career readiness programs by seeking feedback from both students and employers to help them maximize the results.

Conduct regular surveys and feedback sessions. For students, this can be right after key program milestones, where they can reflect on what they learned and what worked or didn’t work in the process.

You can also reach out a few years after their graduation to have them assess the efficacy of the career readiness programs in a real-life setting. Having a few years of life and work experience will help them be more objective and provide meaningful feedback.

For employers, you can ask for feedback through surveys or forums after internships or co-op projects, where they could provide more information on student preparedness and the alignment between career readiness programs and market needs.

This way you can fine-tune the programs and make sure they’re relevant and in the loop with both students’ and employers’ needs.

Individual Counseling and Personalized Guidance

Nothing can address students’ unique needs and situations more effectively.

However, with a high number of students, there’s limited counselor ability, and providing personalized, individual feedback is challenging.

To overcome this challenge, try creating a library of resources and then leveraging technology for preliminary assessments and next steps.

First, you can build a library of resources such as blog posts, videos, tutorials, self-assessment forms, and recorded workshops that students can use in their own time to gain information and consider their career options. Having completed this initial step in their career development journey, students will have some context and at least an idea of where they’d like to go career-wise.

Then, you can use technology to help you with scheduling and organizing preliminary assessments. This would speed up the process and, eventually, make every interaction with individual students meaningful and related to their specific questions and needs.

Speaking of technology, there’s a variety of free, basic tools that will do the work, such as:

Automating the process in this way will push students to be more proactive about their career readiness, and it will allow you to have more time for meaningful, 1-1 meetings and feedback.

Workshops and Training Programs

Your organization should run workshops and training programs to equip students with essential tools and skills for career readiness.

For example, workshops about:

  • Resume building, to teach students how to craft compelling, tailored resumes.
  • Interviewing, to teach them how to effectively prepare for a job interview, sell themselves, and leave a positive impression.
  • LinkedIn and how to use it to network and build a professional personal brand.
  • Elevator pitches and how to create one that fully represents them and their experience.
  • Networking strategies and the tools and platforms through which to do it.
  • Key soft skills like leadership, communication, problem-solving, and how to develop them.

Whenever possible, work with schools and colleges to incorporate theoretical and practical career readiness projects and workshops into existing academic courses. This will allow them to gain a more comprehensive picture to prepare for the complexities of the workforce.

Here are some ideas:

  • Writing courses could be the perfect place to include workshops on writing a resume or a cover letter.
  • STEM classes are a great opportunity for students to practice technical skills, critical thinking, project management, and teamwork.
  • Business courses can include simulations of business operations.

Read here about how the University of North Texas created an entire Professional Communication curriculum where students learn and practice the elements above. Having them practice the basics in classes will create time and space for you to focus on a tailored approach and help them decide what they want to do in their careers.

Here are some more ideas for workshops and training programs:

  • Collaborate with your organization’s partners.
    • Have key experts from those organizations share their tips and experiences on key career readiness topics and their career experiences.
  • Organize alumni mentorship programs.
    • Pair students with alumni who can offer company and industry insights, as well as career guidance. Learning directly from others during 1:1 conversations or projects is the quickest and best way for students to gain new information and skills. Additionally, such a program should encourage meetings and provide guidelines for both mentors and students on goals and expectations.
  • Organize and promote internships and co-op programs.
    • Ensure they are aligned with students’ career interests and learning goals. Make sure communication is transparent so you can tweak the processes and make the experience as useful as it can be. Establish regular feedback sessions for students so that they can reflect on their strengths and opportunities for growth.

This way you’ll make things interesting, keep the engagement high, and make sure students are ready not only to enter the job market but learn life-long, valuable career skills.

Employer Engagement and Networking Opportunities

Building and maintaining relationships with companies and industry leaders is important because it will help you facilitate direct interactions between employers and students, providing them with a pool of learning and employment opportunities.

One way to do this is to host industry-specific panels where company leaders can share insights, industry trends, or general tips for students seeking employment.

Roundtable discussions, workshops, company “open door” days, or alumni networks are all great options for students to network with representatives from various companies and get to know the industry better.

Your organization could also consider using LinkedIn or setting up a newsletter for outreach and sharing relevant content with industry partners, getting them in the loop and encouraging them to participate in employer-student events.

Technology and Online Resources

You can support students’ career readiness initiatives by providing them with different sources to learn and practice with.

You can try:

  • Mock interview tools to help you scale your services and provide students with a framework for landing their dream jobs. Among other features, students can use an Interview Simulator to practice answering different interview questions and get customized, actionable feedback.

Inside Big Interview's mock interview tool

  • LinkedIn Learning, with thousands of courses from expert leaders on the broad spectrum of skills, from technical to soft skills.
  • Coursera and edX, which offer courses designed in partnership with leading universities and companies.
  • Glassdoor, to help students when they’re preparing for interviewing at specific companies for specific roles or internships.
  • Indeed Assessments, to help them test their skills in specific areas.
  • Handshake, which is specifically designed to connect students and recent graduates with job opportunities and internships.

These platforms offer different content depending on your students’ needs and end goals. Make sure to motivate students to use them, as they can significantly enhance their employability.

Measuring Success and Outcomes

Measuring your results is the only way to know if you’re doing the right thing. Tracking your success will help you:

  • See where you stand in your attempts to help students and adjust your approach if needed
  • Make informed decisions based on data
  • Improve both your and your students’ performance
  • Create strategic plans for the future

Key metrics you can track are placement rates, employer feedback, and student satisfaction.

Placement Rates

Track the number of participants in a career readiness project who secure employment or internship in their field of study within a certain period after completing the program.

Monitor these numbers over time and try to spot trends that will help you understand if the program is effective and helpful.

Compare placement rates against industry averages, if possible. This will help you gauge program competitiveness and help improve it.

Employer Feedback

Gather the opinions and evaluations provided by employers or organizations offering internships. Pay attention to areas like student performance, skill levels, and workplace readiness. It’s the best way to spot and close the gaps between market needs and what students have to offer.

So make sure to create structured and regular opportunities for employers to provide their feedback, like surveys after hiring or completing an internship.

Student Satisfaction

Student satisfaction will measure how happy students are with career readiness programs. This can highly influence their engagement and your program’s success rate, so make sure you’re listening.

Organize regular surveys and feedback loops after completing the program. Implement changes where possible, and share with students how their input shaped the program.

Examine the relationship between student satisfaction and other metrics we mentioned to understand if everything works out and how program satisfaction impacts overall success.

Finally, create case studies and success stories to share students’ experiences and encourage others to participate.

Summary of the Main Points

  • According to a study, 40% of business leaders think that recent graduates are not ready for the workforce.
  • There’s a misalignment between what students bring to the table and what employers need.
  • The best way to bridge this gap and prepare students for career after graduation is a career readiness program.
  • Career readiness encompasses academic knowledge, employability, soft skills, and job-specific skills.
  • Some key competencies of career readiness are critical thinking, communication, teamwork, adaptability, and a proactive approach to career management.
  • Your role as a career counselor or a career center worker is to guide and support student through the career readiness process. The best way to achieve that is by assessing their efforts, providing personalized guidance, organizing workshops and training sessions, as well as networking opportunities, and introducing them to the right platforms and technologies
  • When it comes to measuring their success, you can focus on placement rates, employer feedback, and student satisfaction. Compare and combine insights from all three to assess the effectiveness of your career readiness program and adjust as needed.


What are some books or articles about career readiness I should read?

  • “Career Development and Counseling: Putting Theory and Research to Work” by Steven D. Brown & Robert W. Lent will help you deepen your expertise.
  • “Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life” by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans will help you help students think creatively about their careers.
  • “What Color Is Your Parachute?” by Richard N. Bolles, which is mostly for job seekers and career changers, but will help you understand the job search landscape and adjust your efforts accordingly.

What are some websites, tools, or pieces of software that can help me prepare students for their professional life?

  • Big Interview
  • LinkedIn
  • Handshake
  • Glassdoor
  • Indeed
  • Coursera
  • My Next Move

What are the best professional associations and networks for career development professionals?

  • National Career Development Association (NCDA)
  • American Counseling Association (ACA)
  • Association of Career Professionals International (ACPI)
  • LinkedIn groups like College Coordinator & Career Counselor’s Lounge and Campus Recruiter & Career Counselor Collaborative

I don’t have the time to assist students with everything in face-to-face sessions. What should I focus my face-to-face interactions with students on?

It’s best to give them a sort of “preliminary homework” to complete before meeting with you. This means assigning them obligatory materials to go through and having them do a round of preliminary assessments or self-assessments. Based on all of this, they will first get an idea on what career readiness is, they will learn about key skills and competencies, they will hopefully get some ideas on where they want to go, and then they can come to you with all of this context and prepared questions. You can then answer their questions and help them create an action plan.

You can automate many elements of a career readiness program, but strategic career planning based on students’ interests, strengths, and weaknesses should be done in person.

How do I motivate students to take their future careers seriously?

By inspiring, guiding, and supporting them. Explain how important career readiness is not only for figuring out their first job, but for being successful (and happy!) in their career in the long run. Connect them with learning and career opportunities and engage them by organizing workshops, roundtables, and meetups with professionals. Encourage them to self-reflect on their strengths, interests, values, goals, passions, and weaknesses, as this will help them understand themselves better and see how critical it is to align their career path with personal attributes. Work with them to set achievable goals and celebrate their milestones to keep them motivated.

Maja Stojanovic
A writer specialized in interview preparation and resume building. Spent 5+ years tirelessly seeking a meaningful, rewarding job. Which is exactly what I’ll help you find.
Edited By:
Briana Dilworth
Briana Dilworth
Fact Checked By:
Michael Tomaszewski
Michael Tomaszewski

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