Seven essential career-readiness tips for students planning to study abroad

By Poshak Agrawal

You’re aspiring to study at one of the elite universities abroad. The expectation is that a quality education will unlock exciting personal and professional growth pathways which will lead you to the next transformative stage of your life.

However, the reality is that with thousands of graduates pouring out of top colleges and universities every year, there is intense competition for jobs. And while a high GPA, the right internships, and a strong course are necessary for realizing your career ambitions, students need more in their kitty to get ahead of the crowd.

Building career readiness skills can give you the edge you need over here.

Career readiness is your ability to translate your college education into a meaningful, effective presence at the workplace. Employers today are on the active lookout for career-ready fresh graduates as they can hit the ground running.

I will share here seven essential tips that students can leverage to develop the most in-demand career readiness skills and competencies.

1. Invest in Career and Self Development

Viewed through the undergrad lens, investing in career and self-development translates into taking out time to build self-awareness, assess your capabilities, and understand what you need to do to ensure personal and professional growth. Always strive to be #betterthanyesterday.

Perhaps the best first step is the sublime Japanese concept of Ikigai, which loosely translates to “purpose” or “calling”. Specifically, your Ikigai lies at the intersection of four circles:

(1) Aptitude – what you’re good at

(2) Passion – what you love

(3) Money – what you can make a living doing

(4) Society – what the world needs

2. Improve Communication Skills

According to NACE’s Job Outlook 2021 report, over 70% of employers seek written and verbal communication skills as a critical attribute when hiring fresh graduates. Other studies too rank communication high on the must-have soft skills scale.

College and school life provide the ideal group settings to hone these skills. Whenever you work on a group project, I recommend you make a deliberate effort to practice active and empathetic listening. Make it a habit to articulate and respect boundaries, ask open-ended questions, be aware of your non-verbal communication cues, and make space for diverse cultural backgrounds and communication styles.

On the writing front, with the variety of editing tools available today, you have no excuses for poorly written emails. Double-check the tone and messaging before sending out any communication.

  1. Practice Critical Thinking, Problem-Solving, and Analytical Skills

Highly valued attributes in the workplace, all these skills belong to the family of rigorous and effective goal-directed thinking. A good starting point to learn these competencies would be an active study of the problem-solving frameworks outlined in Harvard Business case studies.

Understand the frameworks outlined in the case studies and apply them. Adopt practices such as correcting biases, framing insightful questions, and including multiple perspectives when analyzing scenarios. Play the game of hypotheticals, or ask “what if?” questions and challenge yourself to consider the consequences of a YES or a NO to a decision.

4. Leverage Technology

Picking up technical skills relevant to your chosen career domain will give you an edge in the workplace. Looking to make a career in political science, enroll for a course on R? If you want to be a business analyst – how are you with Python?

Remember, Coursera, YouTube tutorials, and stand-alone classes offer a whole host of options to nurture your inner techie if you cannot find these courses in your college curriculum.

  1. Inculcate Professionalism and a Strong Work Ethic

A NACE survey on career readiness competencies revealed that almost every employer deems professionalism/work ethic as an essential competency. So, strengthen yourself on this front.

Practice discipline, tenacity, and a consistent level of commitment when you take up a task. Also, ensure that you project a professional image to the outside world. Update that old LinkedIn profile, seek and offer endorsements, read and share relevant articles, and comment on posts.

And, of course, be a little careful on social media. Remember, potential employers are going to be checking out your virtual avatars.

6. Leader and Team Player: Work on Both Facets

Both leadership and teamwork are important workplace skills. So, seek out opportunities and build your human brand on both fronts.

Want to run for student council? Great! If not, that is fine too. Develop your organizational and leadership acumen by volunteering to help with public events that align with your interests and discharge the role responsibly.

Teamwork is as significant a skill as leadership. Intellectual growth happens when you work in a team. You learn how to hear and accommodate other’s viewpoints, even as you hold on to your opinions. You develop collaboration skills and master the art of navigating awkward situations and disagreements.

1. Embrace Equity and Inclusion

Equity and Inclusion is a recent addition to the NACE career-readiness competency list. Chances are you already subscribe to these principles. However, you must move a step ahead now.

Consciously inculcate the awareness, attitude, knowledge, and skills required to equitably engage and include people from different local and global cultures. When working on group projects, solicit and use feedback from multiple cultural perspectives. Keep an open mind.

While the right academic and technical skills are an essential prerequisite for a job, employers today also place a high premium on career readiness attributes. Students can boost their employability quotient by deliberately developing and showcasing these skills on their resumes.

The author is co-founder at Athena Education.

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