Tips for Parents
Defining career skills on the college student resume
If your college student is drafting a resume and draws a mental blank under “personal skills,” you may suggest she think again, not about what she’s accomplished but how she did it.
One of the most challenging tasks for college students and recent grads is demonstrating the worth of their college education to potential employers. They don’t have big titles to show off (yet!), they typically don’t have a wealth of experience to point to, and academic skill sets can be hard to quantify or may not seem relevant.
Reassure and encourage your student by explaining this fact: she knows far more than she thinks she does.
“The resume and cover letter…can become an opportunity for students to consider their own thinking,” writes Casey Wiley, a lecturer in the Pennsylvania State University English Department, for Inside Higher Ed.
According to Professor Wiley, one of the most valuable things a student can do during college, whatever the major, is to improve critical thinking skills. The ability to absorb, comprehend and apply information is an asset employers are searching for when they screen and interview job applicants.
What does this mean for your student? Her resume is an opportunity to highlight not only accomplishments but skills that are relevant for the jobs she applies for.
Here are conversation starters to help your student brainstorm four critical thinking categories.
Most college students are honing communication skills both in and out of the classroom. Projects, class discussions, debates, club or dorm meetings, event participation — these are all examples of verbal communication in action.
Conversation starter: Was there an academic assignment that required communication that might be similar to potential tasks at the job you’re applying for? Was the communication in person or on the phone or video? How many people were involved and for how long? Was it peer-to-peer communication, managerial, investigative, explanatory, or another type?
Teamwork and Leadership
Group projects are a staple from high school to college and on into the workforce. Employers always need people who work well as part of a team. Your student will have had multiple experiences working with others to produce a project or academic assignment or to create a campus event. (Needless to say if she has been a residential advisor, academic tutor, team captain, etc. she should highlight this!)
Conversation starter: What group projects challenged you to work with others? What task required you to be a leader in order to complete the assignment or reach a goal?
Clear and concise written communication is essential in the workplace, whether it be crafting a professional email, filing reports or drafting business proposals. Beyond just spelling and grammar, the ability to write well is a skill your student will be able to lean on throughout a lifetime of jobs and careers.
Conversation starter: Is there a piece of writing — an essay, article, research paper or online project — you were especially proud of or pleased with? How did you decide on a purpose and format for the piece? What research methods/information processing strategies did you use? How did you integrate feedback and criticism during the revision process?
Planning and Time Management
College life is filled with commitments: classes, assignments, social activities, fitness, work, volunteering. Being busy is good because it helps students mature by fostering the ability to plan, multitask and manage priorities, all skills needed at a typical job.
Conversation starter: When was the busiest time for you in college? How were you able to complete all of the major tasks required of you? Did you have to weigh demands, budget time, manage multiple responsibilities in order to meet deadlines?
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