Getting the Right Stuff

Learning Objectives

By the end of this section, you will:

  • Be aware of what to consider if you plan to transfer.
  • Understand the difference between work-based skills and transferable skills.
  • Learn how to use jobs, internships, and volunteering to your advantage.

What do you need to launch a good career? Employers will look at your education, skills, and experience. Making sure you have the “right stuff” in these three areas is what you should focus on in your college experience.

The Transfer Ticket

College transfer fairPlanning to transfer to a 4-year college?  If yes, be sure to follow these steps:

  • Find out about transfer programs at your college. MCC has programs designed to make sure you have the right kind of general education courses, electives, and courses related to your major so that you can transfer seamlessly into a 4-year institution.
  • Make sure your credits are transferable. Each 4-year college or university has its own policies about what kind of credits it accepts. If you are considering one or two particular 4-year colleges, find out about their transfer policies as you lay out your plan of study.
  • Talk to a transfer advisor. Now. If you haven’t met with a transfer advisor to discuss your ideas about transferring, do so soon. Your transfer advisor will be a great help in formulating a plan of study that meets the requirements for your associate’s degree and maximizes your transferable credits.
  • Does your college have transfer agreements? These agreements between your college and 4-year institutions define specific requirements for transferring and make it easier for you to transfer from your college to the bachelor’s program in a 4-year school.

Skilled Labor

Person weldingAfter education, the second requirement for employment is skills. Many of the skills you will need are career specific and are called work-based skills. These include knowing how to use equipment specific to your career and mastering processes used in your field. While some of these skills are learned and perfected on the job, you may be in a vocational track program (such as for homeland security officers, health information technology, or automotive technology) where you are learning your work-based skills.

These are not the only skills you will need to be successful. The second set of skills you must have are called transferable skills because they can be used in almost all occupations. These include thinking, communicating, and listening skills; in fact, most of the skills for college success we have been stressing throughout this book are transferable skills because they are also key to success in life. This skillset is very broad, and your level of mastery will vary from skill to skill. Therefore, you should identify the skills most important to your career objective to develop and master while you are in college. Review your career information on “My Next Move”  (https://www.mynextmove.org/) to determine which transferable skills potential employers may expect you to have mastered.

Exercise: Transferable Skills Inventory

In the list of forty transferable skills that follows, underline five skills you believe you have mastered and then describe specific ways in which you have used each skill successfully. Then circle five skills you think are important to your career that you have not mastered yet. Describe specific steps you plan to take to master those skills.

Active listening Decision making Negotiating Researching
Active learning Editing Observing Selling
Analyzing Evaluating Organizing Speaking a second language
Budgeting Forecasting Perceiving Feelings Supervising
Coaching Goal setting Persuading Teaching
Communicating Handling a crisis Planning Teamwork
Consulting Handling details Problem solving Time management
Creative thinking Manipulating numbers Public speaking Training
Critical thinking Mentoring Reading Visualizing
Customer service Motivating Reporting Writing

Going over the list above, you will most likely find you have some experience in many of them, but you probably haven’t thought that much about it because you use them in so many ways that you take them for granted. It is important to think about all your activities and consider the skills you have applied successfully; your transferable skills inventory is larger than you may think. For example, if you volunteer as a big brother or big sister, you have skills in active listening, mentoring, time management, and probably coaching. If you have written a college paper, you have skills in visualizing, researching, communicating, and writing.

Seek out ways to develop and master transferable skills. Keep a list of them, and update it every month or two. That list will be a valuable tool as you work with your career development and ultimately with your job applications.

Are You Ready for a Test Drive?

Toy car sitting on mapAre you frustrated by the fact that even entry-level jobs require some experience? Experience is the third set of qualifications employers look for, and it’s the one that often stumps students. Relevant experience is not only important as a job qualification; it can also provide you with the means to test out career options and build a contact list that will be valuable when networking for your career.

But how can you gain relevant experience without experience to begin with? Three options worth considering are volunteering, internships, and part-time employment.

Volunteering is especially good for students looking to work in social and artistic occupations, but students looking for work in other occupation types should not shy away from this option. You can master many transferable skills through volunteering. While it is easy to understand that if you want to be in an artistic field volunteering at a museum or performance center can provide you with relevant experience, what if you want to work in an engineering field? Volunteering for an organization promoting green energy would be helpful. Looking for a career in homeland security? Do volunteer work with the Red Cross or the Coast Guard Auxiliary. With a little brainstorming and an understanding of your career field, you should be able to come up with relevant volunteer experiences for just about any career.

Internships focus on gaining practical experience related to a course or program of study. Interns work for an organization or company for a reduced wage or volunteer in exchange for practical experience. A successful internship program should create a win-win situation: the intern should add value to the company’s efforts, and the company should provide a structured program in which the student can learn or practice work-related skills. Internships are typically held during summers or school vacation periods, though on occasion they can be scheduled for a set block of time each week during the course of a regular school term.

Remember that a key objective of your internship is to develop relationships you can use for mentoring and networking during your career. Befriend people, ask questions, go the extra mile in terms of what is expected of you, and generally participate in the enterprise. The extra effort will pay dividends in the future.

Part-time employment may be an option. If your study schedule provides enough free time, be sure to investigate opportunities in your field of study. Ask your instructors and the Career and Transfer Center (Building 3 Room 108, Brighton Campus) or Student Services (5th Floor, Damon City Campus) to help you generate job leads, even if they are not specifically in the area you want to be working in. It is valuable and relevant to hold a job designing websites for an advertising agency, for example, if your specific job objective is to produce event marketing. The understanding of how an advertising agency works and the contacts you make increase the value of the experience.

If you are lucky enough to have a job in your field of study already and are using your college experience to enhance your career opportunities, be sure to link what you are learning to what you do on the job and what you do on the job to what you are learning. Ask your supervisor and employer about ideas you have picked up in class, and ask your instructors about the practices you apply at work. These cross connections will make you a much stronger candidate for future opportunities and a much better student in the short term.

Key Takeaways

  • Employers look at candidates who have the right education, the right skills, and the right experience.
  • Progress in many career opportunities is enhanced by more advanced education; you should work, however, to make sure the education you are already getting counts.
  • Be sure you can identify and show mastery in transferable skills as well as work-related skills.
  • Experience through volunteering, internships, and part-time jobs will illustrate to potential employers that you can work in your chosen field, but it is also instrumental in creating a network of colleagues to enhance your career development.