Career Preparation

Careers and Experience are Linked

Employers want their employees to bring more than a degree to the workplace. Because there are so many career options, and because today's job market is so competitive, it is very important to acquire a variety of job-applicable skills while you are working on the degree. These skills may be what sets your resume apart from those of other applicants.

Now that you know that landing a job requires a combination of knowledge and skills, how do you proceed?

  1. Choose a career.
  2. Developing your work-related skills.

Career Exploration

Finding a career is not a quick process. It is essential to start exploring your career options early in your academic experience. Use the below steps as a guide to help select a career and become a competitive job candidate upon graduation. 

Step 1: Self-Assessment

It is important to pursue a career that emphasizes your strengths, matches your interests, and coincides with your personal values. Completing a self-assessment is a great way to learn more about yourself. A self-assessment is the process of looking at oneself to assess what aspects are important to one's identity. We encourage you to write out your answers to the self-assessment questions below. Then revisit your written responses regularly to revise or fine-tune your self-assessment.

  • Do you picture yourself indoors, outdoors, in an office, lab, etc.?
  • Would you prefer a job that is active or more sedentary?
  • What do you want from your job?
  • What are your strengths and weaknesses (personally and professionally)?
  • what are your hobbies? Could a hobby turn into a career?
  • Make a list of skills and activities you have enjoyed.
  • What have you enjoyed most in your life?
  • How well will your personality function in your future career? Think about the day-by-day activities of a career.
  • Where do you want to live?
  • Are you willing to relocate?
  • Make a list of professions and skills you dislike.
  • What have you enjoyed least?
  • What have you found most frustrating?
  • Do you have family or financial obligations?
  • What are your future family and financial plans?

MSU's Career Services Network offers several in-person career assessments. These assessments can help identify your interests, personality, skills, and values which are all valuable characteristics to take into consideration when choosing a career. 

Step 2: Investigating Careers

Gathering information so that you can make a well-informed choice about your future career is essential. Once you have identified a few career options, you can begin to investigate each particular career. Here are some ways to investigate careers:

  • Investigate careers online
  • Read books related to your career interests
  • Attend events offered by MSU Career Services Network (e.g., career fairs, workshops, career exposure field trips)
  • Conduct an informational interview(s)
  • Job shadow
  • Look at current job postings gives you a sense of what and where the jobs are. In addition, you will discover what skills and knowledge you need to accumulate before you start applying for that dream job.
  • Explore websites of professional organizations related to your field of interest
  • Read research papers in the relevant professional journals to find out who is conducting research that might interest you. Then find out where that individual teaches and conducts research.
  • Get to know faculty. Look at department and faculty websites to find faculty who have interests similar to yours. Make a list of what you would like to learn from these faculty members. Then, arrange to meet and talk to those faculty. Faculty can provide information on careers you may not have considered or which graduate school might be best for your interests. They also may know about unadvertised job opportunities matching your interests.

Step 3: Assess Your Skills

An important part of your undergraduate experience is acquiring the knowledge necessary to succeed in the work environment later in life. Besides grades and coursework, many potential employers look for job candidates that already have skills directly relevant to the profession. Think of college as the time to build your resume for your future career. The big question is, what particular skills do you need for the career you have chosen?

As you read internship and job postings, make a list of the skills (hands-on and soft skills) and coursework that are needed for the positions that interest you. Make a list of your work-related skills, and update this list on a regular basis. Do your skills match the job descriptions? Where can you gain the skills you don't have or still need to improve? Meet with your academic advisor to discuss these topics.

Step 4: Develop Skills

Develop the skills identified in Step 3. For college students, relevant workplace skills are best gained from extracurricular activities and/or experiential opportunities. Many work-related experiences can, and should, be completed throughout college (but remember that it is important to balance the time commitment for these experiential opportunities with the time needed to excel in your coursework).

Soft skills (e.g., oral and written communication skills or an ability to work with others and adjust to their needs) are also extremely important to develop. In order to determine which of these soft skills are especially valued, Michigan State University’s Career Development Center collected information from various employers. The results have been published in the booklet, 12 Essentials for Success. Some of these skills include: effective communication, teamwork, critical thinking, integrity and time management. 

As a student, each experience you have is a stepping stone to the next position. Participating in volunteer experiences, student organizations, research opportunities, and/or part-time jobs before you apply for an internship or formal research program will make you a stronger applicant for the program you wish to apply. The process of acquiring these skills take time, so it is possible that you will not be ready to engage in an internship until you are a junior or senior. For this reason, many facilities require that their interns be upper-level undergraduates.

Further study or training beyond the Bachelor's Degree is frequently necessary to preparation for particular careers. Training periods vary from two weeks to several years depending on the profession of your choice. This may be on-the-job training, in the case of government and industry, or it may be additional academic studies including graduate or professional school.

Step 5: Articulate Your Skills

Unfortunately, just developing the appropriate career-related skills isn't enough to be successful after graduation. Effectively communicating the skillsets you have acquired is equally important. Think about this for a moment: how will future employers, professional schools, or graduate schools know all the great skills you have to offer if you cannot articulate them on paper and/or verbally? In most cases, the application process begins with how you look on paper. You only get an extended interview if they like what they read. 

Career Preparation at a Glance

Freshman/Sophomore Year

  • Assess yourself
  • Investigate careers
  • Make connections
  • Build relationships with professors and TAs
  • Identify skills to develop
  • Pay attention to your grades
  • Participate in extracurricular activities
  • Meet regularly with an academic advisor to develop your academic plan

Junior Year

  • Develop a career portfolio to chart career and skill development
  • Attend activities offered by MSU Career Services Network
  • Discuss academic and career decisions with mentor or academic advisor
  • Monitor job and internship opportunities
  • Consider graduate school and whether it will help your career

Senior Year

  • Propel your job campaign into full swing
  • Continue to attend activities offered by MSU Career Services Network
  • Be familiar with the job market
  • Be prepared to compete effectively with other job candidates