We have all been told about the importance of mental and physical health, but we also need to take care of our professional health, which is all the actions and learning one does to become and stay a well-rounded professional. As career services professionals, we can help our students understand that they need to build their professional health by developing professional skills, such as skill-building, networking, and goal-setting, that employers seek in job candidates.
Skill-building may be the most important area for students to focus on as they begin their professional health journey as research has shown that many employers have concerns over student abilities with key career competency areas.
Some areas where students can look to develop career readiness skills include free workshops or classes on new technology offered on campus and through internships, which provide students with the opportunity to engage in professional development and may even offer training on technology, software applications, or other skill-based needs.
While a student might not know the exact profession they want to pursue after graduation, there are common skills that all employers are looking for, which NACE has identified and defined. However, once a student progresses and gains a better understanding of their ideal professional path, they can determine more specific skills needed upon entry into that industry.
In order to become an expert and put a skill on their resume, students need to be well-versed in the skill area and able to communicate that experience during an interview. To gain this level of experience, students must upskill when provided with an opportunity, practicing whenever possible, and seek opportunities to further gain experience, according to Bernhard Schroeder and Eric Barker.
If a student is unable to gain this experience through an internship or other experiential learning experience, they can also get involved on campus to meet new people, develop teamwork and collaboration skills, and learn to work with a diverse group of people. Additionally, most clubs and organizations on campus have an executive board of some type, which can help students develop communication, leadership, and teamwork skills that both look good on a resume and can help succeed once hired.
A second part of enhancing professional health is network expansion. Just as joining a club is a great way to practice skill-building, it is also an easy way to start developing and growing your network with like-minded people.
Another way for students to expand their network and learn more about areas they’re interested in is by conducting informational interviews, which can be formal or informal conversations with people with careers in a student’s desired profession. However, students must keep in mind that informational interviews should never end with a request for something like an internship or the contact information of upper management. That said, if a student develops a relationship with an interviewee, they can always come back for assistance at a later date and these relationships could also create future professional opportunities.
Students can also expand their networks at college-hosted events, which can be as simple as approaching the speaker or group after their presentation and welcoming them to campus. Events hosted on campus can also be helpful as a low-stakes way for students to explore areas that may not relate directly to their current desired career path for the simple reason that someday they may change careers. After all, everything done while in college can benefit their future opportunities.
After graduation, alumni events can be very effective in growing one’s network while also staying connected with the faculty and staff who may have a network and a reason to help students succeed in entering the workforce.
These relationships may also be reciprocal, where the school can benefit by working with alumni, too. Once a student enters the workforce, a school may reach out to them to participate in alumni events on behalf of the school, which can also help develop a larger professional network, as well as paying forward the help these students may have received as undergrads.
In fact, college alumni are a great resource for expanding and network growth both before and after graduation, through tools such as LinkedIn. If a student finds a company of interest, they can connect with alumni that work there or other alumni in general by using the alumni feature.
Although LinkedIn may be a social media platform, it is important for students to maintain a clean and professional profile. Having an eye-catching profile is important, but attention to detail is just as important. Grammar should be on point, all information should be accurate, and a profile should include important professional details. While accounts can be private, potential employers may still request access during an interview. Therefore, doing a social media audit now, and keeping it clean forever more, is in the best interest of your professional health.
Finally, volunteering can also improve professional health and increase a student’s network. Not only can students meet people, but they will also be doing good for their community. In fact, part of being a professional is taking an interest in your larger community and can also build a positive personal brand of dependability, reliability, and someone who is community driven.
While professional goals may change over time, having an idea of the end goal can help students make better choices of how to spend their time in college. Each moment counts and is an opportunity to do something for their professional health and setting goals early and often will help maintain focus. As a student continues their college career, they will need to reflect on experiences and assess whether those experiences and skills have changed their end goals. Reflection is an important part of professional health because it is at the core of experiential learning, which allows one to learn at a deeper level, gain skills, and better understand yourself (“What is experiential education,” 2022).
And lastly, by setting goals, students can focus on then manifesting those goals (Vijayakumar, 2019). For example, if a student wants to work in a big city after graduation, they can go there to get a head start on the process by meeting people, shaking hands, and getting their name and face out there. Other ideas to manifest goals is to research work requirements at specific companies or with employees on LinkedIn to see how their career path led them to the company and their role.
By focusing on professional health throughout their academic journey, students can take key steps to make opportunity happen by acting!
What is experiential education? (2022). Retrieved from https://www.aee.org/what-is-experiential-education
Vijayakumar, K. (2019, July 1). If you want something, you have to put it out into the universe. Thrive Global. https://community.thriveglobal.com/if-you-want-something-you-have-to-put-it-out-into-the-universe/
Allison Muise is an associate professor of experiential learning at Endicott College who teaches and advises undergraduate students within the college’s award-winning experiential learning program. Allison believes that experiential learning is the key to impactful and deeper learning that leads to informed and prepared college graduates, ready to enter the working world, and society as leaders. Allison has a Ph.D. in adult learning and development from Lesley University.