NACE Logo NACE Center Logo
National Association of Colleges and Employers NACE Center for Career Development and Talent Acquisition®
mobile menu
  • Implementing Competencies at BYU Helps Students Understand, Articulate Education in Job Search and Career

    March 20, 2023 | By Kevin Gray

    Career Readiness
    A row of block with icons on them.

    TAGS: best practices, operations, competencies, nace insights, career development

    The goals of implementing career readiness competencies in two colleges within Brigham Young University (BYU) include helping students to understand, articulate, and apply their liberal arts education.

    “We use the competencies to help students understand that they do have these transferable skills and competencies that can be used in a variety of ways in a variety of situations,” explains Sam Prestwich, assistant director of BYU Liberal Arts Advisement & Careers.

    NACE’s Competency Symposium 2023
    NACE’s Competency Symposium 2023 will be held virtually on March 29, 2023. The symposium aims to advance equitable outcomes for the college-educated via the facilitation of institution-wide career readiness competency initiatives.


    “They have the ability to develop competencies that are transferable across any career sphere or industry. Students can articulate and share with employers or grad schools or even their parents the value of their education. Their narrative and story based on this articulation puts them in a better position to be hired for a job or accepted to grad school.”

    The deans of BYU’s College of Humanities and College of Family, Home, and Social Sciences—two of its main liberal arts colleges—asked the advisement and careers office for assistance.

    “They wanted us to help their students be better prepared and more career ready for when they graduate from BYU because what these students can do at the next level can be so nebulous,” Prestwich explains.

    “There’s no straight line to what they are going to be as professionals or to the job they are going to get. Our efforts are focused on those 7,500 students between those two colleges.”

    Prestwich—who served on NACE’s task force to redefine its career readiness competencies—said these BYU colleges use the NACE competencies as their framework, with an addition. While they address all competencies, they focus on three that are most important for these students to develop: communication, cultural navigation, and informational literacy.

    Because both deans saw the need for the implementation of career readiness competencies, securing buy in for this initiative has been relatively smooth. Currently, the advisement and careers office is working within academic departments to create more support among department chairs and faculty.

    “We have some departments that have bought in and are doing things on their own to implement competencies and career readiness discussions, but they also use what we’re doing as support,” Prestwich says.

    “We are working with other departments to get inside on this.”

    In each of the last three semesters, Prestwich and his staff have held a Faculty Fellows program for which they invite faculty members to participate in a series of workshops over four or five days.

    “We help them understand how to develop and bring career readiness competencies and experiential learning conversations into their classrooms or into a specific course,” he notes.

    Faculty benefit by gaining an understanding of the competencies so that they can fully embed them and associated discussions within their coursework or content.

    “This enables students to make a real-world connection with the things that they're learning and are trying to develop, and it helps students create that narrative about when they have used competencies and how they've built them up or refined them,” Prestwich says.

    It’s also important to not only develop competencies, but to reset traditional thinking about the career prospects of majors and open thinking to new possibilities. For example, he points out that BYU philosophy students often go on to law school.   

    “Although students may be studying philosophy, they have the ability to go into HR or organizational behavior or many other fields because of the competencies they are learning in their courses and experiential learning,” he says.

    “Through this work, that becomes clearer.”

    BYU has a centralized career services model so, Prestwich says, having a good, collaborative relationship with career services is key so other stakeholders understand the objective in preparing students to be career ready and their part in the process.

    “With a centralized structure, it can be challenging, but we need to have those conversations,” he adds.

    “Other key stakeholders we’ve focused on are the internship coordinators throughout the two colleges. As students are participating in internships, coordinators can help them identify competencies that they are strengthening and articulate how they used and developed them.”

    This work has taken place over seven years. Prior, the office was a traditional academic advising office where there were a lot of transactional interactions occurring. Since then, all the advisers have moved away from traditional tasks. To handle the transactional engagements with students, the BYU Liberal Arts Advisement & Careers office has trained peer mentors.

    Challenges encountered during this shift include identifying stakeholders and who to engage for support.

    “Initially, we were just trying to do everything on our own,” Prestwich notes.

    “Everything was coming from our office, and we realized that we needed to cast our nets wider to include faculty and internship coordinators. A lot of it is making sure that we have a succinct, consistent message for students about what the competencies are, what it means to thrive in developing them, and how to apply them in their education.”

    To gauge the effectiveness of implementing competencies in these colleges, the Liberal Arts Advisement & Careers office collects data after student meetings with advisers, using a voluntary assessment students can fill out on what that discussion was about, if they found it helpful, key information the adviser shared, what the adviser helped them overcome, and more.

    “We have been keeping and analyzing data to try to change how we do things to best determine then students’ needs,” Prestwich says.

    The staff is also hearing progress.

    “Anecdotally, hearing students talk about competencies when they come to our office rather than us continually teaching, it is becoming second nature,” he says.

    “Students are hearing it in their classes, from their classmates and professors, from us. It’s a unified message in both colleges.”

    For others looking to implement career readiness competencies, Prestwich recommends they activate their networks.

    “As we were trying to get things going, we were better off than we thought as far as what we were doing and how we were preparing for the needs of our students,” he says.

    “I did a lot of research on other institutions and what they were doing around career readiness, the NACE competencies, how they were delivering their message, and who they were delivering that message to. Not only did I research their websites and look at things, but I networked with them.”

    Prestwich says he asked these colleagues questions, such as:

    • What best practices are you using?
    • What didn’t work?
    • Who do we need to get buy-in from?
    • What are we missing?  

    “Whether it was at a regional conference, at a NACE conference, or via conference calls, I sought out these people, who have been extremely helpful,” he adds.

    “In fact, our Faculty Fellows program is based on the work of the University of Minnesota and Judith Anderson, who stressed involving faculty to help us clear roadblocks. It was eye-opening and incredibly helpful. Within months, my associate dean was running a program to involve faculty.

    “We had tried things and there has been a lot of failure. We had to embrace that there would be issues and failures, but networking with others really helped us to overcome our issues and turn our failures into successes. We are now fully focused on students thriving through career readiness and through developing and articulating competencies.”