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What is career readiness?

Published: August 24, 2023

Getting a job is about so much more than technical knowledge—skills like public speaking are a huge asset. Copyright Work ED.

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    You may be on the track to college—but are you ready for a career?

    It might sound strange, but college readiness and career readiness are not the same thing. Both can help each other, wherever life takes you, but career readiness may actually be more useful.

    Let’s dive into career readiness, exploring what it is, how it’s taught in schools, and what skills you need to be career-ready.

    What is career readiness?

    Are you ready for the world of work after school's over? Copyright Work ED.

    Career readiness is about being ready for the world of work. The thing with career readiness though is that it’s not just something you take an exam for. It’s different from the technical skills that you need to do a job (such as being good at math if you want to be a physicist). Technical skills will mean that you are capable of doing the, well, “doing” part of the job. But most jobs aren’t just about using technical skills. In fact, there’s a lot more to work than that.

    Think about any job you’ve had, or any business you’ve been to recently. Chances are there were lots of people working there, interacting with each other and with customers. To work, businesses need employees to be able to work together. They also need employees to effectively speak to customers. This may sound simple, but the difference between leaders and entry-level employees is often down to basic skills such as communication, rather than their technical skills.

    Think again about any businesses you’ve been in or worked in. Were they anything like school? No—school is mostly sitting in a classroom, learning, and doing homework. Work isn’t like that, and the skills needed to do it well aren’t necessarily taught in school, or are only taught once in high school or college.

    You even need certain skills just to apply for a job. Being the most technically qualified candidate often isn’t enough to land a job: you have to be able to pass an interview and demonstrate that you’re a reliable person who will bring something to the role beyond technical ability.

    What skills do you need to apply to a job?

    • Writing and designing a strong resume that accurately shines a light on your achievements

    • Writing a strong cover letter (even if cover letters are becoming less popular)

    • The ability to research and understand what makes you a good applicant for that role

    • Networking (making connections with people who work in the industry who may introduce you to opportunities or act as references)

    • Interview-readiness (being able to make a good impression during the interview process)

    • Modern digital skills such as writing good emails or using LinkedIn to developing an online presence or brand through social media

    So if career readiness skills aren’t taught in the school day, how can you learn them?

    How to improve career readiness skills

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    Schools don’t often teach career readiness until high school, and many young people don’t practice the skills until college, if at all. 

    Graduating high school or college without career readiness skill practice can make getting that first job—the first step towards a good career—much harder, no matter how good your grades are. It could also mean a lifetime of missing out on opportunities to other, more prepared candidates.

    So what can you do to improve career readiness?

    There are many programs outside of the school day to explore. Many after-school programs and summer camps are designed to improve career readiness. And yes, while the idea of spending your school breaks in a program might not be appealing, these programs are a great way to practice career readiness skills in a positive, supportive environment.

    Beyond school, there are internships (most of which are paid these days) and the lesser known but also effective externships (you can read more about externships and how they’re different to internships here). Internships and externships let you experience workplace environments, so you can begin to learn and develop workplace skills, such as communication. You’ll also often have the chance to oversee a small project, letting you work on your project-management and time-management skills. 

    How can I improve my career readiness skills?

    Like any skill, career readiness takes practice. Copyright Work ED.

    Attend career readiness after school and summer camp programs in your school district:

    There are many types of after-school programs or summer camps. Most school districts run career-discovery programs that are designed to help you explore new careers, including guidance on the workplace skills needed.

    Find internship or externship opportunities with local companies:

    Many companies offer internship or externship opportunities, which can be an amazing way to gain experience of an industry while learning what it’s like to be in an actual workplace. Your school’s career and technical education or workforce readiness team can help you find opportunities, and you can search sites such as for postings.

    Attend career fairs in your school district:

    Careers help in a couple ways: 1) learning to browse careers and jobs that fit your purpose and interests is a skill in itself and 2) there are often workshops on resume writing, mock interviews, and other useful ways to improve career readiness.

    Practice career-readines exercises:

    Just like any other skill, practice leads to improvement. The more experience you have doing career readiness skills, the more comfortable you’ll feel when it comes to applying for and starting that dream job. So what can you practice to get there?

    A lot of this depends on what services your school offers, but many of these can be practiced with family, friends, or other trusted adults, especially if they have experience in the career you’re interested in.

    • Mock interviews: get someone to ask common interview questions so you can practice your answers and receive feedback (and get them to throw you some unexpected questions, too—it helps to be able to think on your feet!)

    • Mock cover letter writing: Think of your dream company and dream job, and write a cover letter stating why it is you would like to work for them and why you’d be a good fit. Seek feedback on what you wrote.

    • Public speaking exercises, such as giving presentations: this is a big point of difference between work and school. Work is much more project-based and you’ll do a lot of public speaking. You may have to make a presentation as part of your application. So create a presentation about you and your experience and present it, asking for feedback.

    Find volunteer opportunities:

    Even if it’s not paid work, volunteer work still simulates the workplace experience. Plus, it looks great on your early resume and feels good to do!

    If you’re old enough, try to find a job:

    Any job will give you experience of working with coworkers, meeting deadlines, and taking on the responsibility needed to get work done. While service industry jobs such as working in a fast food restaurant or catering are often looked down on, you’d be amazed at how the skills you learn in these environments transfer to other careers. Teamwork and communication under pressure are valuable skills whatever path you take. 

    Ask for mentorship:

    When you get the opportunity to meet professionals in a career you’re interested in, ask if you can stay in contact for mentorship opportunities and career guidance. There’s a balance here: try not to be pushy or demanding, but many professionals are more than happy to pay-it-forward by mentoring the next generation. This can take the form of an occasional phone call ro virtual meeting, or just being able to ask for the occasional piece of advice, or can be a foot in the door for employment opportunities. (If you are seeking help from someone outside the family, just make sure you check-in with your parent of guardian so they know who you’re meeting with. Stay safe.)

    Use YouTube (and other learning platforms):

    There are so many video tutorials on resume writing, interview preparation, and lessons learned all for free on YouTube or other social media channels.

    Here’s a summary of ways to improve career readiness:

    • Ask for mentorship

    • Find volunteer opportunities

    • Practice career-readiness exercises

    • If you’re old enough, try to find a job

    • Attend career fairs in your school district

    • Use YouTube (and other learning platforms):

    • Find internship or externship opportunities with local companies

    • Attend career readiness after-school and summer camp programs in your school district.

    A note on using AI tools instead of developing career readiness skills:

    Thinking you can us AI tools to land a job? Be careful.

    Communication is such an important career-readiness skill that, while AI tools can help you write a resume or cover letter, don’t become too dependent on them. Even if ChatGPT writes you an amazing cover letter, you’ll probably get found out in the interview (and no, ChatGPT will not help you out in a virtual interview. Your interviewer will tell if you’re putting the questions in as they’re asking …)

    That being said, AI tools are being used more and more in many industries, including education, so experience of using them can help. The key is to use AI as a tool, not a solution. AI can help you with ideas, but do not think you can use it to cheat your way into a job you aren’t qualified for. You will get found out, and it defeats the satisfaction of learning to grow and develop skills needed on the job. Only experience and hard work can give you that.

    Why is developing career readiness important?

    Learning how to make connections and developing confidence are key parts of career readiness that can unlock lifelong opportunities. Copyright Work ED.

    Career readiness is not just about passing interviews. It’s so much more than that. It’s about becoming comfortable with being uncomfortable: learning that growth only happens when you challenge yourself.

    Career readiness skills build the foundation for a mindset that lasts a lifetime. Career readiness is about learning to grow. Learning to overcome what feels like the impossible. Discovering what you’re capable of. Being willing to push yourself. Believing in yourself.

    Stepping out from school into the “real world” can be scary, like the first steps of a great quest. But it doesn’t have to be. Career readiness is giving yourself the tools that make navigating that quest safer and simpler. It’s a map, a compass, and the knowledge that lets you enjoy the adventure rather than suffer through it. And even if there is some suffering, you know you have what it takes to overcome that suffering and grow.

    Career readiness means having the confidence to know that you can. You can have a great resume. You can rock that interview. You can develop good professional relationships with your new colleagues. You can grow into the leader you’ve always known you’re capable of being.

    How career readiness helps you:

    Make connections:

    You’ve heard the phrase “It’s who you know, not what you know.” There’s truth in that, but there’s also opportunity: You can learn to make connections with people who can help through career readiness programs, by gaining confidence and becoming comfortable with situations that previously made you uncomfortable, such as asking for help.

    Develop a growth mindset:

    When you are willing to learn new skills, practice them, and receive feedback, you become unstoppable. Because when you’re a lifelong learner, dedicated to constant improvement, you will always find a path forward for yourself.

    Improve your lifelong earnings:

    Some people never got to explore career-readiness skills. And even though they may have a job, they don’t have the skills to get promoted, or apply for other, higher-earning work. By developing these skills and applying them early in your life, you will always be an upwards trajectory, and be able to negotiate a better salary at every opportunity.

    Gain experience to improve your early resume:

    The sooner you start on your resume, that’s one step closer to your dream career. The hardest part is often getting that entry-level position. Any experience you can have on your resume to begin with will get you on that journey sooner.

    Help you understand what career it is you want:

    Sometimes we start off down a path in a career that never really fit. And while it’s never too late to change, going to college for a career that we don’t really want is not fulfilling, and can lead to a lot of hard to pay off debt. Exploring various careers early can help you figure out which career fits your personality, interests, and purpose best.

    Develop foundational soft skills that are useful no matter what:

    Like the growth mindset mentioned above, there are many so-called “soft skills” that, if you practice them early in life, will help you be successful what ever path you take. These are skills such as:

    • Critical thinking

    • Emotional regulation

    • Time management

    • Project management

    • Communication

    • Teamwork

    Here’s a summary of how career readiness helps you:

    • Make connections

    • Develop a growth mindset

    • Improve your lifelong earnings

    • Gain experience to improve your early resume

    • Help you understand what career it is you want

    • Develop foundational soft skills that are useful no matter what

    So if you’ve been feeling anxious about your career after school, know that there are ways to prepare by gaining skills and experience. Taking those opportunities will help you feel more confident and make the idea of getting a job you want less scary. 

    You’ve got this!

    Work ED students gaining career-readiness skills under the guidance of cybersecurity professionals during a trip to the UN. Copyright Work ED.