Career Planning? Or Career Navigation Skills?

By: Brett Pawlowski

Think back to your first job after high school or college. Looking at the path from that first job to your current role, do you see a logical and sequential series of steps – a straight shot up the stairs – between then and now? Or, like most of us, do you see a path with unexpected twists and turns, with jumps between careers or industries caused as much by circumstances or luck (good or bad) as anything else?

Our own life experiences show us that reality doesn’t always (or often) line up with theory, and that’s worth thinking about when we set out to help students chart their futures. Planning is good: It’s helpful to understand where one could end up if they start down a certain path, and to understand what it takes to advance in a certain area over time. But given the reality that most of us will never reach our initial end point, it also makes sense to help students build the kinds of career navigation skills that will let them adjust and redirect in midstream, making wise decisions with the incomplete information they have available to them.

NC3T continues to develop our thinking on a definition for college, career, and life readiness, and we currently define career navigation skills as follows:

Career Navigation Skills enable individuals to understand and act on information that affect their career pathways. This knowledge allows them to grow and advance in a career and make successful transitions to a different career field when necessary. These skills include:

  • Developing an awareness of personal temperament, skills, and strengths
  • Maintaining knowledge of industries, sectors, careers, and pathways
  • Recognizing cross-sector transferable knowledge and skills
  • Utilizing postsecondary search, application, and financing resources
  • Developing the ability to network with others, perform job searches, complete job applications, interview for a position, and negotiate a job offer
  • Managing personal career path; engaging in ongoing skill development

Career planning is a helpful exercise – but to truly prepare students for life, helping them internalize their own set of career navigation skills is invaluable.