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Professionalism for Grad Students: Four Ways to Build Your Career Readiness

March 21, 2018

Raechel Timbers, M.Ed.
Associate Director, Student Professional Development, University Career Services

The National Association of Colleges and Employers identified professionalism/work ethic as one of the  8 career readiness skills most valued by employers. Your ability to effectively demonstrate this skill is vital in your transition from an undergraduate to graduate student. So, what does professionalism mean? Below is how NACE defines these ideas.

Professionalism/Work Ethic: Demonstrate personal accountability and effective work habits, e.g., punctuality, working productively with others, and time workload management, and understand the impact of non-verbal communication on professional work image. The individual demonstrates integrity and ethical behavior, acts responsibly with the interests of the larger community in mind, and is able to learn from his/her mistakes

While it is important for all students to have some level of professionalism, the bar is higher for graduate students because employers assume they are more prepared to take accountability for their education and career journey.   What can you do to become more professional? Remember to act like a GRAD!

Get to know your campus community and resources

  • Find a mentor– Selecting a graduate program is the first step in building a professional network in your field of interest. A mentor can help you enhance that network as well as prepare you to transition outside of the university community. Your mentor can give you feedback about areas of strength and development, help you identify opportunities to build your CV, connect you to potential employers, and serve as a sounding board for questions that you have during your graduate program and beyond.
  • Take advantage of professional development on campus – There are many offices, workshops (including the workshops presented by Graduate Student Life, Career Services, and the Stearns Center on professional development), online resources and programs that can help you with your professional and personal growth. Is time management something you struggle with? Participate in a workshop from Learning Services or watch a video from Lynda.com. Don’t know how to write your résumé? Come in for an appointment at University Career Services. Here are a few links to help you get plugged into some career readiness related videos on Lynda.com.
  • Get to know your classmates and see how you might help them – Your classmates will be the beginning of your professional network, so make sure you are taking steps to cultivate that network now. Share information about your career goals and interests with your classmates and listen to what their goals are as well so you can find areas of overlap and assist each other during your time at Mason. Building mutually beneficial relationships today can be the key to unlocking career opportunities for life after Mason.

Realize you are responsible for your personal brand and career path

  • Create a professional brand online– When you apply to a new position it is likely that the employer will do a little research on you before an actual interview takes place. They may do a Google search or look you up on LinkedIn. What are you hoping they will find? Take steps today to create a positive image that reflects the skills and attributes you are hoping employers will find when they research you by doing things such as creating a LinkedIn page, contributing to discussions on Research Gate  or starting a blog or website  that is relevant to your career goals and research interests.
  • Dedicate time to career exploration –It can be challenging to think about your job search when you are teaching courses, conducting research, attending class, or completing an assistantship, but your time at Mason will eventually end.  Will you be prepared to begin your career after graduation?  Meet with members of the Career Services team to discuss your job search and to get tips on how to effectively interview, network, and construct your career documents so you can start your dream career.
  • Pursue career building experiences – Once you have identified the career path you wish to pursue, and the skills needed to be successful in that path, take the initiative to begin engaging in experiences that will help you be competitive.  Have a conversation with a trusted mentor or faculty member to discuss what career building experiences are most relevant to you and remember that sometimes, you may have to create your own opportunity.

Accountability is everything

  • Keep your commitments– If you want to be the type of person whom others recommend for positions, research assignments, or leadership roles, you need to keep your commitments. Be careful about overextending yourself so that you are able to successfully meet deadlines, respond to emails/requests in a timely manner and follow through on tasks you discuss with your peers.
  • Be solution oriented-Unforeseen challenges and situations are sure to arise during your time at Mason that can prevent you from following through on your commitments.  If you strive to be solution oriented, you can minimize the negative impact of those challenges.  When you realize you will not be able to keep a commitment, develop alternative plans for resolving the situation and proactively reach out to those who will be affected.

Dedicate time to personal well-being

  • Take care of yourself– It will be hard for you to be successful during your time at Mason and beyond if you are not taking care of yourself mentally and physically.   Strive to eat well, rest, exercise, and take time for personal reflection so you can prevent sickness and burnout.  Try to build a support network during your time at Mason and keep an open line of communication with your family, partners, and friends so they can help you take time for wellbeing. When evaluating your priorities as a graduate student, don’t forget to schedule in time for non-academic or career related tasks as well to help you achieve a better work-life balance.

The proceeding blog has been edited and updated to showcase the most current information about Mason’s resources for graduate and professional students. Changes and edits were made by the editor. Edited 10/06/2020.


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