Why students need career planning

Every year, I always ask students to review their career plan to identify the skills gap and make sure that they can fill them before their graduation. My method is simple: “Identify three companies that you want to work for, find the jobs that you want to do, read the job descriptions to identify the required skills, determine whether you have or do not have those skills, if you do not then find the courses that help you to develop those skills, take that class, and closes the gap.”

Most students understand my method about career planning and what they should do. Last year, a student disagreed with my approach, he argued: “College students should NOT focus on a career earlier because it creates unnecessary pressure and worrying. Students should focus on their study until graduation to find what they want to do then plan their career.” During the class discussion, I explained: “A career plan is a map that helps you on your educational journey. By having an earlier thought on your future career, knowing what skills that you need will help you to select the appropriate courses to develop those skills. For example, if you want to work in Artificial Intelligence (AI), you need to develop specific skills such as Python, Java, and take a number of courses related to this field such as Machine Learning, Deep learning etc. Besides that, you need to read about AI news in technical magazines, AI research papers published in technical journals and blogs and articles that are relevant to AI career.”

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He argued: “But student often change their mind, not every student know what they want yet. Planning a career early may force them into something that they may not like.” I explained: “The career plan is not fixed, but flexible, each year students must review and adjust it according to what they want. When you travel, you need a map to guide you but you can change your mind and adjust the map to fit the new destination. Without the map, without a direction, you may get lost and drift from one area to another and waste your time.”

He asked: “If I keep changing my mind then do I still need a plan? I asked him: “If you do not know what you want, you still need to have a plan and change it everytime you change your mind. Having a plan will help you to evaluate yourself on what you want to do. What is your interest, what are you good at and not good at? You can explore many careers, many options and make a decision on which one is best fit for you. Once you know what you want then you can identify the skills that you need to achieve that career goal. If you are still confused, this is the best time to reflect on your interest and plan your learning.”

He seemed to understand: “What else do I need after having a career plan? I added: “Every student needs to constantly read about The market trends and technology trends.If they change, you must adjust your plan and your study accordingly. Today, college graduates cannot just work on one job and stay with it for their entire life. As technologies change, they must adjust to whatever changes that come by learning new skills to keep their job. Careers planning and college learning are NOT different things but the two sides of a coin. Students should study and plan their career at the same time to do well in this competitive job market. The fact is students who do not plan their career well often have the most difficulty in finding a job. Planning a career earlier while still in school helps students to discover what type of work they want to do after graduation, as well as providing them with skills that are needed in the job market. Many students fail when applying for jobs after graduation because they do not understand the requirements of the job that they are applying. Companies do NOT hire graduates based on the degree, but the skills that they need. They want graduates to prove that they have what the company needs during the job interview.”

“Career planning is essential in this competitive market, and every teacher should encourage students to seriously think about their career before they even start to go to university. This means students can make a good decision about which courses they need to take, what the skills they need to develop during their time in college. If they cannot learn the skills they need in college, they can find another alternative to get them such as learning from Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) or some online tutorials.”


  • Blogs of Prof. John Vu, Carnegie Mellon University