Many graduate students are so focused on developing expertise in their field that they may neglect to realize how important it is to actively work on skills like communication, time management, or conflict resolution. These skills are critical in the workplace, and being able to demonstrate them can really help a student stand out in today's competitive job market.
—Stephanie Miller, MS Environmental Science & Research Trainee at US EPA

What do career readiness competencies mean for you if you want to go to graduate school? It means that these skills defined by NACE that are part of the EXCEL+ Career Readiness plus Leadership program are just as necessary to get you into graduate school, help you better connect with the faculty mentor you want to work with, be successful in your academic studies at graduate school, and make you a stronger candidate for that position when you're ready to join the job market.
Career competencies are sometimes referred to as "soft skills", but regardless of the language used by the person interviewing you (grad school admissions officer or faculty mentor you want to work with, to become a Teacher's Assistant or earn scholarships/fellowships, or for your future career options), they will want you to demonstrate specific examples of ways you have developed these skills. And how do you develop these skills? By participating in activities both on and off campus such as:

  • Take a class
    • This seems obvious, but here we're talking about any courses/learning opportunities that are outside of your normal academic course progression and allow you to develop specific skills not covered in your day-to-day courses.
    • Where to start: Start off easy by taking some LinkedIn Learning courses to develop those skills that you feel you need help with.
  • Volunteer in the community
    • While this can seem tough to do while you're focused on your courses and/or employment, volunteering can be a critical step in earning the necessary skills for some professions (especially anything healthcare-related). Volunteering in your community helps you practice teamwork skills, helps you put academic course theory into real-world applications, and helps make your community a better place for everyone. Volunteering can help you define your career path even further by giving you direct experience in your future career, providing an invaluable understanding of your industry and job expectations, and positively impacting your interviewing abilities.
    • Where to start: Find a community partner whose interests align with your own and get started! Try out the UCR Community Service Portal to find a volunteer opportunity and have a place to keep track of all of your volunteer hours. Additionally, we count paid employment for a non-profit or governmental agency as volunteer work, as we recognize that not everyone has the time to freely give, as much as they might want to.
  • Internships/relevant work experience
    •  Completing an internship or working in the area of your future profession provides you with many of the same benefits as volunteering does, with the added benefit of receiving some money for your efforts.
    • Where to start: The Career Center is a good place to start for both local internships and finding jobs. Many departments offer academic credit for participation in an internship related to your degree (198i), and the Center for Undergraduate Research & Engaged Learning manages the Capital Internships program which takes place in either Washington DC or Sacramento, CA, earning you both academic credit for an internship as well as academic coursework undertaken at either center.
  • Become a mentor
    • Mentoring is another experience that greatly enhances how future grad schools and employers view your abilities. By mentoring, you are developing important career skills such as leadership, time management, reliability, creativity, teamwork, problem-solving, AND helping out another student on campus.
    • Where to start: UCR has a LOT of opportunities to become a mentor within the various colleges and schools, but a really easy place to start your mentoring path is by signing up for the text-message-based Campus Collective Peer Mentoring program. Campus Collective matches students by interest and mentors need only have a 2.5 GPA, complete a self-paced 45-minute training, and a desire to help incoming freshmen and transfer students find the resources they need on campus to be successful.
  • Participate fully in your regular courses
    • Again, this seems rather obvious, but we all know how easy it is to check out a class when you're tired or bored. Classroom participation can provide you with some great opportunities for developing your competencies by engaging in:
      • classroom presentations (communication)
      • group work (teamwork)
      • discussions (critical thinking)
      • essays and research papers (written communication/critical thinking/research)
      • and other classroom projects containing real-world applications (community engagement)
  • Teach a class
    • Everyone at UCR is incredibly lucky to have the ability to teach their own course as undergraduates, on their own topic, to other undergraduate students via the R'Courses program through the Center for Undergraduate Research & Engaged Learning. Most students aren't given the opportunity to teach until graduate school, and even then as a TA, you are teaching someone else's course material. By teaching your own course, you are developing your competencies by:
      • presenting and facilitating classroom material (communication/teamwork/leadership)
      • time management (professionalism)
      • managing classroom discussions (communication/critical thinking)
      • developing course proposal/classroom materials (research/technological)
      • teaching experience (career development)
      • depending on what topic you are teaching about, any of the competencies could be worked on (e.g. - your course topic is on Community Healthcare - community engagement)
      • Even if you don't plan on a teaching career, having this experience is transferable to almost any job you plan on getting in the future, and is especially important for students heading into the healthcare professions.
    • Where to start: Getting involved in teaching your own R'Course is easier than you think. You need a faculty mentor and an idea for a class to work on.
  • Get involved in a campus club or organization
    • Not only are campus clubs and organizations a fun way for you to spend some of your time on campus with other like-minded students, but they're also an excellent way for you to gain some competency skills at the same time including teamwork, leadership, communication, and community engagement.
    • Where to start: Start with Student Life and find a group whose activities match your interests or future career goals.
  • Participate in Undergraduate Research
    • This is a critical activity you should be participating in during your undergraduate time at UCR if you are planning on going to graduate school. Even if you don't plan on doing research in your career, the fact that you have some under your belt will give you an edge and make you more competitive.
    • Where to start: The first place to start is to ask your favorite professor if they are conducting research and how you can get involved. The second place would be to visit the Research Opportunities Portal managed by the Center for Undergraduate Research & Engaged Learning.