08/01/2004

Developing Students’ Career Skills and Academic Proficiencies While Centering on Character

by Robert Orndorff

For years, school counselors have been telling students, and rightfully so, that employers and colleges look for candidates who not only know how to read and write, but also how to confront issues tactfully, work well with all types of people, and demonstrate a high level of integrity. Several survey reports spanning over 1,000 company recruiters validate that advice. From such a study, certain skills, traits, and attitudes surfaced. They include teamwork, interpersonal skills, appreciation of diversity, leadership, honesty, integrity, and communication. I call these skills and traits “Career and Character Essentials” because these are the qualities sought after by employers but are also the same qualities necessary for being a person of high character.

Why Bring Character Education to the Forefront of Career Development?

Character is the Difference Maker in One’s Career

Did you ever stop to think what really makes the difference in obtaining good jobs and succeeding in one’s career? Let’s break down the interviewing process. As recruiters review high numbers of applications, they look for required criteria related to academic background, experience, and skills. Once they’ve dwindled the pack down to a handful of final candidates, it’s evident that each of the remaining candidates posses the required criteria. So what’s left to assess in the interview? You guessed it – character! Now, recruiters won’t call it that, mind you. As they’re sitting with their search committee colleagues, deliberating over which candidate would be best, they’re making statements like, “There’s something about Mary that I really like”, or “I think Mary will be a good ‘FIT’ in our organization.” Well, most often when a recruiter says a candidate is a good “fit”, what they’re really saying is that they “like” that candidate and would enjoy working with that candidate. Mary was most likely warm, friendly, respectful, confident, humble, and positive. In other words, Mary’s high CHARACTER made the biggest difference. If we’d break down the “job promotion/career advancement process,” we’d similarly find CHARACTER to be the difference maker!



Character Serves as a Refreshing Change to the BIG TWO Career Topics


THE “Big Two” Career Development topics found in most K-12 Career Development Plans are “Career Exploration” and “Job Searching”. While both topics are important, there’s a third “Career Topic” that gets overlooked – developing career skills and character traits that will make students marketable for top colleges and jobs, and ultimately successful in career and life. Although there are hundreds of worthwhile books, resources, exercises and programs out there helping students become aware of career options, they focus only on the process of choosing one's career – not on the process of succeeding in one's career and in one’s life. And while helping students hone their job searching and interviewing skills is necessary, the fact is that we’re only POLISHING skills that have already been developed. Programs and resources that focus on the process of developing life-long career skills and character traits add a third dimension to career development that has the greatest impact on students!


Points for Counselors to Remember



    1. Focusing on Character Education as a key Career Development intervention provides counselors with a vehicle for motivating teachers to incorporate career development in the classroom.

    2. Character education integrates naturally with academic preparation; teachers already facilitate character development within their classrooms but – for the most part – not systematically.

    3. What is needed is a more deliberate approach – one that allows for planned reflection and evaluation of these essential character traits. Counselors can help teachers establish a more structured, intentional approach!

    4. It’s important to note that this systematic approach to character education not only enhances students’ career skills, but also can be accomplished while satisfying today’s academic demands and proficiency-level expectations, resulting in a three-in-one approach! This approach can be the “selling point” for counselors as they work with teachers on incorporating career development activities more pervasively in the classroom! For example: A “Teamwork” checklist enables teachers and students to evaluate teamwork skills (one of the Essentials) as students work on a group presentation. Thus, the final product (the presentation) is evaluated (academic) as part of the assignment and teamwork is a topic of discussion and evaluation (character and career). Counselors can present teamwork checklists and many other useful tools that facilitate teachers’ ability to incorporate the Career and Character Essentials!




Within Every Great Professional is a Great Person

In summary, centering on character education provides a vehicle for educators to develop the whole student – academically, professionally, and personally. For 15 years as a career development practitioner and administrator, I’ve been working hard, as most school counselors are, trying to help students make educated career choices and search for the job or college of their dreams. It took me 15 years to realize that there’s a third way to help students meet their career goals – developing the character traits that ultimately have the greatest impact on one’s career. The reality is, that within every outstanding professional, is an outstanding person of high character! We need to empower students by incorporating the Career and Character Essentials into the classroom.




Dr. Robert Orndorff
is the Associate Director of Career Services and Affiliate Assistant Professor of Counselor Education at Penn State University. Bob received a doctoral degree in counselor education (specializing in career development) from Penn State University. He has authored articles on career planning and placement and has been published in a national journal, the Journal of Counseling and Development, published in national online publications (CareerPlanit and College Parents of America) and quoted in both the U.S. News & World Report and Newsweek.

Bob was the sole author of The Unofficial Guide to Finding the Perfect Job, published in February 2000 by IDG Books Worldwide, Inc., and re-published by Peterson’s in October 2000 as The Insider’s Guide to Finding the Perfect Job. In 2003, Bob wrote and self-published Becoming the Best Me, featuring career and character essentials for students to acquire in and out of the classroom that are highly sought after by 21st Century recruiters. Recently, Bob wrote the 2nd edition of Becoming the Best Me, which was published by JIST Publishing in 2004. In addition to working in higher education, Bob is a career consultant in the education and business industries. Recently, Bob started a small company, JAZ Publishing, LLC, to facilitate his various publishing and consulting activity.


For those counselors interested in a resource that combines Career Development, Character Education, and Academic Preparation all in one, check out Becoming The Best Me – featuring 10 Career & Character Essentials – and its accompanying Instructor’s Manual, available in NCDA's online Career Resource Store .


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