Explore, Experience, Engage: Your Guide to Career Development (RMIT Vietnam)

Click on image to view the workbook

Explore, Experience, Engage: Your Guide to Career Development was one of the main projects that I led in my time in the Career Centre of RMIT Vietnam. I was the author and editor of the text and project leader of its publication.

This project came out of a desire to replace the tired old photocopied info sheets in the Career Centre with a nicely designed career education workbook that students could use by themselves, or as a kind of text book in one of our taught programs.

The title refers to the DOTS-esque three stages that RMIT University used to organise and promote their services to students:

Explore: new students, or those who aren’t sure of what they’re doing

Experience: students who are mid-program and should be starting to look for experiences which will build their employability skills

Engage: students who are preparing to undertake internships or graduate.

Writing and producing this resource was the biggest project of its kind that I had worked on at this point. The content was developed in a series of workshops I lead with my colleagues. From there, I drafted each section and sought feedback from key stakeholders. I then sketched out the main idea of the worksheets and sent the drafts to the designer. We conceived the book as a career education workbook that students could write in, using the style and layout of the textbooks used for the English language programs at RMIT.

The book was published as a spiral bound, full colour workbook, with glossy covers. We paid for the book with sponsored ads from key industry partners in the inside covers and back cover. It also helped that we were in Vietnam, so could get this printed for below $1 a copy. We also distributed the .pdf version of the workbook, both as a whole and as each section separately.

It came at a time that I had a lot going on in my personal life, so I wasn’t always as engaged with it as I should have been. The scope and intent changed quite a lot over the course of the project. Having said that, I am proud of the product and consider it an achievement.

Here are the three main things that I learned from leading this project:

1. Constraints are helpful
When brainstorming the content, the potential breadth and depth of the booklet was enormous. I quickly found that to get the project started, I had to impose some constraints before I could move forward. The 3Es provided a strong organisational constraint and an initial outline of the content led me to a length of 56 pages. This constraint, while somewhat arbitrary, helped me a lot when it came to excising material that wasn’t essential, as well as keeping the text concise. In my current work, I impose strict word counts, slide counts, or page counts when working on resources.

2. Solicit suggestions but make decisions

My team at RMIT Vietnam was very collaborative. Most of the time this was a good thing, as we had a lot of great ideas and diverse approaches. But in a project like this, it posed a challenge as every good suggestion could add a page or two to the length of the book. I learned that as editor, I needed to consult with my colleagues, but final decisions were mine and I shouldn’t be shy about making them. Fortunately, my team recognised this and respected my decisions even when it meant that their suggestions weren’t included.

3. Clients need to be fussy

The design of the workbook was handled by Minh, the designer employed by the student services office of RMIT Vietnam. He is a skilled designer and we worked well together. However, I have to admit that I was responsible for some lost time due to additional revisions because I didn’t describe my vision as explicitly has I should have. At the time, I thought that I was showing respect to Minh’s skill by not dictating every detail. Minh did his best to interpret my briefs, but inevitably he made decisions that didn’t suit the book or its audience. It would have made everyone’s lives easier had I been more explicit about my vision and checked in with Minh on the details more often.

Download (PDF, 2.49MB)


Lesson plan: helping students contextualise employability skills

In my previous post, “the Problem with Employability Skills in Career Education”, I explained why I’m dissatisfied with the way students are introduced to the concept of employability skills. In this post, I’ll share an engaging and effective lesson plan that I have used to help students understand the importance of employability skills in the context of their own professional field.

I created this lesson as part of Career Passport, a three-stage career education program that I developed for RMIT Vietnam, and have continued to use the basic idea at La Trobe University. Rather than share the step-by-step lesson plan, I’ll describe the key activities and principles in broad detail, to allow you to adapt the lesson to your own context and the needs of your students. This lesson is easily adapted for face-to-face, blended, or online delivery.

Stage one: warming up and activating key vocabulary

Learning outcome: students activate their prior knowledge of employability skills 

Ask the students to form groups and together list as many universal employability skills as possible. This can either be a recall exercise, if they’ve been provided with a list of employability skills already, or a prediction exercise if they haven’t. In a classroom, they can record their answers on paper or on the whiteboard. Online, they can edit wikis or list their answers in a discussion board.

Stage two: the set up

Learning outcome: students recognise the importance of context in employability skills

Display a mock resume which simply lists skills with little or no context.

Introduction and resume prepAsk the students how effectively they think the resume demonstrates the capabilities of the candidate. Give them plenty of time to debate and discuss and perhaps poll their opinions to see if there’s a consensus or if they disagree.

Some students will recognise the weakness of the resume. Others may think it’s fine. That’s good for us as the teacher, because we can capture their attention when we tell them that actually, this resume is awful.

Elicit the reason why from the students by asking about the nature of the communication or teamwork skills and experience of this person. When students can’t answer, they’ll begin to understand the point. But to really drive the point home in a fun way, move on to stage three…

Stage three: the fun bit

Learning outcomes: students can deconstruct specific demonstrations of a skill, identifying key sub-skills and qualities

Tell the students that they’ll see a couple of videos of people using their communication skills in their workplace. Ask the students to take notes as they watch:

  • what is their job title?
  • what is their mission or purpose?
  • what personal characteristics are important?
  • what sub-skills are they using?

You can include any number of videos: cheesy telesales presenters, 911 operators, sports coaches… the more unique the better. My students especially love the drill sergeant and we have fun discussing how he would perform as a kindergarten teacher.

When the students review and compare their notes, they should be able to see clearly how important context and specificity is when it comes to talking about their employability skill.

Extension activity one: resume writing

Learning outcome: students can write a resume experience description with suitable context and clarity

Get the students to choose one of the videos and then, in groups, write a resume experience description for that person’s role. Help them find ways to quantify, qualify, and contextualise their descriptions and remind them to use a range of expressive action verbs. This would be a great time to teach students Google HR bigwig Laslo Block’s formula for expressing achievements.


Extension activity two: STARL structure for interviews or key selection criteria

Learning outcome: students can deliver an interview response using the STARL structure. 

If your students are familiar with the STARL structure for behavioural interview responses, they could have fun practising in the role of the occupations from the video. I’ve had whole classes in stitches as we role play behavioural interviews for drill sergeants, used-car salesmen, or carnival touts.

Tell me how it goes

If you use this lesson, either as I describe it or in some inspired form of your own, I’d love to hear about it. Leave a comment and tell me how it went for you and your students.