The Eisenhower Matrix Approach to Career Readiness

Quoting Dr. J. Roscoe Miller in his 1954 speech to the Second Assembly of the World Council of Churches, former President Dwight D. Eisenhower said, “I have two kinds of problems: the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent.” Thus was born the “Eisenhower Matrix,” a still-popular time management tool that divides tasks into four categories: important-urgent, important-not urgent, not important-urgent, and not important-not urgent.

In Career Services, we know that career development lives in the “important-not urgent” quadrant of this matrix for most students. College students today understand the necessity of leaving college career-ready, but the work it takes to get there is often eclipsed by those more urgent tasks: the homework assignment due tomorrow, Friday’s test in a particularly hard subject, a best friend’s birthday party tonight, or that once-a-year campus event you’ve been looking forward to since September. In fact, I recently read a surprising statistic: during the lifecycle of the average 4-year college student, about 2000 hours are spent in the classroom, 2-3000 hours doing homework or project work and only 3-5 hours on career development.

Our challenge is to help students move career development work into that top, left quadrant – important and urgent. For most, having some sort of a structure with deadlines is helpful; throw in the promise of a paid internship or access to summer funding and now you have a motivated group of students. To encourage students to take the time to build career plans, set goals and be reflective about their experiences, we created the Wheaton Edge Career Readiness Program. Our goal is to change career education from something students seek in a reactive fashion to a proactive and integral part of their academic experience.

Sophomores and juniors who opt into the program in the fall of each year, complete a series of task-oriented career development milestones.

  • Attend a Wheaton Edge Career Readiness information session
  • Meet with a Career Advisor
  • Create a resume
  • Write a cover letter
  • Create a LinkedIn profile

In an effort to help students be more thoughtful about these milestones, which in the case of a LinkedIn profile, are very public, we require them to write corresponding reflection essays. Some of the prompts provided are:

  • How does your resume reflect the knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs) that employers in your chosen field are looking for?
  • Be specific: what are the KSAs, how do you know employers are looking for them, and how are they reflected in your resume?
  • Who is currently part of your professional network (think family, friends, supervisors, mentors, etc.) and could be a source of useful information during your internship/job search?
  • Who—specifically or generally—would you like to add to your network, and why? How might you go about connecting with them?

Once summer experiences are secured (an internship with Google, research with a Wheaton chemistry professor or an in-depth volunteer experience with the Legal Aid Society), students submit proposals addressing the significance of the opportunities at that particular time in their college and career exploration or development. They are encouraged to look beyond the summer itself and think of ways in which the contacts they will make and the practical experience they will have, can help them later in their careers. In these well-crafted statements of interest, students are asked to:

  • Articulate what you propose to do, making sure there is synergy with your Supervisor Offer Letter or Faculty Letter of Support,
  • share the strengths, qualities, and skills that you bring to the experience and give evidence of how these have been developed,
  • highlight coursework that has prepared you for the experience,
  • identify what you expect to learn and how this learning will occur during the experience,
  • present a convincing rationale for why this experience is important to you at this juncture in your Wheaton education,
  • describe your expected work environment and capture why this particular experience or research is of value to your academic learning and/or career interests.

For international opportunities, the following are also required :

  • Demonstrate language competency necessary for the experience,
  • demonstrate a cultural competency for the experience through academic knowledge, prior study or travel abroad,
  • present a rationale for the particular country or region.

Encouraged to journal throughout their summer, students will use these muses to reflect upon their values and interests – how they were challenged and how they might have changed completely or been finely honed. Periodically reviewing their journals, students look for recurring themes, ideas, or thoughts. This log is a beneficial resource for further discussion with career and faculty advisers, as students make decisions about future courses, internships, and career options.

Hundreds of students take the time to write out these reflections in essay form each September, prompted by questions like:

  • What challenges did you face? How did you handle them? What did you learn from the experience? And, knowing what you know now, how would you handle things differently?
  • What observations have you made about this particular culture (workplace and/or living environment)? How have your encounters with this culture changed your perspective about yourself and this culture? Have any of-of your preconceived ideas changed?
  • Did you meet people who could serve as mentors? What qualities do you admire about them? What steps will you take to move the mentor-mentee relationship forward?

Students also reflect on their experiences in a public forum at the annual Internship Showcase – an opportunity to share their learning with the Wheaton community as a whole. Faculty have a chance to see what their students are doing outside of the classroom and how they are connecting their learning to the world of work, parents get to see their students’ practical application of a liberal arts education, and fellow students are motivated by their peers’ experiences.

Wheaton Professor Grace Baron, the Filene Center’s first Faculty Fellow, once said, “Just ask a colleague to name the moment they knew they really loved their chosen discipline, or when they first felt the tug toward their eventual career choice, or first envisioned their future professional selves.  Most often, the moment is a classroom field activity, an internship or research adventure, and feedback on a job well done. With continued respect and even awe of traditional scholarship, we faculty personally know the value of actual engagement with the material and methods of our disciplines to enliven learning, spark career choice, and live life well. It is the same for our students. Our teaching comes alive when our students experience the disciplinary translations of liberal arts learning into action….in the lab, in the field, on the job and in service to others. But as a classroom teacher, I am also guided by the words of poet,  e.e. cummings: ‘never let it be said that we had the experience but missed the meaning’. What joy it has been for me to bridge the worlds of experience and meaning, to help students take apart, translate and then weave their experience with the knowledge that came before them, with theories to guide critical thinking, adding layers of meaning to the experience and to liberal arts learning.”

The post-graduate achievements of Wheaton students are evidence that moving deeper level reflection processes, like the Wheaton Edge Career Readiness Program, into the important and urgent, can contribute to the personal and professional success of our students.

Lisa G. Gavigan ’83, P’18, Director of Career Services