Book By: Mel Levine
Review By: Virginia N. Gordon
The Ohio State University
Career Readiness: Preparing Students for Work and Life
Most academic advisors have encountered students who are in a state
of uncertainty about a career direction or unable to envision their
future personal or work lives. Although we often associate this
dilemma with undecided students, many of these career-uncertain
students have selected and are actually pursuing a major. Some
graduate without any idea of where they are going in work or life.
Others find themselves stuck in entry-level jobs that are boring or
do not suit their interests or abilities. Mel Levine, in his book,
Ready or Not, Here Life Comes (2005), offers some
insights into why some students are unstable or unable to make solid
or realistic future plans. Academic advisors will find some of Dr.
Levine’s ideas and premises resonate with their own experiences
with college-age youth. Some of these ideas can suggest ways of
helping them through what he terms “work-life unreadiness.”
Young people who feel anguished and uncertain about a career
direction while in college or when they enter the job market may have
never learned to formulate specific work or life goals. Others feel
they have made “some awful mistakes” in their career choices.
This unreadiness for work and life may be revealed right after high
school, while in college, or even when faced with finding employment
or starting a job. Although Levine concedes that some emerging
adults take longer to establish a stable work life than others, some
are frozen in their attempts to envision a future for themselves. He
claims this population of career-unready adults is growing. (One
example is the current phenomenon of “boomerang children” or
those who return to live with their parents after college.) Academic
advisors occasionally may feel a sense of frustration when confronted
with these individuals. Dr. Levine provides a model that can help us
understand why some students are so “unready” to plan their
future. As a pediatrician he watched children grow from childhood to
the “startup years” which he defines as the transition from
adolescence to adulthood. Understanding why some young people have
such a difficult time moving through this stage of life can help
advisors recognize their particular dilemmas and devise ways to help
Levine’s Four Predicaments
What are some of the causes of this career unreadiness that is
pervasive in young people today? Many personal and cultural forces
can set the stage for an individual to be work-life unready. Levine
identifies four predicaments that may help to explain why some are
caught in one or more career bind.
in their teens
As Levine notes, most young people experience adolescent-type
exploring and experimenting. It is when individuals are confused or
floundering about their future plans that problems appear. There are
many reasons why some students may delay adulthood. Our culture
currently celebrates adolescence and the media surrounds us with
examples of “teenage coolness.” Some young people are so used
to immediate gratification and so saturated with the pleasures of
being a carefree adolescent that the demands and structure of the
academic environment or the adult workplace are poor substitutes.
They prolong adolescence when they feel protected by their peers (and
sometimes their parents) and have little responsibility.
Levine describes “cool dudeship” as a collection of personal
marketing strategies that students use in college in order to receive
peer adulation. Coolness includes a dress code, certain physical
gestures, an appearance of confidence, and a loyalty to an inner
circle of friends. Learning to fit in and being accepted by those
around them are hallmarks of being cool. Some adolescents will
sacrifice family life and education in order to remain cool.
Extending this into their work life will inhibit their readiness to
engage in serious career planning. Levine asserts that there are
potent forces in our society that encourage young people to select
each other as role models in place of adults. It is critical for
them to connect with adult role models, however, if they are to
succeed in the adult world.
Another cause of work-life unreadiness includes some young people who
may seem like least-likely candidates. These are students who were
former heroes, successful in everything they attempted. They coasted
through childhood and adolescence academically, athletically and/or
socially with little effort. Levine indicates that “intoxicating
levels of gratification and stimulation can drain kids of motivation
or ambition” (p. 41). Levine suggests that parents sometimes
shield their children from too much adversity. If a child is having
a problem in school, for example, some parents intervene immediately.
When they constantly intervene, children are not allowed to learn
how to settle their own problems or become effective decision makers.
When children are overindulged at home or made to feel overly
special in school, there is a risk that they may feel the world owes
them. This feeling of entitlement may carry over into college or the
of wrong roads
Levine says more work-life options exist today than any other
historical period. This complexity offers so many career
possibilities that some young people are bewildered by all the
options. As a consequence they make choices for which they are not
suited or have little interest. They have never realistically
examined their true interests or abilities in the context of work.
Some select a career for superficial reasons and are well into
it before they realize it is not what they expected. Making money,
for example, may take precedence over any other job characteristic.
Our educational system has not prepared them to choose a career path
that matches their values as well as their strengths and interests.
Many students are naïve when they begin a job and don’t understand
the workplace and what is required of them. This can lead to
problems in identifying expectations and relationships with
Levine claims that public educational policies impose standards that
assume all students’ minds are the same. As a result many
students’ potential strengths and talents are not recognized or
cultivated. When the assets and deficits of students’ minds are
misunderstood, not adequately defined, misread or not read at all,
“…developmental debts will be carried well into the startup
years” (p. 65). Levine indicates that we tend to categorize and
oversimplify human differences. We need a better understanding of
how individual students’ minds work so that we can help them
exploit what makes them unique. Some need help in developing an
environment in which they can feel good about whom they are becoming.
Levine outlines many “mind debts” that are dysfunctions that can
reappear when a student enters college or the workplace. Examples
include communication problems, organizational deficiencies,
inadequate conceptualization, underdeveloped social thinking, and
memory limitations. Students need to develop good work habits, work
rhythms, and a work ethic. These are important characteristics that
can be learned and cultivated during the college years.
Advisors’ Role in Promoting Readiness
How can advisors help young people through these high
school-to-college and college-to-job transitions? Levine outlines
four general growth processes that involve students’ readiness for
adulthood. Advisors can help students recognize these growth areas
and guide them to the activities and resources that can help to
develop and refine them.
Advisors sometimes come in contact with students who have difficulty
in identifying the kind of person they are or who they are becoming.
This is a lifelong process, but one that is most challenging during
the adolescent to adult transition. Advisors are familiar with
students who initially choose academic majors or career areas for
which they have no interest or don’t have the background or ability
to perform. Some students make decisions based on little
consideration or knowledge of their personal values. Levine notes
that it is important for young people to assess their strengths and
weaknesses by getting in touch with their patterns of moods and
feelings. Feedback from parents, teachers, and school experiences
can offer insights into what the student “may want to keep and what
they need to work on” (p. 101). Active self-assessment is key in
probing the questions of who am I and what am I turning into?
It is also essential for students to be able to understand the world
around them and how their surroundings influence them. They need to
understand ideas, issues, expectations and processes. They need to
be able to interpret new knowledge and integrate it into what they
learn from everyday experiences. Some students go to class without
an awareness of how they process key concepts or ideas. They can
answer questions in class or on a test without understanding the
concepts behind what they are learning. When this carries over into
a work environment it often leads to failure.
The components of accurate interpreting include being able to process
information actively and effectively, recognize patterns, and being
able to make judgments about “…products, people, ideas and
opportunities..” (p. 141). Levine sums up accurate interpretation
as “…blending the basic understanding of information with pattern
recognition and evaluative thinking..” (p. 140). It is also
essential to good decision making and nurtures a positive attitude
that carries over into work life.
The third growth process essential to the transition into adulthood
is the acquisition of skills that deal with work efficiency and
productive thinking. Most advisors have talked with students who do
not know what skills or competencies are needed to succeed in the
occupational areas they are considering. Advisors can encourage
students to compile a list of the skills needed in specific career
areas, emphasizing those that can be acquired or refined in college,
for example, through course work, extracurricular activities,
volunteer or work experiences. Work efficiency involves
organizational skills, such as time management and learning how to
prioritize what is most important when expending time and energy.
Another critical skill is competent decision making. Levine makes a
distinction between “problem solving” and “decision making”
indicating that problem solving is just one form of careful decision
making. Advisors are familiar with students who are poor decision
makers. They are unable to recognize when a decision must be made,
determine possible solutions, or weigh the merits and consequences of
these alternatives. Helping a student with this process may begin
with advisors’ modeling good decision making behavior or teaching
the skills inherent in the process.
The last set of growth processes are those that involve interpersonal
skills such as communication and relating to others. The
interpersonal skills that worked with adolescent peers are not
necessarily those that succeed in the workplace. Translating one’s
thoughts into understandable ideas and points of view is a critical
skill. Levine claims there is currently a “dramatic downgrading of
oral language” among children and adolescents. If students have
difficulty expressing themselves clearly and coherently, advisors can
suggest courses or campus resources to help them improve their
Levine also discusses the need to form cooperative and constructive
alliances. How to interact with others and how to become a team
player are critical in the workplace. Career survival often depends
on one’s political savvy – how to know who the power brokers are
and how to interact with them. Advisors can encourage students to
become involved in campus clubs or activities where good political
behavior can be learned and practiced.
Levine offers many suggestions for helping students prepare for their
work lives. He calls for educators to make revolutionary changes in
how “growing minds” are prepared for contemporary career needs.
He claims this important mission is largely overlooked by colleges.
Colleges should be stressing the growth processes that foster
work-life readiness within a liberal education. These core growth
processes can be integrated into the curriculum by using a variety of
methods to demonstrate their applications to work and life.
Levine states that education should foster self-analysis, encourage
future thinking, and offer a safe place to take intellectual risks
and demonstrate personal initiatives. How to adapt basic skills,
such as reading, writing, math and science, to the work world can be
taught. Soft skills such as “…communication, decision making,
evaluating thinking, and collaboration” (p. 231) can be perfected
at every level of education. The social skills needed in the
workplace, such as verbal communication, alliance formation, and
political behavior, can also be learned.
While in college students make many important decisions that will
affect their future personal and work lives. Advisors are in a
special position to help them learn the process of future planning
and the importance of acquiring work-life skills. Fostering behavior
that leads to a productive and satisfying work life is a task too
important to ignore.
Mel. (2005). Ready or Not, Here Comes Life. New York: Simon
Ready or Not, Here Life Comes. (2005). Book by Mel Levine. Review by Virginia Gordon. Simon & Schuster. 304 pages. Price: $26.00. ISBN 0-7432-6224-7.