Competency-Based Career Paths

A tool that would help students ‘game’ their careers and give them a clearer path to their future jobs while they’re still in school.

Universities work to prepare students both academically and professionally for their future careers. But three entrepreneurs and graduates of the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania thought that many schools might wait until it’s too late—junior and senior year—to encourage undergraduates to pursue activities related to their professional development, such as networking, résumé building, and setting up online professional profiles.

That’s why Mark Visco, who earned his bachelor’s of business in marketing in 2014, thought that technology might offer a better solution. “We wanted to build a tool that would help students ‘game’ their careers and give them a clearer path to their future jobs while they’re still in school,” says Visco. “They can work toward the future, rather than look backward.”

To gain a better understanding of what’s necessary for career development, Visco first completed an internship in the university’s career services department. Then he and a friend majoring in computer science developed the prototype for

Suitable, which took first place in a citywide business competition. Today, Visco serves as Suitable’s CEO, and two other Pitt graduates—his brother Dominic, whose degree is in computer engineering, and Laura Strzeletz, whose degree is in communications—act as chief technology officer and marketing executive, respectively.

Suitable is a competency-based platform that walks undergraduates through the intermediary steps they need to take to achieve their larger career goals. For instance, if a student’s goal is to land an entry-level job in a particular company,

Suitable “provides recommendations for how to build competencies required, such as entering a business plan competition, conducting a research project, or assuming leadership roles on campus,” says Visco. Students can track their activities, see how they stack up against other users, and create portfolios of their work. When they’re under consideration for jobs and internships, students also can give employers permission to view their portfolios.

After Suitable piloted its platform with the freshman and sophomore classes at the University of Pittsburgh’s College of Business Administration, it expanded the pilot to several thousand more students at partner business schools, including those at Arizona State University and Penn State Erie, The Behrend College. Schools pay a yearly subscription to sign on as many students and employers as they like, which usually averages to about US$5 per student.

The College of Business Administration has used Suitable to support its Outside of the Classroom Curriculum (OCC), which includes activities that develop students in ten core professional competencies, ranging from leadership development and communication skills to cultural engagement and relationship management. Suitable “provides a web and mobile interface where students can keep track of their level of completion across each competency, share their progress via social media outlets, and produce a summary that can be shared with recruiters,” explains Audrey Murrell, an associate dean with the college. The school uses the platform’s analytics tools to track data on student participation and progress, as well as create data reports for its assurance of learning activities and accreditation reporting. Such automatic tracking of student activities is “invaluable,” says Murrell.

In the future, she adds, the school plans to develop its use of the platform through push notifications and electronic badges to engage students more fully in competency-building activities outside the classroom.

As Suitable notes on its website, “a diploma does not equal a job.” To land their first jobs, Visco stresses, students also must have accumulated skills, experiences, and relationships that align with their future aspirations. Too often, he adds, “students are just doing activities to have something to talk about during interviews, but they’re really just making things up as they go along. We created Suitable to give them a vehicle to articulate how their activities can manifest into professional value.”