Understanding yourself (full text)

Making a decision about which career you are best suited to isn't easy. However, understanding what you have to offer and what is important to you will really help you move forwards.

It's unlikely you will find a job that meets all of your criteria immediately after graduation. Inevitably, you will need to make compromises. However, once you have a clearer idea about your abilities, interests and motivations it will then be much easier to identify which direction you want to move in and where to target your job search.

Self assessment is useful also in helping you identify skills and attributes to highlight in your CV or when talking to companies.

Start by thinking about the following questions:

  • What sort of person am I?
  • What do I want out of a job/my career?
  • What do I want out of life?
  • What am I good at / enjoy doing?
  • What am I not good at / want to avoid?
  • What would my ideal job look like?

These may seem daunting questions but there are various tools available to help you work through them.  We have listed some of these tools on the self assessment and career matching tools| page.

The approach you take or the tool that you use is very much a matter of individual preference. However, you do need to look at all the different pieces of the complex jigsaw that is you.

Areas to think about

Take a look at each piece of this jigsaw; it's designed to help you consider the various aspects of you. Click on a piece of the jigsaw.

Skills & abilities

What do you enjoy doing? Are there things you do particularly well?  Look at all the different facets of your life – your degree, work experience and extra-curricular or voluntary activities. Think about specific skills such as languages as well as personal attributes and skills such as leadership, project management and creativity.   Ask friends and family what they think too.   Back to jigsaw diagram|


Are you naturally drawn towards or motivated by particular activities, interests or topics? Can this be incorporated into a career?
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What expertise have you gained through your education or employment? Is there specific knowledge you'd like to use? Think about any particular modules studied or understanding gained that you would like to apply in a career.
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Motivations & values

There are a number of inner factors which strongly influence what we need from our working life. Some people are motivated by financial rewards and status, others by intellectual stimulation or sense of purpose (like being able to help others).

What is important to you? What do you value? Remember to consider the bigger picture. If, for example, you are motivated by reward and status be realistic and consider how you can work your way up to promotion rather than just chasing elusive roles.
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Think about your approach to life, to working with other people, to taking in information and towards individual tasks. For example, do you prefer detail or are you more motivated by the big picture? Think about what comes naturally to you as this will give you an idea of your strengths (and also areas you may need to work on).
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When have you been motivated to succeed? What have been your main achievements in both your personal and professional life? What do these say about you as a person? If you are thinking 'But I don't have any' take a step back and ask friends, family, and other close contacts. Everybody has achievements but it can sometimes be easy to forget or undervalue them particularly when placed under the pressure of selling them in a job application.
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Personal preferences

Our previous experiences, personality and preferences all exert an influence on the type of work environment we are looking for. Think about the emphasis given to the team or individual, the level of formality and the focus placed on rules and procedures for example. What type of organisational culture is a good fit for you?
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External factors

Are there any external factors or constraints influencing where you can work or the type of work you can do?  There may be factors outside of your control such as the economy or changes to visa regulations or personal constraints.

Consider these carefully and determine the influence they exert on your decision making.

Try to be positive and open to , even if they don't seem beneficial immediately.  They may lead to you gaining valuable experience, contacts, and exposure to otherwise not widely publicised roles. Consider alternative ways of finding your way into a career, possibly in a corresponding role that will lead to a sideways move at a later date.

For example, if you are an international student wishing to pursue a career in the UK but finding difficulty doing so, think about returning home to build some experience and then returning at a later date to take up an experienced hire role.
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These may seem daunting questions but there are various tools available to help you work through them. See the Self assessment and career matching tools| page for some starting points.