Self-knowledge can be a job seeker’s North Star. The better you know yourself, the more accurately you can determine how to invest your time and energy during the job search—whether you’re looking for a temporary gig or your dream job. By contrast, it’s difficult to make good decisions about your career without honestly acknowledging your likes and dislikes, experiences and skills, strengths and weaknesses, values, goals, and the environments in which you do your best work. Lacking self knowledge will make you more likely to end up treading professional water or embarking on a career path that doesn’t maximize your abilities.
But assessing these qualities is not a one-time affair. Because our personalities and experiences are complex and always evolving, it’s a good idea to periodically check in and reevaluate. Here are a few steps you can try:
Schedule time to take stock of your professional identity. If you’re actively seeking new work, an hour once a month could do the trick; if you have longer-term goals, think about setting a check-in reminder for once a quarter. Some jumping-off points to thoroughly consider:
- What is and is not included in your ideal job description? (Be sure to address not just what you enjoy doing most during a workday, but also the kinds of organizations and cultures that are the best fit for you.)
- What are your greatest professional accomplishments or your greatest professional curiosities?
- What kind of work makes you want to roll up your sleeves and spend time becoming great at?
- Do the jobs and organizations you’ve been interested in lately fit with your own professional goals?
- What are the key elements of your working style? (Do you like to work alone or collaboratively? Prefer a consistent workload or intense projects with time off in between? Thrive in a busy office with multiple tasks to juggle, or a quiet environment where you can concentrate deeply?)
Reflecting from time to time on your past professional and volunteer experiences can help illuminate what does and doesn’t work for you. Think back to each job: What did you enjoy most about it? Least? What were your biggest takeaways? What would you do differently if you were doing it again? Analyzing your past real-world experiences can help predict what will be a good fit in the future.
Feedback from colleagues, supervisors, professors, mentors, friends, and others can add up to valuable personal insight. Ask these people in your life to think about both your strengths and areas you could improve on—their answers will very likely help you assess how to build your skills and help elucidate the roles and organizations that will be your best fit.
Get some coaching
As impartial third-party observers, and professionals in the personality business, career counselors can be a very useful resource for soul-searching job seekers. They can act as sounding boards, ask thought-provoking questions, and remind you of possibilities you might have let go.
Getting a personal recommendation for a counselor is always a good start, but if you don’t know anyone who can give you a referral, the National Career Development Association’s Find A Counselor resource explains more about how career counseling can be helpful, and how to find a counselor you’ll jibe with.
Refuel your “inspiration tank”
It’s important to make time to do things that inspire you—whether that means scheduling some fun exercise, taking a trip to your favorite museum, or just setting aside a few minutes each day to consciously daydream. Knowing yourself requires taking care of yourself and giving yourself the room your personality needs to flourish.