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Choosing a Career Path: Self-Assessment


Some people know exactly what they want to do in life. Some people happen upon a field or fall into a profession with fitting results. Then there are the people with a decision to make. Choosing a career can be one of the most stressful and painstaking experiences in life. It is a commitment, one that will define and identify you as a person, determine and texture how your days are spent, and influence where and in what kind of communities you will live. Even with a degree in hand, the decision can be fraught with anxiety and ambivalence.

The platitude tossed around is do what you love. There a a few rejoinders to that piece of advice. Do you know what you love to do? Do you love more than one thing? Will you love it next year or ten years from now? Will you love it after further years of study or training? Will you love it as it exists in the marketplace or a bureaucracy? Are there actual salaries attached to what you love?

There is no foolproof formula in choosing a career. You may think you need to choose a career on the rise, or you may be swayed by the careers of family, friends or acquaintances, but none of these influences may point you to a career that will prove satisfying and successful. It is a personal choice, one that should involve all of your complexities and idiosyncrasies. Don't reduce yourself to type or an easy profile. There are a great many tools and tips to help along your decision but, first and foremost, turn the process inward.


Self-Assessment is a ubiquitous tool in career centers and workplace environments. Central to self-assessment is a battery of tests and inventories, built to provoke self-awareness and self-clarity. We all know ourselves to a certain point but that knowledge can be reductive, misleading, underdeveloped, or simply not useful in a career search.

Career counselors and other outside parties can provide self-assessment tools, as well as interpretative help, but self-assessment starts and ends with you, and can start as soon as now. They key is to be honest. Your answers are not going to be judged or ranked or held up to a cultural standard. Below are introductory prompts, starter questions to get you thinking about yourself in different ways, from different angles. CareerOneStop, from the Department of Labor, provides self-assessment resources and links ( Also, for a more intensive and systematic self-assessment, consider the Parachute Workbook in What Color is Your Parachute, by Richard N. Bolles, a bestselling and highly-regarded resource in the job-hunting realm.

  • Personal Values: What is important to you? What in the world affects you? What at home affects you? What is your personal code? What kinds of people do you respect? Who are your role models? What do these people have in common? What makes you speak up and speak out? What causes do you support? What do you believe in?
  • Work Values: Do you work well independently? Do you work well in group settings? How do you take direction? How well do you provide direction? How inclined are you to offer help? Do you yearn for recognition? Do you rely on validation? Is security a priority? Is success a priority? Is personal gain a priority? What is your definition of good work? Of honest work? Do you want tangible results? Do you want things to be fair?
  • Interests: What did you study in school? What did you take as electives? What extracurriculars did you participate in? What do you do in your spare time? What hobbies do you have? What are you enthusiastic about? What do you read? What do you watch? What do you listen to? What do you talk about? What interests have fallen by the wayside? What do you always think about getting into and never do? What are things you wish you did more often? What interests of yours would surprise people?
  • Abilities: What skills do you have? What are you good at? What do you excel at? What can do you with competence? What passable skills do you have that need work? What do you think you would be good at? What can you do for a long duration? What can you do in short concentrated spurts of time? What can you do with practice? What can you do intuitively and instinctively? What skills of yours emerge in group settings?
  • Past & Future: Where did you grow up? What was your childhood like? How has geography influenced you? How has community influenced you? How has family influenced you? How has school influenced you? Where else have you lived? Where do you want to live? How do you see yourself ten years from now? Do you want a family? Do you want to travel? Do you want prestige?
  • Traits: Describe your personality, in full: the dominant traits, the sometimes features, the rare exceptions. Make a long list. Personality type inventories will put you in a category at the end but the questions themselves can help you find adjectives and descriptors that capture the you-ness of you. Myers-Briggs, Kiersey, Human Metrics, and 16 Personality Types are a few popular personality tests.

Think of your answers as guidelines, as reminders, as touchstones. Careers can appear ideal, jobs can seem interesting and cool, but if they clash with your personal skills and sensibilities, they are best left to other people in the world. As you delve into the vast realm of career information, let your sense of self dictate your decisions.

  • The Riley Guide: Self-Assessment Resources (
  • O*Net Online (
  • What Color Is Your Parachute 2010, by Richard N. Bolles, Ten Speed Press, 2010
  • (
  • "Explore Occupations" CareerOneStop (

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