The self-assessment process goes on naturally all the time. People ask you to clarify what you mean, you make a purchasing decision, or you begin a new relationship. You react to the world and the world reacts to you. How you
understand these interactions and any changes you might make because of them are part of the natural process of self-discovery. There is, however, a more comprehensive and efficient way to approach self-assessment with regard to employment.
Because self-assessment can become a complex exercise, we have distilled it into a seven-step process that provides an effective basis for undertaking a job search. The seven steps include the following:
- Understanding your personal traits
- Identifying your personal values
- Calculating your economic needs
- Exploring your longer-term goals
- Enumerating your skill base
- Recognizing your preferred skills
- Assessing skills needing further development
As you work through your self-assessment, you might want to create a worksheet similar to the one shown in Exhibit 1.1, starting on the following page. Or you might want to keep a journal of the thoughts you have as you undergo this process. There will be many opportunities to revise your selfassessment as you start down the path of seeking a career.
Step 1 Understand Your Personal Traits
Each person has a unique personality that he or she brings to the job search process. Gaining a better understanding of your personal traits can help you evaluate job and career choices. Identifying these traits and then finding employment that allows you to draw on at least some of them can create a rewarding and fulfilling work experience. If potential employment doesn’t allow you to use these preferred traits, it is important to decide whether you can find other ways to express them or whether you would be better off not considering this type of job. Interests and hobbies pursued outside of work hours can be one way to use personal traits you don’t have an opportunity to draw on in your work. For example, if you consider yourself an outgoing person and the kinds of jobs you are examining allow little contact with other people, you may be able to achieve the level of interaction that is comfortable for you outside of your work setting. If such a compromise seems impractical or otherwise unsatisfactory, you probably should explore only jobs that provide the interaction you want and need on the job.
Step 1. Understand Your Personal Traits
- The personal traits that describe me are (Include all of the words that describe you.) The ten personal traits that most accurately describe me are (List these ten traits.)
Step 2. Identify Your Personal Values
- Working conditions that are important to me include (List working conditions that would have to exist for you to accept a position.) The values that go along with my working conditions are (Write down the values that correspond to each working condition.) Some additional values I’ve decided to include are (List those values you identify as you conduct this job search.)
Step 3. Calculate Your Economic Needs
- My estimated minimum annual salary requirement is (Write the salary you have calculated based on your budget.) Starting salaries for the positions I’m considering are (List the name of each job you are considering and the associated starting salary.)
Step 4. Explore Your Longer-Term Goals
- My thoughts on longer-term goals right now are (Jot down some of your longer-term goals as you know them right now.)
Step 5. Enumerate Your Skill Base
- The general skills I possess are (List the skills that underlie tasks you are able to complete.)
The specific skills I possess are (List more technical or specific skills that you possess, and indicate your level of expertise.) General and specific skills that I want to promote to employers for the
jobs I’m considering are (List general and specific skills for each type of job you are considering.)
Step 6. Recognize Your Preferred Skills
- Skills that I would like to use on the job include (List skills that you hope to use on the job, and indicate how often you’d like to use them.)
Step 7. Assess Skills Needing Further Development
- Some skills that I’ll need to acquire for the jobs I’m considering include (Write down skills listed in job advertisements or job descriptions that you don’t currently possess.) I believe I can build these skills by (Describe how you plan to acquire these skills.)
Many young adults who are not very confident about their employability will downplay their need for income. They will say, “Money is not all that important if I love my work.” But if you begin to document exactly what you need for housing, transportation, insurance, clothing, food, and utilities, you will begin to understand that some jobs cannot meet your financial needs and it doesn’t matter how wonderful the job is. If you have to worry each payday about bills and other financial obligations, you won’t be very effective on the job. Begin now to be honest with yourself about your needs.
Begin the self-assessment process by creating an inventory of your personal traits. Make a list of as many words as possible to describe yourself. Words like accurate, creative, future-oriented, relaxed, or structured are just a few examples. In addition, you might ask people who know you well how they might describe you.
Focus on Selected Personal Traits. Of all the traits you identified, select the ten you believe most accurately describe you. Keep track of these ten traits.
Consider Your Personal Traits in the Job Search Process. As you begin exploring jobs and careers, watch for matches between your personal traits and the job descriptions you read. Some jobs will require many personal traits you know you possess, and others will not seem to match those traits.
A researcher’s work, for example, requires an attention to detail, self-discipline, motivation, curiosity, and observation. Researchers often work on the same project for an extended period of time and they tend to work alone or in a small group, with limited opportunities to interact with others. Professors, on the other hand, must interact regularly with students and colleagues to carry out their teaching program. Educators need strong interpersonal and verbal skills, imagination, and a good sense of humor. They must enjoy being in front of groups and must become skilled at presenting information using a variety of methods to appeal to various learning styles.
Your ability to respond to changing conditions, your decision-making ability, productivity, creativity, and verbal skills all have a bearing on your success in and enjoyment of your work life. To better guarantee success, be sure to take the time needed to understand these traits in yourself.
Step 2 Identify Your Personal Values
Your personal values affect every aspect of your life, including employment, and they develop and change as you move through life. Values can be defined as principles that we hold in high regard, qualities that are important and
desirable to us. Some values aren’t ordinarily connected to work (love, beauty, color, light, relationships, family, or religion), and others are (autonomy, cooperation, effectiveness, achievement, knowledge, and security). Our values
determine, in part, the level of satisfaction we feel in a particular job.
Define Acceptable Working Conditions. One facet of employment is the set of working conditions that must exist for someone to consider taking a job.
Each of us would probably create a unique list of acceptable working conditions, but items that might be included on many people’s lists are the amount of money you would need to be paid, how far you are willing to drive or travel, the amount of freedom you want in determining your own schedule, whether you would be working with people or data or things, and the types of tasks you would be willing to do. Your conditions might include statements of working conditions you will not accept; for example, you might not be willing to work at night or on weekends or holidays.
If you were offered a job tomorrow, what conditions would have to exist for you to realistically consider accepting the position? Take some time and make a list of these conditions.
Realize Associated Values. Your list of working conditions can be used to create an inventory of your values relating to jobs and careers you are exploring. For example, if one of your conditions stated that you wanted to earn at least $30,000 per year, the associated value would be financial gain. If another condition was that you wanted to work with a friendly group of people, the value that went along with that might be belonging or interaction with people.
Relate Your Values to the World of Work. As you read the job descriptions you come across either in this book, in newspapers and magazines, or online, think about the values associated with each position.
For example, civil engineers work on almost every facility that is essential to modern life, from smart highways to green buildings to high-tech transit systems and spacecraft. Associated values include community service, development, and improvement, as well as meeting the challenges of pollution, traffic congestion, safe drinking water, and efficient energy.
At least some of the associated values in the field you’re exploring should match those you extracted from your list of working conditions. Take a second look at any values that don’t match up. How important are they to you? What will happen if they are not satisfied on the job? Can you incorporate those personal values elsewhere? Your answers need to be brutally honest. As you continue your exploration, be sure to add to your list any additional values that occur to you.
Step 3 Calculate Your Economic Needs
Each of us grew up in an environment that provided for certain basic needs, such as food and shelter, and, to varying degrees, other needs that we now consider basic, such as cable television, e-mail, or an automobile. Needs such as privacy, space, and quiet, which at first glance may not appear to be monetary needs, may add to housing expenses and so should be considered as you examine your economic needs. For example, if you place a high value on a large, open living space for yourself, it would be difficult to satisfy that need without an associated high housing cost, especially in a densely populated city environment.
As you prepare to move into the world of work and become responsible for meeting your own basic needs, it is important to consider the salary you will need to be able to afford a satisfying standard of living. The three-step
process outlined here will help you plan a budget, which in turn will allow you to evaluate the various career choices and geographic locations you are considering. The steps include (1) develop a realistic budget, (2) examine starting salaries, and (3) use a cost-of-living index.
Develop a Realistic Budget. Each of us has certain expectations for the kind of lifestyle we want to maintain. To begin the process of defining your economic needs, it will be helpful to determine what you expect to spend on routine monthly expenses. These expenses include housing, food, transportation, entertainment, utilities, loan repayments, and revolving charge accounts. You may not currently spend anything for certain items, but you probably will have to once you begin supporting yourself. As you develop this budget, be generous in your estimates, but keep in mind any items that could be reduced or eliminated. If you are not sure about the cost of a certain item, talk with family or friends who would be able to give you a realistic estimate.
If this is new or difficult for you, start to keep a log of expenses right now. You may be surprised at how much you actually spend each month for food or stamps or magazines. Household expenses and personal grooming items can often loom very large in a budget, as can auto repairs or home maintenance.
Income taxes must also be taken into consideration when examining salary requirements. State and local taxes vary, so it is difficult to calculate exactly the effect of taxes on the amount of income you need to generate. To roughly estimate the gross income necessary to generate your minimum annual salary requirement, multiply the minimum salary you have calculated by a factor of 1.35. The resulting figure will be an approximation of what your gross income would need to be, given your estimated expenses.
Examine Starting Salaries. Starting salaries for each of the career tracks are provided throughout this book. These salary figures can be used in conjunction with the cost-of-living index (discussed in the next section) to determine
whether you would be able to meet your basic economic needs in a given geographic location.
Use a Cost-of-Living Index. If you are thinking about trying to get a job in a geographic region other than the one where you now live, understanding differences in the cost of living will help you come to a more informed decision about making a move. By using a cost-of-living index, you can compare salaries offered and the cost of living in different locations with what you know about the salaries offered and the cost of living in your present location.
Many variables are used to calculate the cost-of-living index. Often included are housing, groceries, utilities, transportation, health care, clothing, and entertainment expenses. Right now you do not need to worry about
the details associated with calculating a given index. The main purpose of this exercise is to help you understand that pay ranges for entry-level positions may not vary greatly, but the cost of living in different locations can vary tremendously.
Suppose you live in Juneau, Alaska, and you are interested in working as a mechanical engineer. The U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (bls.gov) reports that the approximate annual salary for B.S. mechanical engineers is about $50,000. Perhaps the cold weather is starting to get to you and you’re considering moving to Honolulu, Hawaii, or San Diego, California. You know you can live on $50,000 in Juneau, but you want to be able to equal that salary in other locations you’re considering. How much will you need to earn in those locations to do this? Figuring the cost of living for each city will show you.
In any cost-of-living index, the number 100 represents the national average cost of living, and each city is assigned an index number based on current prices in that city for the items included in the index (housing, food, salary, etc.). As you can imagine, these indices are constantly changing. In this example, Juneau’s index is 100.0, Honolulu’s is 198.0, and San Diego’s is 169.5. In other words, it costs nearly twice as much to live in Hawaii and about one and a half times as much to live in California as it does to live in Alaska. The following table shows you how much you would have to earn in each of these cities to maintain the same
style of living as you would have in Alaska on a $45,000 salary.
This means that you’ll need to make significantly more in both warmer cities to maintain your current standard of living. On the other hand, just think of the money you’ll save on not having to pay heating costs and for winter clothes!
If you have an aversion to math, there are a variety of salary converters online that will do the work for you. Simply type “salary conversion” or “salary calculator” into a search engine and you’ll find plenty of free choices.
You can work through a similar exercise for any type of job you are considering and for many locations when current salary information is available. It will be worth your time to undertake this analysis if you are seriously considering
a relocation. By doing so you will be able to make an informed choice.
Step 4 Explore Your Longer-Term Goals
There is no question that when we first begin working, our goals are to use our skills and education in a job that will reward us with employment, income, and status relative to the preparation we brought with us to this position. If we are not being paid as much as we feel we should for our level of education or if job demands don’t provide the intellectual stimulation we had hoped for, we experience unhappiness and as a result often seek other employment.
Most jobs we consider “good” are those that fulfill our basic “lower-level” needs of security, food, clothing, shelter, income, and productive work. But even when our basic needs are met and our jobs are secure and productive, we as individuals are constantly changing. As we change, the demands and expectations we place on our jobs may change. Fortunately, some jobs grow and change with us, and this explains why some people are happy throughout many years in a job.
But more often people are bigger than the jobs they fill. We have more goals and needs than any job could satisfy. These are “higher-level” needs of self-esteem, companionship, affection, and an increasing desire to feel we are employing ourselves in the most effective way possible. Not all of these higher-level needs can be met through employment, but for as long as we are employed, we increasingly demand that our jobs play their part in moving us along the path to fulfillment.
Another obvious but important fact is that we change as we mature. Although our jobs also have the potential for change, they may not change as frequently or as markedly as we do. There are increasingly fewer one-job, one-employer careers; we must think about a work future that may involve voluntary or forced moves from employer to employer. Because of that very real possibility, we need to take advantage of the opportunities in each position
we hold. Acquiring the skills and competencies associated with each position will keep us viable and attractive as employees. This is particularly true in a job market that not only is technology/computer dependent, but also is
populated with more and more small, self-transforming organizations rather than the large, seemingly stable organizations of the past.
If you are considering a position as a petroleum engineer with a major oil company, you would gain a better perspective on this career if you talked to a recent graduate who is now working full-time at the company; a mid-level engineer, who has been with the company five to eight years; and a senior manager or director, who has been with the company or in the industry for more than ten years. Ask these people to grant you an informational interview, and come prepared with questions about their experiences with the company and in the industry, advice they have for new engineers, and how they obtained their current positions.
Step 5 Enumerate Your Skill Base
In terms of the job search, skills can be thought of as capabilities that can be developed in school, at work, or by volunteering and then used in specific job settings. Many studies have documented the kinds of skills that employers seek in entry-level applicants. For example, some of the most desired skills for individuals interested in the teaching profession are the ability to interact effectively with students one-on-one, to manage a classroom, to adapt to varying situations as necessary, and to get involved in school activities. Business employers have also identified important qualities, including enthusiasm for the employer’s product or service, a businesslike mind, the ability to follow written or oral instructions, the ability to demonstrate selfcontrol, the confidence to suggest new ideas, the ability to communicate with all members of a group, an awareness of cultural differences, and loyalty, to name just a few. You will find that many of these skills are also in the repertoire of qualities demanded in your college major.
To be successful in obtaining any given job, you must be able to demonstrate that you possess a certain mix of skills that will allow you to carry out the duties required by that job. This skill mix will vary a great deal from job to job; to determine the skills necessary for the jobs you are seeking, you can read job advertisements or more generic job descriptions, such as those found later in this book. If you want to be effective in the job search, you must directly show employers that you possess the skills needed to be successful in filling the position. These skills will initially be described on your résumé and then discussed again during the interview process.
Skills are either general or specific. To develop a list of skills relevant to employers, you must first identify the general skills you possess, then list specific skills you have to offer, and, finally, examine which of these skills employers are seeking.
Identify Your General Skills. Because you possess or will possess a college degree, employers will assume that you can read and write, perform certain basic computations, think critically, and communicate effectively. Employers will want to see that you have acquired these skills, and they will want to know which additional general skills you possess.
One way to begin identifying skills is to write an experiential diary. An experiential diary lists all the tasks you were responsible for completing for each job you’ve held and then outlines the skills required to do those tasks. You may list several skills for any given task. This diary allows you to distinguish between the tasks you performed and the underlying skills required to complete those tasks. Here’s an example:
For each job or experience you have participated in, develop a worksheet based on the example shown here. On a résumé, you may want to describe these skills rather than simply listing tasks. Skills are easier for the employer to appreciate, especially when your experience is very different from the employment you are seeking. In addition to helping you identify general skills, this experiential diary will prepare you to speak more effectively in an interview about the qualifications you possess.
Identify Your Specific Skills. It may be easier to identify your specific skills because you can definitely say whether you can speak other languages, program a computer, draft a map or diagram, or edit a document using appropriate symbols and terminology.
Using your experiential diary, identify the points in your history where you learned how to do something very specific, and decide whether you have a beginning, intermediate, or advanced knowledge of how to use that particular skill. Right now, be sure to list every specific skill you have, and don’t consider whether you like using the skill. Write down a list of specific skills you have acquired and the level of competence you possess—beginning, intermediate, or advanced.
Relate Your Skills to Employers. You probably have thought about a couple of different jobs you might be interested in obtaining, and one way to begin relating the general and specific skills you possess to a potential employer’s needs is to read actual advertisements for these types of positions (see Part Two for resources listing actual job openings).
Let’s say that your engineering internship or co-op job has been in the manufacturing sector and you have worked on lean production projects, statistical process control, and simulation modeling. When you apply to other manufacturing companies, your tasks and the skills that you used will be widely understood. But
what if you are also interested in exploring consulting career opportunities? How do you relate your manufacturing skills to the needs of a consulting firm?
The first step is to spend some time exploring the websites of the consulting firms that you are interested in. What types of projects do they feature? Where do they work? Who are some of their clients? What values do they talk about? If their websites list positions available, what are the skills and qualities that they seek in job candidates? Make a list for each company. When you begin to construct your résumé and prepare for interviews, this information will help you focus your communication on the things that are most important to this type of employer.
The second step is to think about how you did your intern or co-op job, not just what you did. For example, did you collect data that you and/or others analyzed? Did you have to give regular reports to your team and/or supervisor on the work that you were doing? Were there regular meetings where your team had to make presentations to senior management? Did you interact with suppliers to make sure that they understood the requirements of the manufacturer? Did you make presentations to your team, to management, or to outside groups? Did you learn and use software applications not available to you on-campus? Did you make recommendations that were implemented by your team, unit, division, or company? These are the types of skills that a consulting firm will want to know that you possess.
There is not a job description, in any field, that doesn’t stress the need for good communication skills. Saying that you have them, does not make it so. Therefore, make a list of examples of your communication style from both classroom and work situations. You might consider developing a portfolio of your best
writing samples, including technical papers, PowerPoint presentations, business correspondence, and so on. If you or your school have confidentiality agreements with any people or organizations, make sure you have their written permission to use any writing sample that is based on your work with them. In addition, if any of your writing samples are team efforts, be sure to give credit to other members of your team. If you didn’t play a significant role in writing a team paper, it is best not to use it in a portfolio because it is not an example of your best work.
EXAMPLES OF YOUR COMMUNICATION SKILLS
Weekly reports to teams at your intern or co-op job PowerPoint presentations on classroom or work projects Instructions written for school project teams Letters written to secure funding or supplies for a school project or activity Minutes from student organization meetings Final reports in capstone courses
Step 6 Recognize Your Preferred Skills
In the previous section you developed a comprehensive list of skills that relate to particular career paths that are of interest to you. You can now relate these to skills that you prefer to use. We all use a wide range of skills (some researchers say individuals have a repertoire of about five hundred skills), but we may not particularly be interested in using all of them in our work. There may be some skills that come to us more naturally or that we use successfully time and time again and that we want to continue to use; these are best described as our preferred skills. For this exercise use the list of skills that you created for the previous section, and decide which of them you are most interested in using in future work and how often you would like to use them. You might be interested in using some skills only occasionally, while others you would like to use more regularly. You probably also have skills that you hope you can use constantly.
As you examine job announcements, look for matches between this list of preferred skills and the qualifications described in the advertisements. These skills should be highlighted on your résumé and discussed in job interviews.
Step 7 Assess Skills Needing Further Development
Previously you compiled a list of general and specific skills required for given positions. You already possess some of these skills; those that remain to be developed are your underdeveloped skills.
If you are just beginning the job search, there may be gaps between the qualifications required for some of the jobs you’re considering and the skills you possess. The thought of having to admit to and talk about these underdeveloped
skills, especially in a job interview, is a frightening one. One way to put a healthy perspective on this subject is to target and relate your exploration of underdeveloped skills to the types of positions you are seeking. Recognizing these shortcomings and planning to overcome them with either on-the-job training or additional formal education can be a positive way to address the concept of underdeveloped skills.
On your worksheet or in your journal, make a list of up to five general or specific skills required for the positions you’re interested in that you don’t currently possess. For each item list an idea you have for specific action you could take to acquire that skill. Do some brainstorming to come up with possible actions. If you have a hard time generating ideas, talk to people currently working in this type of position, professionals in your college career services office, trusted friends, family members, or members of related professional associations.
In the chapter on interviewing, we will discuss in detail how to effectively address questions about underdeveloped skills. Generally speaking, though, employers want genuine answers to these types of questions. They want you to reveal “the real you,” and they also want to see how you answer difficult questions. In taking the positive, targeted approach discussed previously, you show the employer that you are willing to continue to learn and that you have a plan for strengthening your job qualifications.