Successful Career Change Starts with Self-Assessment

Successful Career Change Starts with Self-Assessment

“It’s never too late to be what you might have been.” – George Eliot

Why Is Career Self-Assessment or Self-Exploration So Important to Career Reinvention?

Many of my clients who are considering a career transition or reinvention have never taken the time to evaluate their skills, values, interests, and other parameters that are important to them in their life and work.

They often have gone directly from college into the working world, taking on role after role, and never really assessing what makes them happy.

It is only when they find themselves miserable, frustrated, and unhappy that they begin to question everything.

It is at this moment that career self-exploration is so important —

To change careers or transition to a new field, you must go back to the basics — knowing who you are, and mapping out a strategy for a transition that fits who you are.

This is where self-assessment fits in. I like to refer to it as “self-exploration” and not “self-assessment,” which frankly sounds too clinical.

What Is Career Self-Assessment or Self-Exploration?

Self-exploration is a period in your life when you step back from your busy, day-to-day activities and look inside to take stock of knowing who you are (a sense of identity) and what is important to you.

Self-assessment is usually one of the first steps (and in my mind, the MOST important one) in career reinvention.

It is a process by which you gather information about yourself (skills, strengths, interests, personal brand, and communication style) in order to make better career decisions, and help you decide how to transition into a new field.

During this phase, it is important to work with a professional who is trained in administering and interpreting career assessments. While working with a career counselor or career coach, you’ll go through a variety of formal (objective) and informal (subjective) assessments to gather information that will be helpful in the career reinvention process.

Objective assessments are typically developed by assessment experts and provide a third-party viewpoint. Usually, a career coach or assessment expert reviews and interprets the results with the client.

Subjective assessments tend to be more informal, such as a homework assignment or an exercise that you would do by yourself (questions, journalism, visualization exercises, meditation, and obtaining feedback from others). This will help you get a clear understanding of what is important to you and to help you envision the future.

Why Is Any of This Important?

When you step out of the day-to-day grind and slow down and look inside, you begin to get in touch with a part of yourself which can’t be tapped during the busy lives we lead.

A period of self-reflection can help you:

  • Learn more about yourself – explore your interests, skills and strengths, career and life values, career motivators, behavioral and communication style – so that you can manage your career for maximum fulfillment and balance.
  • Learn about yourself to help you pinpoint and brainstorm options for a new career and/or field when you are considering a career transition.
  • Become a foundation for making decisions about which fields and work situations are best for you (job function, industry, types of companies).
  • Understand how you react and behave in certain situations, and how your behavior can enhance or help derail your success.
  • Enhance your self-esteem as you begin to explore and see your unique skills and contributions.
  • See patterns and themes, and provide a focus for prioritizing options for moving forward.
  • Understand what differentiates yourself from others in the marketplace so that you can more effectively market “your career brand.”

What Are the Different Parameters to Look at During Career Self-exploration?

During the self-exploration phase, you might want to consider evaluating all or some of the following:

  • Values
  • Interests
  • Personality
  • Skills Inventory
  • Strengths
  • Behavioral and Communication Style
  • Personal brand – what differentiates you from the competition?
  • Entrepreneurial Propensity
  • Motivators
  • Leadership Profile
  • Work-Life Balance and preferred lifestyle

We can’t address all of these in this short article. Let’s look at the three most important parameters that you should consider:

  1. Your Values  

For me, understanding your values is probably one of the most important (and frankly the least concrete) of all the assessment parameters.

Why? Because values touch the core of who we are, why we work, and what we want to get out of our work. And, if there is a mismatch between your values and those of the organization for which you work, this mostly likely will lead to career dissatisfaction and potential illness and undue stress.

Here are some questions to ponder:

  • What is important to you in your life and career? This could include achievement, work-life balance, high salary, giving back to the community, time for hobbies, etc.
  • Which values are the most important to you?Can you rank this above list? If given a choice between some of your values, which ones would come out on top?
  • What motivates you and is important to you?

Susan Whitcomb in Job Search Magic suggests that you also explore “fulfillment” and “identity” by asking yourself the following questions:

  • Why do you work? What is your purpose in working? What difference do you want to make?
  • What kind of legacy do you want to leave?
  • What gifts or strengths do you bring to the workplace?
  • Who do you become when you do what you love to do?
  • How do you define yourself?
  • Who are your role models? What do you admire about the work they do?

  2. Your Interests and Passions  

Finding things you are interested in and passionate about most likely will lead to enjoyment and success.

How can you find what you are passionate about and what interests you the most?

Reflect on your past and the things to which you have been drawn. When you think about your past, which types of activities attract you? What activities do you love to do, and would do even if you were not getting paid, or getting paid very little?


  • Do you enjoy working with people, data, or things?
  • Are you more of a thinker or do you prefer some form of creative expression?
  • Do you prefer to build and create organizations? Are you more of a doer?
  • Do you like to organize things?
  • Are you drawn to helping others?
  • Are there any particular job titles, or general job categories that categorize the work you like to do?
  • Are there any particular industries that attract you?

  3. Your Favorite Skills  

Skills are important in terms of identifying the right work function – the tasks and position(s) at which you can be successful and be the happiest.

It is important to make a distinction between the skills you are good at and those you are good at AND from which you get the greatest satisfaction.

The skills that give you the greatest satisfaction, called “motivated skills,” typically lead to career satisfaction and should be central to your focus in career transition.

I can speak to this personally from my own experience. I remember my first semester in business school when I discovered that I “can do the numbers.” I also discovered I am painstakingly slow at doing anything with numbers and more importantly, that I hate being in a job where there is a high level of numerical analysis.

Now, had I known that, would I have gone to business school? Probably not!! I might have studied a different field more in line with my skills and interests. Unfortunately, I did not undergo any type of self-exploration myself until my mid-40s when I was considering a career change. And then it was too late as I went to business school when I was 29.

Here are some questions for you to think about:

  • In your past roles, what have you enjoyed the most?
  • Which skills gave you the most satisfaction?
  • Which skills did you like the least?
  • Which activities, when you do them, stress you out or depress you?
  • Do you prefer to use a few skill areas and be a specialist in one career option?
  • Do you like to use a broad variety of skills and be more of a generalist?

After you have asked yourself these questions, and evaluated your values, interests, and skills, you will be ready to take  the next step toward career transition or reinvention.

The Bottom Line on Career Change Assessment

If you really haven’t gone through this period of self-exploration, you could be jumping into a new career that won’t be an improvement over where you are.. This discovery process can be involved, complex, and even fatiguing, but it also can be illuminating and help guide you to the right career. In part 2 of this series, take a look at how a DISC assessment can help you refine your career options.

More About Successful Career Change:

Randi BussinAbout the author…

Job-Hunt’s Career Change Expert, Randi Bussin, founder and president of Aspire!, is a career coach and counselor with more than 25 years of business, entrepreneurial, and career counseling experience, including DISC assessments. Randi has experienced several major career transitions (from corporate to small business owner to career counselor to coach) and personally understands the effort and commitment involved. She has appeared on public television’s “Job Doctor,” and is a frequent contributor to Bridgestar’s Leadership Matters newsletter, The Ladders job-search Web site ( and her own blog, which offers advice on career transition, job search, and labor market trends. Follow Randi on Twitter @Aspire4Success.
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