Planning Your Career Based on Self Awareness

The premise of the “self-awareness” approach in career planning is to understand your personality traits, strengths, values, interests, and intelligences through testing and then use the results to plan your career.  Taking these tests are becoming more popular because they are easily accessible on the internet and are relatively cheap; considering how important career planning should be,  I cannot come up with a reason why you should not take them.

I was first introduced to a Gallup strengths test while attending a MBA program at the University of Maryland, and I can remember my class being enthralled by a consultant who discussed the results with us. It was stimulating affirming your dominant strengths, learning about your hidden strengths, and finding your weaknesses. A couple of things make the results of this test, a ranked list of your strengths, very powerful. First and foremost, you have a report that clarifies precisely what you should be doing. You can share the report with your supervisors, teammates, and colleagues, so they know how you can make the biggest impact. Second, you can use the results to plan how you want to develop the related skills in your skill set. Finally, I think the results of this test correlate with the craftsman’s approach in career planning; your highest ranking strengths are essentially the same as your “career capital” – something you should commit to developing an expertise in for the rest of your life (Cal Newport talks about the craftsman’s approach and “career capital” in his book “So Good They Can’t Ignore You”).

Case Study – I took the above mentioned tests to get a better understanding of how they work, and could be used with career planning. Personality Test. The test has 60 questions and it took me about 15 minutes to complete. The personality report gives you your personality type, a four letter acronym, which represents one of sixteen possible personality types (see table below), and then provides a discussion about the trait and a percentage of how you favor one trait over its compliment. And with my results, I was surprised by some of these percentages. This type of test is useful to generate a broad list of possible skills you might want to learn and it can be used by all types of professionals.

Personality Types

Personality Types Interests Inventory. This test has 75 questions and it took me about 20 minutes to complete. I found this test to be an interesting way to learn about your inner motivations; in fact, the entire results report was enlightening to me.  I like how the report compares your results with the entire population over six different interest areas (based on Dr. Holland’s theory): realistic, investigative, artistic, social, enterprising, and conventional. Regarding career planning, you are left with a primary and secondary interest area – you can get a basic understanding of what careers might interest you. Skills Profiler. This test has 35 questions and it took me about 10 minutes to complete. As you take the test, you assess your experience level for 35 different skill areas. These skill areas are transferable , which can be used across various subjects and disciplines. You can take either a “student” or “career changer” version of the test (and I took both and got essentially the same results). The results report is a table of suggested career categories ranked by a skill matching score.  In my table, there was a career option in the top three that I had not considered: “life, physical, & social sciences”.  A weakness of this test is that it relies heavily on self-evaluation.

Gallup Strength Finder.  The test has 177 questions and it took me about 20 minutes to complete.  I chose the cheaper results report, which provides a ranked list of five strengths; it is also possible to purchase the complete results report with a ranked list of thirty-four strengths. The report has three sections: awareness section where you learn about your top themes; application section with suggestions to develop your top themes; and achievement section with quotes related to your themes. Regarding career planning, I found the latter two sections to be exceptional in trying to make sense of your strengths. The second section has concrete actions you can take to improve your themes; the third section lets you hear what other professionals with the same themes are saying.  I recommend taking this test if you are in a highly skilled, competitive career field. As an aside, I have almost the same results taking the test this time as I did ten years ago.

Emotional Intelligence 2.0. In this groundbreaking book, Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves provide a test to assess your emotional intelligence (EQ). They also give you strategies to improve your EQ over time, which they argue increases your value in any profession. If you have a high EQ, you make be earmarked for leadership, team building, or HR. Taking this test is worthwhile because an effective career plan includes the development of related ‘soft skills’.

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