The Case For Honest Self-Assessment


If you’re a regular reader of mine, you may know that one piece of advice I often recommend is to conduct a self-assessment. Taking stock of your assets and liabilities is good practice whether you’re just about to look for employment, you’re thinking about advancing in an organization or you’re happily content in your current role. Knowing yourself well and being able to articulate that knowledge is a wonderful thing.

With the value of self-assessment being said, let me add that unless you do so objectively and honestly, there’s little value in the results. So whether you’re in some facilitator-led group or you’re doing one of the numerous self-assessments online, answering each question put before you has to be answered truthfully or your results are skewed.

I have a personal regret that goes all the way back to my high school days with respect to this. I can still recall doing some career assessments conducted by my school’s guidance staff. Back then, I was working part-time for a Municipal Parks and Recreation Community Centre and was absolutely convinced that my future employment would continue to be in that field. Despite the direction to answer honestly, I gave in to the temptation of answering all the questions in such a way that I believed would direct the results to the field I was interested in. The results were predictable; I’d have a career working in the field of Recreation. To this day I wonder what might have revealed itself had I kept completely open to the process and answered each question without bias.

A colleague at work told me that she too succumbed to shaping her own results way back in her own high school days. While my part-time employment factored into my answers, the influence of her then boyfriend and where he was headed in life caused her to answer her questions with a lean to working in the Chemistry field. She actually started post-secondary school taking Chemistry and after a very brief time realized that for her it was the most boring thing she could experience. Both she and I are Employment Counsellors working in Social Services. Funny how these assessments don’t work out when you intentionally skew the answers and impact the results!

Now yesterday I had a fellow approach me with a different kind of issue. With my guidance, he had just completed 7 days of self-assessments. Like my high school Guidance staff, I too implored those in the class I led to answer truthfully and stay open to the possible results that each assessment generated. This gentleman thought he did so, but on the final day he suddenly realized after something I said in my closing remarks that he had not answered the questions completely honestly. He has an arthritic condition, and so when he answered all the questions put to him over those 7 days, he answered always with his limitation in mind.

The results in his case suggested to him that he’d be best working doing what he’s been doing for years. This not being an option, he now wonders what would the results be if he was to redo all the assessments given with no limitations to his thinking. In fact, he asked me if it was possible to get a blank assessment for each of the activities and do the work on his own. Obviously generating personal results matters to him because he’s asking to repeat a great deal of work he’s just done.

What I find particularly incredible is that I wager if you can recall doing some kind of career/self assessment in high school, you likely haven’t done another one since. Why do I find this incredible? Well, simply put we all evolve. So like me, you’ve changed since your high school days. You’ve developed new interests, your beliefs and values have shifted as you expose yourself to more people. Likewise, your knowledge of careers has expanded; positions exist that didn’t when you walked the high school halls. You’ve had experience working for various bosses, you know yourself differently and experience the world differently than you did as an adolescent teenager. So it stands to reason you should get to know yourself as you are now.

I see great value now in investing in some self-assessment every 10 years or thereabouts. Perhaps when some major life changes occur it would be a valuable exercise to check in with your core beliefs, values, problem resolution styles, set some short and long-term SMART goals, and be able to articulate your personal philosophy. When was the last time you were able to do that?

Know thyself. Not surprisingly, knowing yourself intimately AND being able to communicate what you know about yourself to others is a fabulous strength one can have. When you know yourself, you can easily express who you are and what you’re after in a job interview, or when conversing with your current employer and developing a career plan.

If you find yourself jumping from job to job, searching for something that will bring you satisfaction and happiness; you know, that THING that will feed your passion, maybe this is it.

Weigh the cost of paying to sit down with a Career professional and be guided in this career exploration/self assessment process vs. all the time and money you’ve lost moving from job to job trying to find what to now has proved elusive.

Bang Away Or Find The Right Fit


Have you ever left a job under poor circumstances and vowed to make a fresh start with another employer; one where no one knows you – only to find that things turn out pretty much the same in a short time?

Despite the change in scenery, co-workers, supervisor and job, things just haven’t changed all that much. You’re starting to wonder if every job is going to be like this? You’re questioning how all these people you work with can like going in day after day with a smile on their face? When it goes wrong in multiple places, in various kinds of jobs, the common denominator keeps coming up… well, you.

Now wait! That doesn’t necessarily mean you’re ‘THE PROBLEM’. Nor does it always have to be this way.

Recall the toddler toy where there’s a bunch of wooden or plastic, brightly coloured shapes, and there’s a corresponding cut out of a shape into which the piece fits. Watch a child at place and try all they want, that red triangle won’t go into the yellow square or the blue circle hole. Eventually, the toddler figures it out and looks up with a big smile at what they’ve both achieved and learned in the process.

As you continue to watch, when all the pieces are removed again, the toy becomes a little easier to play and takes less time to solve. The child also will look around and call attention to their success by saying, “Watch me!” In so doing, they want to show off what they’ve learned and get rewarded with a, “Good for you!”

If you haven’t taken the necessary time to get to know yourself fully – and people evolve and change with the passing of time – you might not be a problem, you just haven’t found the right fit yet. Now that single block is easy to figure out; it’s shape and colour. There’s an easily recognized corresponding shape and colour slot too. Assessing your strengths, preferences, skills, experience, education, attitude, areas for improvement, learning style – these are some of the things which make you who you are. Networking, online research, investigating company culture, reading job postings, interviewing people in the jobs you find interesting, checking out the commute, the dress code, the vision, mission statement etc. of companies as well as their reputations; these make up the research which provides the information you need to assess the likelihood of a good fit.

Here’s the problem; most people assume they know themselves and don’t want to bother putting out a lot of effort in researching companies they might not even apply to. That seems like a lot of work and with very little reward; a waste of time. But what’s a greater waste of time is not bothering with these two critical steps and going through a cycle of applying, getting hired, fired, applying again, getting rejected, finally getting interviews, rejected, still applying, finally getting another interview, getting hired and quitting, or leaving under poor circumstances. It’s like that toddler just banging pieces into the wrong slots and expecting the piece to go in. It’s not the toy that’s at fault, it’s just that reasoning things out hasn’t happened yet at the child’s end. There will always be a perfect fit for each piece.

Likewise, there will always be a perfect fit for you with respect to a job and an employer. Sure you can jump from job to job and hope the fit is good, but more often than not, it will appear that way at first and soon become obvious to the company you’re not the right person for the job, or to you that the job isn’t the right fit for you.

So how much time do you have to invest just randomly moving from job to job? With each bad fit and failure, are you learning anything or just writing off bad experiences and taking nothing away you can learn next time? Be cautious! These series of failures can lead you to develop a short fuse; a bad attitude; a ‘me against the world’ attitude. The person you turn out to be could be very different from the person you were meant to be; a darker, less attractive soul who others want to be around less and less. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

When a child struggles to understand how the pieces get inside, another child or adult who has mastered the concept will take a piece and slowly slide it in the corresponding hole and not letting go, move it back and forth then drop it. The child watching may have to be shown a few times, but they’ll get it. The new learning is shortly mastered and the toy eventually becomes a, ‘Time how long it takes me to do this!” challenge; it’s easier.

This is no different from getting help figuring out the self-assessment piece of who you really are in the here and now. You can also get help learning how to do employer research too. When you know yourself fully and seek out the best fits, you actually speed up the time between where you are now and being employed where you should be. In the right situation, you’re not a problem at all; you’re a success with a big smile on your face. Soon you’ll want everyone around you to view your achievements too.

We’ve Got To Be Invested!


Ever been asked to describe yourself in a few words? Okay sure you have to think about this when you’re put on the spot in a job interview, but outside of that situation, how often do you think about the qualities you have; the things you strive for, the kind of person you are? How would you describe yourself in a few sentences, and would you articulate the things that best describe you? Most people I find can’t do this in a way that they are entirely happy with. A lot of the time they later say, “I wish I’d said ______ instead. Why didn’t I think of that?”

I think about these things a lot of the time, but I suppose I do so because my career brings me into daily contact with people whom in great part, I’m supporting and guiding to discover themselves. Discover themselves? While I admit they know themselves better and more intimately than I ever will, it’s typical that people have difficulty in voicing who they are in quick order.

The thing is, given enough time, any one of us could likely write a great number of qualities we possess. You might make a list with words such as: hard-working, dependable, friendly, honest etc. just to name a few. While these words might indeed be representative of who you are, surely there’s more to you that do sets you apart from everyone else. You are after all, unique. Maybe you do see yourself as an ordinary run-of-the-mill person, not special in any particular way, with no outstanding achievements; nothing of note that distinguishes your life from those of the people you work and play with. This might indeed be upon reflection what you’re comfortable with; an ordinary Joe.

In some situations, such as interviewing for a new career or job, it can work for us or against us to be just so. The employer might be looking for someone to come in and do the job as it’s always been done, to assimilate into their existing workforce with no fanfare, not so much as even making a ripple in the transition onto a team. If that’s the case and you’re that kind of interchangeable person they are looking for, then you’ll be a good fit.

On the other hand, some job postings will say that the employer is looking for someone who stands out, has drive and passion, is a trend-setter not a follower. If in an interview you can show that you’re invested, enthusiastic, resilient, driven etc. you might hit upon impressing the interviewer with how well you know yourself and how you are distinguishable from the other candidates in some way they find attractive. In so doing, you might just stand out and be the right person they are looking for.

Knowing what employers are looking for is not only half the battle, it’s the key. So the goal leading up to the interview becomes identifying what exactly the needs of the employer are; and not just in terms of what they put on the job posting. Sometimes an advanced call to the right person can yield this information. You may actually find that what you learn turns you off or takes your excitement about landing the job to a whole new level.

Now I’m sure your shaking your head, ready to tell me and any other readers that employers these days won’t talk to you in advance of the interview; that often you can’t even identify the organization posting the very job itself if it goes through a temporary service agency. Sure that might be the case. However, don’t let that deter you from trying and I mean REALLY trying to get that information. For when you do succeed in establishing contact and having a pre-emptive conversation with the employer, they can and do become extremely interested in this candidate who is demonstrating their tenacity and thoroughness. I know because I’ve done this myself and it works.

Returning to a key point I mentioned earlier, know yourself. How would you define yourself using the skill-based language that is typically evident in your profession? Are you an empathetic and responsive Personal Support Worker? How about a driven and results-oriented commissioned Salesperson? These extra adjectives are far more appealing and descriptive than simply being a PSW or Salesperson alone. The words fit the profession – that is of course if the organizations themselves place high values on the empathy and responsiveness of their PSW’s and the sales force is expected to be driven in that commissioned environment.

Now me, I’ve laid myself out as an Enthusiastic and Empowering Employment Counsellor. Look at my LinkedIn profile and it’s there in my title; it’s my brand. All the posts I pen are designed to aid and empower others in fact. More so, I can back up these claims with concrete examples that demonstrate and prove I’ve got the skills and characteristics I claim.

Now what of you? How do you define yourself succinctly and accurately? Who are you? When you voice your answer do you sound confident, unsure, doubtful or do you speak with conviction? Are you ordinary or extraordinary? There’s a place for everyone no matter who you are in the workforce, and while one employer wants extraordinary, others want ordinary. The key is to get the right fit. Knowing yourself is half the equation.

Personification Exercise: Try It On


Get yourself a pad and a paper for this exercise. Got it? Great. You can do this yourself and then if you are in a position that works with others, you can of course see how it works for your clients. While the exercise itself might take some thought and the benefits not immediately obvious, you should come to see that by completing it, you have a method to quickly articulate some of your best qualities when you need to most.

Make three headings on your sheet: Personality Traits, Strengths and Values. Under each heading write down the personal traits you have, your key strengths and some of your work or life values. If you are doing this as a work-related exercise, use work values; if it’s more of an all-encompassing life exercise, use some of your broader life values.

Okay, so now that you have some of these things on paper – and this requires some imagination on your part – see if you can come up with an inanimate object which encompasses some or most of what you’ve got on the paper. Of course the more items on the sheet of paper, the more difficult it might be to find something that hits every one.

In my own case, I ended up thinking of a lighthouse. A lighthouse to me shows others passages which move them from their current position to their destination. While the safest route is pointed out, so too are the impending dangers, but the lighthouse itself doesn’t have the power to make the ones it is guiding alter their path. It’s up to the people.

And so for me the lighthouse as symbol works for me in many regards. Being a beacon of hope for others; pointing out opportunities and potential hazards is something that I value tremendously in my job, but like the lighthouse, I can’t make those decisions for others, and nor would I want to. Oh sure from time to time my colleagues and I might say to each other, “If I could only get them to do what I want them to, things would be better.” But it’s not my life is it?

Okay so what’s the value in this as an exercise? Fair question. But first let me provide one other outcome. Suppose you ended up with a list and a fire station came to mind or even a bird’s nest. The fire station might work for you if you are in a job where you deal with people in crisis primarily, save lives through your work, while the bird’s nest comes to mind if you provide comforting shelter for others, a place of refuge and rest.

So, to answer the question posed. The value in the exercise comes when you are asked, and potentially the job interview is a good example of a time and place, to come up with your strengths, your values, or to share what motivates you, how you see yourself etc. Sometimes the best of us will either draw a blank, or share things which later we regret not because they were poor responses, but because they didn’t represent us at our best.

So if presented with any of the above types of questions, instead of remembering several key strengths, my work values and relevant personality traits; a list that could be 20 or more items long, all I really need to think of is the lighthouse. The image of the lighthouse then makes it easier for me to recall all the items I want to speak about, because of what I do that is like the lighthouse; the guiding, the navigating, standing firm in the face of much adversity, giving hope to others. I can also speak of others who in their darkest times seek me out for counsel and when times are good, I’m less needed.

By using an association with an object, some people may find they can better recall their best assets and qualities. So even in a situation where you meet someone for the first time, you might find out what it is they do for a living and then follow it up by asking them what they find most rewarding or challenging in their job. If that same question was then posed to you, you could come back to this exercise in your head and recall your central item and by association, speak confidently about your challenges and how your personal characteristics allow you to thrive in the position.

Did you notice the examples I gave; the lighthouse, birds nest and fire station all have a common thread running between them? There’s an element of refuge in all of them; either providing that themselves or ensuring others are sheltered safely. But it could be you choose something different like a traffic sign, a cross walk, a river or campfire. All of these images could mean different things for you than the person beside you. So you could choose the same thing but see if differently.

Look around you today. How are you like the stapler on your desk? What do you have in common with the rug on the floor that provides warmth, is often taken for granted but must be durable and resilient? Oops, may have just given a few things away there to get you started!

Like I said, try it out and see if it helps you or your clients to better recall, values, strengths, traits etc.

Step 1 In Landing That Job: Take Inventory


Taking Inventory
Whether it’s looking for a job because you are out of work, or looking for a promotion, I don’t think you can get better initial advice than to take an inventory and KNOW yourself.

In any interview process where a job is up for competition the overall point of an interview is the employer, (as represented by their interviewer), is getting to know you better so they can ultimately decide if what you have to offer will fulfill their current and/or future needs.

So what is ‘knowing yourself’ all about?

1. Know what is prompting you to consider a position. Are you looking for an increase in your income, a change of scenery, a move to a new community, is it economic necessity or desperation? Have you had your eye on a specific opportunity and it’s finally opened up to external candidates? Are your parents forcing you to get a job or perhaps the spouse is egging you on to get a big promotion so the status you’ll get will also apply to them?

2. Know your strengths. If the things that you do well are strong requirements for the job, you’ll be more confident and able to demonstrate those strengths in an interview. This is turn makes it easier for the interviewer to see you in the role, performing the duties and succeeding.

3. Know your weaknesses. Thinking of the promotion, the new responsibilities beyond those you currently have, or the completely different things you’ll have to do from what you are currently doing, what would you need some time, training, support and guidance to achieve? Even in a case where you believe you could do the job right from day 1, are you really saying that three or four months into the job you’ll be no more efficient than you will be on day 1? That’s what, “I have no weaknesses” would mean and you’re either outright lying or you don’t know the job and yourself all that well and how the two will impact on each other.

4. Know your needs. If you require a certain shift, compensation level, accommodation due to health etc., you should be in clear possession of that data right from the beginning. If you aren’t aware of these, you might end up wasting your time and that of the employer which will only end badly and leave them thinking you’ve wasted their time. That could really mess up future advancement.

5. Know what jobs lead to other jobs. Sometimes you’ll hear of people who apply for a job, get the interview but the job is offered to another candidate. In feedback sessions, the person is often told they need more perspective and experience; so taking a lateral position in another department or under a different Supervisor is required in order to be more diversified. Diversified simply means you’ll bring a wider perspective to the supervisory role you ultimately want. Doing nothing but your current job could mean you’ll be forever passed over and held back.

6. Know what sparks interest. What are you motivated to actually do? Are you the creative sort who likes re-working existing practices and procedures, delving into new and better ways to work? Or conversely, are you the sort who gets a buzz from pleasing others, providing outstanding customer service or inventing things that save people time? What turns you on?

7. Know what you find deadly boring. Knowing what you don’t want to do is often just as important as knowing what you do. Start ruling things out. Can you see your brain cells dying as you perform some manual labour job in a factory setting? Would you hate being in a position where you type letters and take inventory again and again and again? Where some thrive, some die. Good advice for the teenager and even those into their twenties is to try a number of careers and jobs before feeling you have to pick one and that’s it for life. It isn’t; people often change jobs or careers 8 or 9 times in their adult working life.

8. Know your potential. Do you usually sell yourself short or do you even want to live up to your potential? Everybody has potential by the way – everybody. Some have amazing potential to move mountains and change the very fabric of society by developing new energy sources, new communication models, new technologies. Good for them, we need them. But someone with a disability has potential too. Rather than focusing on limitations, what CAN you accomplish? That’s potential. And as for the risk of failing? Who hasn’t at some point or other?

9. Know people. Network and talk to people. Find things in common with them and don’t be afraid to initiate communication. What’s the worst that could really happen? When you know people, and think about this….THEY KNOW YOU. Ahhhhhh….. And when people know you they are in a position to help you with information, tips, leads, references, insider data, and all of this can lead to your success.

10. Know ____________________. There are more than 10 convenient things you should know in order to really say you know yourself. And so, what would you add as number 10 on the ‘Knowing Yourself Inventory’?

All of these things translate into applying for the right job; one that will be a good fit. You’ll do better at interviews too, because you’ll know more about the job and yourself than ever before. That means you answer with stronger answers and more confidence.