We recommend networking, we encourage informational interviewing, and we stress the importance of gaining experience. All are instrumental in exploration and planning for your future career or graduate school pursuits. After all, you need to see what’s out there before you can determine your path!
However, not all exploration is external. Don’t forget about self-discovery, the exploration of your own values, attributes, strengths, and preferences. You can become familiar with many different work environments and companies, but if you haven’t taken the time to really identify what’s important to you and what you have to offer, it’s nearly impossible to know when you’ve found your fit.
Self-discovery isn’t something that you can block off a few hours for, write a report, and cross off of your to-do list; it takes continual thought and reflection to be able to understand yourself, let alone be able to articulate your qualities to other people!
To help get started, Richard Bolles offers the following advice in the well-known job search book: What Color is Your Parachute? (2012 edition, pages 190-191). In helping a person to define what their “dream job” is, he suggests describing yourself in the following ways:
- What can you do – your favorite functional/transferable skills
- What do you know – your favorite knowledge or fields of interests
- What kinds of people do you like to be surrounded by – the kinds of people you like to help
- Where are you most effective – the surroundings or working conditions that enable you to do your best work
These can be surprisingly difficult to define, especially if you haven’t explored favorites in any of these topics! The following exercise suggested in Bolles’ book might be an even better starting place:
- Take ten sheets of blank paper and write “Who Am I” at the top of each
- Write one answer to that question on each one (to help get you started, think of roles you play or identify with, attributes you use to describe yourself, etc…)
- Go back and write why you said that and what excites you most by it. If you say you’re creative, give an example or explain why that was one of the answers that came to mind.
- Then, look back at those ten sheets and prioritize them by level of importance to help gain an understanding of what you value most, are most proud of, or identify with the strongest.
Of course this is not a perfect system. You won’t be given the key to success once you put that last sheet into place. But it will do a number of things for you:
If you struggled to get to that tenth answer (or even the fourth or fifth!), you know you have some work to do. How can you explain why you’re the best candidate if you can’t quite explain who you are and what you’re best at? In this case, think of how others describe you; think of how you introduce yourself; think of what you aspire to be – this may help you get past writer’s block.
On the other hand, if you found it easy to come up with ten, great! You know yourself pretty well (although there is much more to you than 10 things). Bolles suggests that you then look for common themes throughout your answers. This might help you to better define what your “dream job” really means to you, thus helping you to target your career or graduate school planning a bit more intentionally. Then, build on these discoveries to flesh out examples and build a story bank. Doing so will certainly help you put together a more compelling application and present yourself more confidently and competently when going after that dream!
Gwen Miller, associate director, career services