Self-assessment tools: Knowing me, knowing what to do
Posted on: 18 June 2020 by Catherine Kennedy in Blog posts
TL:DR Life is too short to try out every career you could possibly do, so how to narrow it down? Use self-assessment tools to help you clarify what you are both good at and like doing. Self-assessment tools are used across the board, both within and beyond academia.
As part of Prosper, we have created a prototype online portal housing a set of resources designed in the first instance to facilitate University of Liverpool postdocs in exploring their career possibilities. We are trialling and developing these resources throughout the 3. 5 years of the project and ultimately our Prosper resources will be rolled out to the sector in 2023. They can do this by progressing through content that encourage them to Reflect, Explore and Act. A key aspect of the Reflect section is a range of self-assessment tools. In this blog, we look at how to get the most out of these.
Self-assessment tools: What are they and what use are they?
Self-assessment tools are useful prompts to reflection, helping you to change the question you might be asking yourself from ‘what jobs can I get?’ to ‘what do I like doing and what am I good at?’. This change reorients you towards fulfilling and meaningful work, rather than merely plausible roles for you. It is a process. Once you know what your skills, values and motivations are, you can then start to explore possible options beyond academia in a meaningful way, confident that you understand what you’re looking for in a job and which roles you’re suited to.
The potential risks of not approaching exploring new career pathways with self-knowledge are many: you could find yourself in a job you are perfectly capable of doing but it’s not in your area of interest; the pay isn’t what you’d like; and the organisation’s values don’t align with yours. You might end up feeling unmotivated and lacking in purpose. Skills aren’t the only thing that matters when choosing a career: your personal values and motivations are important. Trying to change your own personal values isn’t a great idea: if you’re a square peg, trying to make yourself fit into a round hole is unlikely to leave you feeling fulfilled. Instead of just focussing immediately on possible careers, we suggest beginning with some dedicated time and energy for self-reflection.
What can I find out about myself?
By using self-assessment tools, you can clarify the skills you have and enjoy using, and identify the things that are important to you (and to what extent they matter) which puts you in a great position to begin focussing on what you want out of your career. You are a multifaceted, unique individual and negating that is unlikely to result in finding the ideal career. Given a large percentage of each of our lifetimes will be spent in work, it’s nice, to say the least, to do something we enjoy – just concentrating on your skills in isolation isn’t likely to deliver you to your ideal career.
‘By getting clear on your vision, purpose, mission, values and natural talents and capabilities, the next breadcrumb steps will become obvious. You will know deeply where you can add value in a way that lights you up’.
Dr Hannah Roberts, former biotechnology postdoc turned career coach.
Self-assessment tools fall into several broad categories:
• Personality type assessments – who are you?
• Team assessments – these can be focused on the individual (What role do you play in a team setting? What role do you play within this team?) or a whole team assessment (how do we work together?)
• Values – what’s important to you?
• Skills – what are you good at?
• Interests – what do you like?
• Strengths – what are you good at and like doing?
Each tool typically has either a different purpose or uses a different approach and a curated selection of tools has been suggested on the Prosper portal (if you are based outside of the University of Liverpool you may find this piece on career exploration a useful place to start). Some tools cover more than one of the items listed. There are many tools devoted to each item, often based on a different theory. Many self-assessment tools are available, some are free of charge or have a free (limited) version as well as a paid-for (usually more in-depth) version.
If you’re wondering why ‘weaknesses’ aren’t in the tools listed, it’s because identifying your weaknesses has fallen from favour with the rise of positive psychology. In essence, the things you are weakest at will require a lot of input from you to improve and in all likelihood they will not ‘magically’ become a strength. Instead, positive psychology encourages you to focus on improving what you are good at by growing your strengths, as this is likely to have the most beneficial output for the energy you put in (Linley 2006).
Who really uses self-assessment tools?
Self-assessment tools are used a lot by recruiters, by managers, by career coaches and by individuals, all with slightly different end aims in mind. They are commonly used and valued within a commercial setting, not just at the recruitment stage but as part of on-going career and professional development:
'We do a lot of work to build competency in [team work], encouraging a process of self-analysis and self-reflection in order for people to understand what sort of person they are, why they might be aligned with some people and have conflict with others. We need people who understand how teams operate and what makes a high performing team.’
- An R&D director for a large multinational company
Importantly, self-assessment tools are used with postdocs in a number of universities. We sampled just nine universities  and from their publicly accessible websites found that they used a range of tools. From this group of universities, the most popular tool was myIDP / Imagine PhD a tool which allows users to assess their skills, interests and values. It suggests possible careers to consider and allows users to set goals.
The importance of self-reflection is also highlighted by Prosper’s own community. In her case study on the Prosper portal, former health sciences postdoc Dr Bryony Parsons advises postdocs to “try and get an idea about what you love” as this is what set her on her own fulfilling career journey.
Where should I start?
Step one of Alaina G. Levine’s (STEM careers consultant and author of Networking for Nerds (2015)) “two-part career task” is to “know who you are and what brings you joy” – which also happens to be excellent life advice! While the second part of the career task – “look for professions, jobs, and ecosystems where you can be your authentic self and pursue joyous, prosperous employment” – is equally important, it’s crucial to focus on the task in hand: taking time out to reflect on who you are.
Briana Konnick similarly identifies self-assessment tools as a key part of the ‘grand experiment’ of career exploration. Like Konnick, Prosper offers postdocs self-assessment tools as the first step of their career development journey because ‘An excellent starting point is to first achieve clarity on your own skills, interests and values so that you can evaluate career options in light of those determinations’. In order to make the experiment of career exploration successful, we need to establish some perimeters for study.
How to go about self-assessment, an overview:
• Pick a self-assessment tool and use it
• Reflect on the results (either with a mentor or somebody similar, or via self-coaching, Squiggly careers podcast episode 84 is a good place to start
• Explore further tools
• Set yourself SMART goals
Career development involves making decisions, and this, like most decisions, often requires a compromise between competing factors. This is why it’s so important to know what your personal priorities and needs are – so that you can make choices which align with them. Self-assessment tools can help you to pinpoint which things are most important to you as an important step on your career development journey.
In the Reflect section on the Prosper portal we’ve curated a selection of self-assessment options covering personality type, values, skills and interests. The tools we’ve selected are ones that have been used in the HE sector and we provide some choice to cater to individual preferences.
Before you begin, some suggestions for approaching self-assessment and reflection:
• Be curious about yourself
• Be honest (don’t give the answers/responses you think you ‘should’ give)
• Be open-minded rather than judgemental about your answers
• Recognise that this is a process and you will likely need to revisit this
• Recognise that the process of introspection can be challenging
• Give yourself time to try some of these tools out
'Take a good look at all you've achieved: think about what you’ve done in your lives and where you are'
Dr Martyn Spink, Programme Director, IBM Research.
After you’ve used a self-assessment tool, you need to use the results you’ve got. Discuss them with someone else (mentor, PI, peer) or self-reflect on your findings. Perhaps try out a different self-assessment tool if you’ve assessed your skills and maybe now want to understand your values, or set yourself some goals to develop a particular skill. We suggest setting SMART goals: your goal should be Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-Based. If you’re interested in exploring goal-setting further (if you’d like some other goal-setting approaches besides SMART) you may like to have a listen to the Squiggly Careers podcast episode 72 and also have a look at the linked resources.
Returning to the metaphor of the career exploration experiment, without the preliminary testing that self-assessment offers, we’re unlikely to get a positive outcome. There must be a better way, and there is. We suggest that that better way begins with dedicating some time and energy to self-reflection. If you’ve not done so already head over to the Prosper portal and get started on your own self-reflection. The resources for postdocs are structured into a journey – and career development is a continuous journey – so that you can Reflect first, then Explore options in greater detail through case studies, career conversations and informational interviews, enabling you to Act upon advice from employers and take the first steps towards a winning CV.
More about Prosper
Our ultimate goal is to open up the huge talent pool that exists within the postdoctoral research community, to the benefit of postdocs themselves, Principal Investigators, employers and the wider UK economy. And this is of particular relevance now more than ever. Unlocking postdocs expertise and experience can be a vital part of how the UK moves into a post-Covid 19 world.
The Prosper portal
The prototype Prosper portal is now available to all University of Liverpool staff and can be accessed using your university username and password. The portal will be available at our partner institutions, the University of Manchester and Lancaster University, in summer 2021, with national roll-out in 2023.
The portal’s career development resources are designed specifically for postdocs and Principal Investigators. This initial set of resources are aimed at enabling postdocs to reflect on their existing skills and values and the career pathways that these open up, both within and beyond academia, and the action they can take to pursue these further. Similarly, PIs can find information to support them in their role in postdocs’ development and success.
We will be developing and expanding these resources based on feedback from postdocs, PIs and our employer partners as the Prosper model evolves.
Levine, A. G. 2019. ‘Mine your mind for the data to drive your career’. Your Unicorn Career Available at: https://www.sciencemag.org/careers/2019/03/mine-your-mind-data-drive-your-career (Accessed: 02 July 2020)
Linley, P. A , Harrington, S ‘Playing to your strengths’ the Psychologist, 19,2, February 2006. Available at: https://thepsychologist.bps.org.uk/volume-19/edition-2/playing-your-strengths (accessed: 12 June 2020).
Konnick, Briana. “Career Exploration – A Grand Experiment”, Inside Higher Ed.27 April 2020. Available at: https://www.insidehighered.com/advice/2020/04/27/scientific-way-phd-students-can-frame-their-career-explorations-opinion (Accessed: 15 June 2020).
Note : The nine universities sampled were: Columbia, Ghent, Glasgow, Harvard, Leeds, Oxford, Stanford, Warwick and Yale. The self-assessment tools in order from most to least commonly used was; MyIDP/ImaginePhD (56%), Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (44%), DIY (33%), with CliftonStrengthsFinder (22%) and Strengths Profile (22%) on a par. Data was correct from their publicly accessible websites May 2020.