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Answering the Question "Who Am I?"

Are you an INTJ? Do you value prestige, family, and security? Do you like bench work or management? Can you teach a class or manage a budget?

If you are already familiar with questions like these, then you have probably done some self-assessment: the process of evaluating your values, personality, interests, and skills. Or in other words, you have been learning about yourself. Self-evaluation may be done through a series of assessment instruments interpreted by a career counselor or by completing simple exercises on your own.

Self-evaluation should be the first step for anyone who is looking for a new job or career direction, because once you have figured out who you are and what you need, you can incorporate this information into the choices you make during the job search. For example, you may decide that you value being geographically close to your family. Or perhaps, even though you value your family, it's more important to you to find a tenure-track position, regardless of its location.

If you answer "yes" to any of the following questions, I'd suggest taking the time to do some self-assessment before you start (or continue) your job search.

  • Have you been randomly applying to any job that sounds interesting, not sure exactly what you want to do?


  • Are you unhappy in your current position?


  • Have you turned down job offers because the job wasn't going to be what you wanted?

Answers of "yes" to any of these questions are indicators that perhaps your career future is unclear. Self-assessment may help you target positions that will offer the kinds of responsibilities you want.

Career development assessments can be divided into the following four areas:

  • Values. The most common methods used to help you identify what you value are checklists or card sorts. Values can be defined by terms such as family, prestige, status, and health or by phrases such as having financial stability, having time to exercise daily, being happily married, and leading an adventurous life. Typically, value exercises help you identify and rank your most important values.


  • Personality. Probably the most frequently used assessment for personality in career counseling is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). Many private firms have developed similar instruments, some of which are tailored to analyze your communication or leadership style. Although the terms "introvert" and "extrovert" are familiar, using your knowledge about your personality in the job search is often overlooked. For example, introverts are more likely to have difficulty building networks, whereas this may come easily to extroverts.


  • Interests. Interests are frequently assessed by the use of "interest inventories." For example, an interest inventory may be a series of questions that helps you determine if you have a preference for working with things, data, people, or ideas. Probably the most popular index in use at institutes of higher education is the Strong Interest Inventory. In general, interest assessment is useful for those considering a variety of occupations, but it may be of little use for those deciding between two closely related research fields.


  • Skills. Most skill assessments aren't formal standardized tests; they tend more to be surveys, card sorts, and checklists. Your skills include the lab techniques you use everyday and the skills you might list on your résumé, such as supervisory, management, training, collaborating, initiating, and organizational skills.

  • Now that I have introduced you to the main areas of self-assessment, you may be wondering how to find ways to do some self-evaluation. There are several ways you can get started, and I'll review those by cost.

  • Free to you. Read my next two columns in this series. I'll introduce some free Web sites and example exercises to help you do some self-assessment. In the next column, I'll look at values and personality assessment. And in my May column, I'll take on interest and skill analysis.


  • The price of a book. Browse the career-development section of your local bookstore. Many career books have exercises for you to complete, including several that I mentioned in last month's column.


  • A small fee or free. Visit your friendly neighborhood career center. If you don't have access to a career center through your current university or employer, try your alma mater; many institutions now offer career services to alumni/ae. In some communities, community colleges offer services to residents. It is not unusual for a college or university to charge a small fee for some assessment testing, especially ones like the MBTI, Strong Interest Inventory, or the Campbell Interest and Skill Survey, each of which costs money to administer.


  • Cost of an appointment for a package deal ($75 to $1500). Private career counselors vary greatly in what services they offer and how much they charge. Some counselors may include limited formal assessment testing in the price of their standard appointment fee; others may offer package deals for large fees. If you choose to spend money for private career-counseling services, including assessment packages, be sure you understand what is included in the price.

  • If you plan to postdoc in a competitive lab and eventually find a faculty position, I still think you should do some self-assessment. Here's why: It will help you plan for--and achieve--that future. Evaluating your current laboratory, presentation, teaching, writing, and management skills is just plain smart. You can identify your strengths and weaknesses now, allowing you to build the skills you'll need to be competitive for those faculty positions when the time comes to apply. In addition, you may determine the types of institutions you will want to target in your job search, further guiding you in developing the specific skills you'll need. So, whether you are unclear or confident about your career direction and your future goals, self-assessment is always a prudent step.

    You can send e-mail to Kathie at