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Career Planning Guide

Career Planning Guide

Self-awareness and reflection

Self-awareness in careers is about:

  • Identifying your learning preferences
  • Understanding your values and ethics
  • Highlighting your skills, attributes, and achievements
  • Specifying your career choices
  • Communicating who you are
  • Knowing what you find challenging and how to develop yourself

This TEDTalk by organisational psychologist Dr. Tasha Eurich is a great introduction to increasing your self-awareness.

Activity: One of the best places to start is a self-assessment tool such as Profiling for Success. The University of Exeter has a license which enables you to take assessments in abstract reasoning skills, numerical reasoning skills, verbal reasoning skills, types dynamics, learning styles, motivations and values, and career interests. Other University’s will have similar licenses, or you can access a range of free practice tests online.

Values are the key components of what matters to you – the qualities by which you are likely to judge whether you are happy and fulfilled; the things which you believe are important. By being aware of your values and choosing a career or environment which matches them, you are far more likely to feel fulfilled and to thrive. For instance, if you value autonomy but find yourself in a role where you are micro-managed, you may experience stress and frustration. Or if you value time in nature to recharge your energy, but work in a city 70 hours per week and do not have time to get outside, again, you may feel stress and over time lose motivation at work. Values can be broken down into:

  • Intrinsic (individual motivators and intangible rewards)
  • Extrinsic (tangible awards, usually work-related)
  • Lifestyle (home life, free time and long term goals)

By this point in your academic studies/working life you will most probably already have a basic idea of these values at the very least, but since they can change over time, it is worth having another look and clarifying your values and needs.

Activity: Download and complete this values exploration worksheet

Having identified your key values, you may now be able to look back on your key achievements throughout your academic studies and/or working career, and understand how you reached that goal and perhaps also why it resonated so deeply for you.

When applying for opportunities, you will need to give evidence for particular skills but also to talk about what motivates you and what you are passionate about, so focusing on your main values and achievements as evidence is a great way to communicate this to the employer/recruiter.

Activity: Download this template to list your main achievements, their associated attributes and values are why you are proud of them.

So, having identified your own values, how do you find the right employers / roles / opportunities which match?

Unfortunately, many companies are either unaware, or unable to communicate their own values, so it may be up to you to do some research and find out for yourself. This could mean speaking to current employees, people in similar roles, or exploring websites and social media.

Activity: Complete the What do you want from a career? The importance of values worksheet from the Universities of Edinburgh, Glasgow and Sheffield, and complete the reflection at the end to consider what you value most of out of a job or career.

In the ‘Interviews’ section of this resource we will explore the best ways of communicating your skills, attributes, and experiences.

Activity: For now practice writing a few lines explaining who you are, what your key values are, and evidence of a specific time when you have embodied those values.

One of the most common areas careers professionals are asked to provide advice on is the dreaded interview question: “What are your weaknesses?”

In fact, this is a great opportunity to expand upon your strengths and values, if you prepare carefully in advance. Answering with a proactive response demonstrates to the employer that you are self-aware and capable of self-development where necessary.

For example:

“As part of my research degreee I was selected to deliver occasional lectures to undergraduate students. Although I found the content inspiring, speaking in public made me nervous and uncomfortable. I signed up to a workshop on presentation skills at the University alongside other researchers who were facing the same challenge. The skills we learned helped us to develop our confidence whilst lecturing and several of us keep in touch to provide peer support. I still get nervous but now I feel that I have skills and techniques to guide me effectively.”

Universities provide many opportunities such as research seminars, training workshops and award schemes to aid your professional development, such as the Researcher Development Programme at the University of Exeter. You may also find that you are developing these areas within your research, or whilst working or volunteering part-time; one of the many reasons that having a part-time job or volunteering when you have time, can be extremely beneficial. Thinking back to the Values Exploration Worksheet, choose some areas where you perhaps do not excel (i.e. teamwork, leadership, or discipline).

Activity:  Complete the Identifying your strengths worksheet from the Universities of Edinburgh, Glasgow and Sheffield. Then download this template and note down actions you have taken /will take to develop these ‘weak’ areas.

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