There's really only one good way to start any process - at the beginning. When that process is choosing what kind of career you want to pursue, that means embracing embarking career assessment to identify your skills, experience and jobs that will best fit your life and interests. Whether you're approaching the end of a degree program, or contemplating a career change, conducting a career assessment is a good next step to finding the right job for you.
Sonja Moffett, a career advisor at Southern New Hampshire University, offered a webinar recently titled "Put on Your Thinking C.A.P.," the acronym standing for Career Assessment Process. It covered the nuts and bolts of how to do your own career assessment, beginning with what exactly that means.
"Career assessment is a way to learn more about how well a variety of careers might suit you," Moffett said. Each assessment focuses on a particular area, such as skills, interests or values. Typically, an assessment asks you to answer questions about what you like, don't like, what's important to you and what your strengths are."
Moffett said you can sum up a basic career assessment by answering three simple questions about yourself:
- Where am I now?
- Where do I want to be?
- How am I going to get there?
Get a Head Start
No one gets their next great job the same way every time. But Moffett said, in her experience, many of the people who have most successfully used career assessment had a few things in common:
- Start early.
- Have good self-awareness - know your skills and accomplishments.
- Know what's important to employers.
- Set realistic expectations based on your strengths and experience.
- Take action to build and improve your qualifications.
- Have a network and know how to leverage it.
- Use a job-specific job search.
Moffett expanded briefly on one of those steps: Taking action to building and improving your qualifications. Doing that requires increasing your education, experience, relevant certifications, building a broad professional network and developing your leaderships skills and influence within your industry. "Your education lays a strong foundation for your career success," she said.
Focusing on Assessment
There are many assessment tools available. O*Net, which is sponsored by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, is one such option. The O*Net Resource Center has a set of what it calls "career exploration tools," that include an Ability Profiler, an Interest Profiler and a Work Importance Locator/Profiler. "These instruments will help individuals identify their work-related interests, what they consider important on the job, and their abilities in order to explore those occupations that relate most closely to those attributes," according to the site.
The Ability Profiler measures nine areas, including verbal ability and arithmetic reasoning, spatial ability and computation, among others. The Interest Profiler looks at what types of interests may be driving your job search, including investigative or artistic interests. Finally, the Work Importance Locators helps job searchers identify what they value most in a workplace, values such as independence, relationships or working conditions. Combined, the three tools are designed to help recent graduates or workers looking to change careers ways to direct their search. "This allows individuals to make a seamless transition from assessing their interests, work values and abilities to matching their job skills with the requirement of occupations in their local job market," according to the site.
Certifications, Minors and Academic Certificates
Certifications can make your resume stand out, Moffett said, because they serve as an endorsement of sorts from an industry-standard organization. They are also valuable because they aren't tied to a particular company and are recognized across entire industries. "Certifications are portable since they do not depend on one company's definition of a certain job," Moffett said. "Certification stands out on resumes as a professional stamp of expertise by an impartial third-party endorsement of your professional knowledge and experience."
A concentration or minor is earned during your college career as a way to build specialized skills and knowledge using elective units within your degree program, Moffett said. An academic certificate is usually facilitated by a college or university and is composed of a set of classes for a concentration within a degree program once you've already graduated. "If you have already completed an undergraduate or graduate degree program, but you would like to expand your knowledge and skill within a specialized functional area for your profession, then a certificate program is an ideal way to do so," Moffett said.
Building a Network Through Professional Associations
Another way to tick another box on Moffett's list for a successful career assessment is to take advantage of professional associations relevant to career areas in which you are interested. These associations are a good way to build a network to lean on to find a job, but they are also a great forum to ask questions of people who can help you define your career assessment path, Moffett said.
"After you join a professional association, it is important to get involved in both onsite and online forums. This will ensure that you reap maximum benefits for your career advancement," she said. "Attend local chapter meetings and events. This will help you meet local leaders in your industry, build professional relationships with key contacts and expand your professional network."
Piecing the Puzzle Together
Assessing your career path isn't something that happens overnight. You will need to decide what mix of strategies works for you. And your assessment will likely change the more you learn about yourself and possible career paths. Moffett said continued research is vital, as are exploring ways to break into a new field to get your foot in the door. She suggested trying:
- Temporary and temp-to-hire positions
- Contract or project work
"Career assessment is not a linear process. You'll continue to do your research and talk with people in your chosen career field," Moffett said. "And you'll want to keep striving to learn answers to these questions that will help you plan ahead."