Get to know yourself to start planning your career

Career planning is a step-by-step process that helps you develop and reach your professional goals. Dedicating time and effort to this ongoing process allows you to maintain control over both your career and life choices. Being organized and motivated through this process will enable you to work toward a career that aligns with your skills, values, interests, and priorities.

Getting to know yourself is the essential first step in your career planning journey. It involves identifying your strengths and weaknesses, your abilities, and your personality traits. It also requires you to think about your personal values and preferences, and your professional aspirations. When you know who you are and what you can bring to the table, you become better equipped to make informed career decisions. It provides you with a sense of direction, clarity and confidence that will enable you to pick a career path that is aligned with your authentic self.

What is self-reflection in a career planning journey

Self-reflection is the process of taking a step back to consciously examine yourself, and identify the motivations that drive your own actions, feelings and actions. Self-reflection leads to self-discovery: it allows you to understand the kind of person you are, what your goals are, and how you can achieve them based on your past experiences. Finding this out early on will help you determine your best course of action when it comes to planning your career.

Follow these steps to begin your self-reflection.

1. Ask yourself the right questions:

Start by asking yourself a few key questions. You can write your thoughts down and revisit them later – don’t forget to note the date, as your answers can change over time. These questions are meant to increase your self-awareness, so don’t be concerned if nothing comes to mind at first. There are no wrong answers to these questions.

  • What’s important to me?
  • What do I enjoy doing?
  • What are my strengths?
  • What do I want to achieve in my professional life?
  • What makes me stand out?

2. Define your values:

Values are deeply held beliefs that influence your attitudes, choices and behaviours. They are the core guiding principles that serve as your moral compass when you have to make hard decisions: they help you determine priorities, set goals, and make choices that align with what you consider to be important and meaningful in life.

You can get some insight into your own values by reflecting on your past experiences. Think back on significant moments when you felt fulfilled, proud, or like you had a purpose. Remember situations where you felt a sense of discomfort or conflict, and how they made you react.

As you plan your career, knowing what your values are and which ones you’re not willing to compromise on will provide a framework for decision-making and guide you towards the opportunities that resonate with what you really want out of life. It will help you seek the type of jobs and workplaces that respect and support your worldview, and navigate ethical dilemmas to make career choices that uphold your integrity. For example, if you value family and personal time, you may prioritize careers that offer flexible schedules or remote work options. Similarly, if contributing to the greater good matters to you, then you may not take on a high-paying job in an industry that you consider to have a negative impact on the world.

3. Determine what your skills and abilities are:

Skills are learned capabilities that you acquired through training, education or experience to perform specific tasks or activities. They are measurable and can be developed through practice and experience. Abilities, on the other hand, refer to your innate and natural attributes – they can be cognitive (i.e. analytical thinking, creativity, critical reasoning), physical (i.e. manual dexterity or coordination) or perceptual (i.e. visual or auditory processing). Abilities form the foundation for your skills, and your skills reflect how you apply your abilities in practical contexts.

Both skills and abilities are important at work, as they can contribute to your overall performance and effectiveness in your job. They determine how suitable you are for specific roles, how well you could adapt to new work environments and take on new responsibilities, and how easily you will be able to compete with other candidates in specific fields.

To find out what skills you already have, you can think back on the capabilities and knowledge you have developed through work and personal experiences, education, and training. Compile a list and make sure to include your work-related skills, your personal skills, and your transferable skills. Knowing which skills you have and which ones you lack can help you identify what type of work may be best suited for you, and the areas you’d like to improve on.

4. Identify your preferences:

Your preferences refer to the types of things and experiences that you like or dislike. They can be professional and personal. Identifying your preferences is important in your career planning as it will help you pick jobs that feel fulfilling and satisfying.

To identify your preferences, you can start by making a list of your past experiences and identify the tasks and responsibilities you liked and disliked. Is there anything that stands out from these experiences? For example, if you worked a manual labour job in the past but didn’t like the fact that you had to stand up for a long period of time, you may want to look into a career that is not as physically demanding.

5. Identify your career aspirations:

Career aspirations refer to your long-term professional dreams and ambitions. Your career aspirations are driven by your passions, values, goals, and preferences, and help define what’s important in your professional life. Where do you see yourself in 5 years? Do you want to lead a team or own a company one day? Do you want to become an expert in your field?

Defining your career aspirations will give you a sense of purpose and direct you in the next step of your career planning journey. Keep in mind that your career aspirations may change over time when you gain different experiences and learn new skills.

6. Try new experiences:

Opportunities such as volunteering, part-time work, internships and job-shadowing can provide you with new experiences to help you develop skills and abilities and identify the things that you enjoy doing most. You never know, maybe you’ll discover new interests which will lead you on a different career path than the one you imagined.

7. Seek feedback and advice:

Seeking feedback from family, friends, and colleagues will give you a different perspective on the type of person you are. People who know you can help you identify some other strengths and weaknesses that you may have not thought of.

How to identify and understand your strengths and weaknesses

Identifying your strengths and weaknesses is crucial in getting to know yourself for your career planning. You can conduct a “SWOT” analysis, which stands for “Strength, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats”, to help you identify and understand your strengths and weaknesses, as well as the opportunities and threats you may be facing in your career planification.

  • Strengths: What are you good at? What makes you stand out in your current role? What distinguishes you from others? Think about the different abilities, knowledge, and skills that you have.
  • Weaknesses: Do you have a lack of experience or knowledge in a certain area? Is there a personal characteristic or skill you would like to improve on (e.g. communication, disorganization, indecisiveness)?
  • Opportunities: Are there opportunities available in your field of work that match your skills? Think of ways to turn your strengths into opportunities.
  • Threats: What barriers do you face? Do you have barriers because of financial or personal situations? Do you have any competitors in your field of work? Are there limited positions available for work advancement?

Identifying your strengths will allow you to utilize them in different ways and help you market yourself to potential employers. Assessing your weaknesses will identify areas to improve and help you pinpoint some things that may be bothering you in your current job.

It’s important to be honest and realistic with yourself while doing these exercises. By doing so, you have better chances of finding potential career paths that will fit your skills, values, and interests.

Use career quizzes and tests to identify potential career paths

Once you’ve learned more about yourself through self-reflection exercises, use career quizzes and self-assessment tools to support you in the decisions you make about a career. Sometimes, it can be difficult to know if the decision you are making is the right one. Career quizzes can provide you with a wide range of career options, allowing you to explore different industries and career paths you may have not considered before. They can also serve as a validation tool to let you know that you are selecting a career option that is aligned with your skills, abilities, interests.

Career quizzes are a great tool to help guide you in your career exploration and planification. However, they shouldn’t be the only reason why you make a certain career decision.

Did you know?

You can visit an employment centre near you to meet with a career counselor who will offer personalized guidance to help you start planning your career. They can test you and assess your aptitudes, interests, and personality traits to recommend potential careers that would be a good fit for you. Whether you are starting a new career, looking for a change or developing your career, career counsellors can help you better understand yourself, your personality, your strengths, and what you want and need. They will work with you to help you achieve the career you want.

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Ready for the next step?

Career planning begins with self-reflection. When you learn about yourself, you become aware of your own strengths and weaknesses, and you gain an understanding of what you value most and where your interests truly lie. To get started, you can ask yourself some key questions, try new experiences, seek feedback from others, or use different tools like career quizzes. You can also turn to career counselors to help you through this process. From self-reflection stems the ability to make well informed career decisions that resonate with your desires and ambitions.

Once you’ve gotten to know yourself, your next step should be to explore the labour market to identify suitable career paths.

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