Tools for Career Self-Exploration

An essential step in the process of awakening career aspirations and career research and planning is that of self-exploration. This is the term for a process of identifying one’s skills, interests, values, and aptitudes as they pertain to work and career decisions, using a variety of formal and informal assessment tools. This process has the potential to foster the type of self-awareness and self-reflection that are invaluable to college and career readiness.

Career counselors use a variety of tools and activities, including informal inventories and formal assessment instruments to help people identify their skills, abilities, work values, preferences, and interests.  Having a wide array of tools on hand enables one to tap into diverse learning styles, language abilities, and preferred modes of expression to help people gain greater self-awareness integral to an authentic career planning process.

Mina Mathews is a transitions advisor at Lewiston Adult Education in Maine. She describes here how she has used writing activities to tap into student’s hopes and dreams by asking students to write an “end of life” essay and where they saw themselves in the future.

Watch the video of Mina describing the activity:

Here Mina Mathews discusses the limits of formal assessments and the importance of helping adults make connections between their transferable skills, career interests and passions:

Peak Experiences

Amy Mazur, a Career Development Specialist at JVS-Boston, uses a Peak Experiences Activity [Word] to help clients connect to their skills, passions, values, and aspirations.  She found that traditional self-assessments and career inventories were not adequately helping client to clarify their career focus and direction. Instead, she uses the Peak Experiences exercise early in the career planning process to help clients use narrative storytelling to better understand the contexts that inform their career choices and decisions, and have a guide to help them answer the question, “How can I understand and design my career and life in the society in which I live?” In the process, the verbal discourse is as important as the story itself, and the exercise can be modified to work for any client, as long as they have some self-reflective capability.

Through this practice, clients find authentic resonance with what they learn about themselves in relation to their career choices, and move much more quickly to understand how to actualize their next step in the career planning process.

The activity draws from Life Design and Career Construction Theory. Some features of this paradigm are that career interventions need to be dynamic and non linear. Rather than focus on psychometrics and testing, the emphasis is on encouraging people to construct their own identities within a social context, explore self through culture, values, and beliefs and use narrative to make personal meaning that informs career choice.

Values Clarification

Rebecca Garland of the Community Learning Center in Cambridge, MA, found that her students were not responding positively to interest inventories and other career exploration tools. On recommendation from a staff person at the local One Stop Career Center she decided to try this Values Clarification Activity [Word]. She has found that her adult education students respond to a values clarification activity that asks them to identify what is important to them in a work setting and enrich the subsequent career planning and job search activities.

After students explore and identify what they value in a job or workplace environment, such as the ability to work independently, or getting along with colleagues, she helps students make the connection between their values and their choice of jobs that they want to explore in greater depth. Then they are better equipped to compare what the job offers with the elements they value most in a work situation and think about which areas they are willing to compromise and where the job does or doesn’t fit their needs.

Additional Resources

Integrating Career Awareness into the ABE and EOL Classroom offers a variety of self-assessment activities in the section on Self-Exploration [PDF]. These lessons are used by classroom instructors and counselors and most of them adapt well to either group or individual sessions.

Downloads: Peak Experiences [Word], 246 Skills as Verbs [Word], Values Clarification [Word], Values Card Sort [Word], Self-Exploration [PDF]

Amy Mazur, Career Development Specialist
Career Moves, JVS-Boston
Boston, MA

Rebecca Garland, Career Counselor
Cambridge Community Learning Center
Cambridge, MA

Mina Matthews, Career Counselor
Lewiston Adult Education
Lewiston, ME