Knowing Self

Getting in touch with oneself through self-reflection and self-awareness is essential to finding career satisfaction and success. Reflecting on your values, interests, personality, skills, and past experiences will help you to identify career options where you might be best suited.


Recognizing what you value can help focus and narrow your career options. Choosing work that is in alignment with your values is critical to your job satisfaction. Note that your values will naturally evolve over time, but do not tend to shift instantly or dramatically. Here are some questions you can consider as you explore your work-related values:

  • What kind of lifestyle are you seeking?
  • What defines good or worthwhile work for you? Do you require your work to satisfy intellectual or moral needs?
  • Do you want to live in a particular area?
  • Is it important to help others as part of your career?
  • What kind of work environment do you prefer?
  • Is stability an important factor?

 See Work Values Reflection and Assessment Exercise.


Knowing what ideas and activities keep you engaged is key to finding fulfilling work. To help you reflect on your interests, consider the questions below:

  • What have been some of your favorite classes to date and why?
  • In your previous jobs, what did you like and dislike?
  • Which projects or accomplishments have been most fulfilling and why?
  • What has been your favorite internship/job? Extracurricular activity? Hobby?
  • What are some issues you feel strongly about?
  • If you were browsing in a bookstore, where would you start?
  • What was the most stimulating conversation you had recently?
  • If you could teach a course on any subject, what would it be? To whom would you teach it?
  • If you have a role model, what about his or her vocation is relevant to you?
  • What would you attempt if you knew you would not fail?
  • If you could become an expert/coach/consultant in one field, what would you want it to be?

Mind-mapping is a valuable tool for brainstorming about ideas/activities you gravitate towards—even those you may not be consciously aware of.  See this article for instructions on how to try it out.

See Stanford’s Career Interests tool to help you generate a list of your career interests. 


Understanding how you approach work and work best can allow for great job satisfaction and organizational fit. To remind you how your personality is critical to this process, consider the following:

  • How would friends describe you?
  • What energizes you? Are you more of an introvert or an extrovert?
  • How do you like to take in information? How do you learn?
  • How do you make decisions? Head or Heart?
  • How do you organize yourself?
  • Do you like to lead or follow?
  • What types of environments allow you to work best?

See the Myers Briggs Type Indicator or 16 Personalities as a place to start. Although these assessments will not likely tell you too many things about yourself that you do not already know, they can open your eyes to fields and pathways you may not have considered.


Taking time to identify and articulate your skills is critical not only for successful career exploration but also for the creation of convincing resumes and cover letters. The knowledge gained during the self-assessment process also translates into greater self-confidence and savvier answers in interviews.

You can develop skills in a variety of ways, including through jobs and internships, coursework and school projects, volunteer and extracurricular activities. During your time in our master’s programs, you are developing sophisticated and highly transferable skills in:

  • Research
  • Problem-solving / Critical Thinking
  • Project management (Remember, your thesis is a project—and a big one at that!)
  • Communicating complex ideas

See this Skills Inventory & Reflection Exercise which can help you acknowledge the skills you already have, as well as identify the skills you wish to develop.