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  • Writer's pictureDr. Lisabeth Medlock

The First Step in #Career Exploration or #Change is to Know Yourself-Here’s How

When I work with clients, the first step we take is to paint a picture (sometimes through a mind map) of who they are by examining what they know and can do, what they love and value and what they want for their future. This phase, in design thinking terms, is getting to know the end user, because essentially, clients are the end users of their careers.

Knowing yourself is a phase of uncovering, discovering and exploration. This process can be done at any age or stage of a career. It can move as fast or as slow as clients dictate, so long as they do not jump ahead to think about salary, location, companies, or job tasks. We also don’t discuss further education or training needed. These come later in the process- they are the framing; this is the foundation.

The Questions You Should Ask and Answer

Getting to know self is simply a process of asking and answering questions; some open ended, some part of assessment tools. I want to share the tools I use in this first step of career exploration.

1) What do you love to do, where do you choose to spend your time?

These questions are some of the easiest to answer. In my process, I ask clients to think about, and sometimes track, how they choose to spend their time. I also ask about “Peak Moments” in tine when they were on fire, on purpose and joyous. It is also helpful to reflect on what you would get up and do every day for no money, what subjects you love/loved to learn or read about, and when you feel the most joy and fulfillment.

2) What are your interests?

I have found this is best answered through assessment. One way to link interest to potential careers is through obtaining your Holland Code. It is the basis of some of the oldest and most often used interest inventories, like the Strong, and is most directly linked to job satisfaction. At its core, it is a personality type, but it is more useful, in my opinion, than the Big 5, 16Pf or MBTI. John Holland identified six personality types: Realistic (R), Investigative (I), Artistic (A), Social (S), Enterprising (E) and Conventional (C). Your code will be derived from your top three areas.

There are a few ways to obtain your code. A fair way is to get a free assessment on O*net: A better way is to pay $15 and take the Self Directed Search:

The best way is to take the Strong interest Inventory, which will provide your Holland code and a list of possible careers and jobs. I give the Strong as part of my coaching process.

3) What are your skills and strengths?

You can sit down and list all your skills, technical and transferable, but skill lists often help you think beyond what you can self-generate. Check out the skills and knowledge portion of the Flower exercise in Richard Bolles’ book, What Color is Your Parachute?, which was updated last year. You can also rate your skills on O*NET: or use Career One Stop Skills Marcher:

Identifying strengths can be as simple as thinking about what you do well or in what ways friends and family ask you for help and assistance. A more formal and often used tool is Gallup’s CliftonStrengths Assessment. The 177 questions assesses 34 strengths in four domains: Executing, Influencing, Relationship Building and Strategic Thinking. You can take CliftonStrengths for about $60 at

4) What are your values?

There are many values lists out there and a few key questions you can ask yourself. Because I work from a foundation of positive psychology, I prefer the Values in Action tool, which clients can take at no cost. The VIA assesses 24 desirable character strengths, organized under six core virtues: Wisdom, Courage, Humanity, Justice, Temperance and Transcendence. You can take the VIA at

This first phase of knowing yourself yields a wealth of information that will be used for targeted career and job focus, informational interviewing, personal branding and resume and cover letter writing. As a coach, I work with clients to make sense of the “data” through mapping or diagrams to make connections and draw some conclusions.

In next week’s article, I will focus on another success strategy that is foundational to career change, adopting a growth mindset.

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