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Assess Your Values, Interests, and Skills

Self-assessment is the process of identifying:
  • what matters most to you (VALUES).
  • what you enjoy doing (INTERESTS).
  • what you are good at (SKILLS).
Self-assessment requires careful analysis of everyday activities and ideas, which can be a challenge since things so familiar are difficult to dissect. Working through the self-assessment process with a friend or group can help, and the rewards of self-assessment are well worth the effort.


What characteristics do you value in your career? How do these values connect with the career options that you are considering?
  • What kind of lifestyle are you seeking?
  • 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?


Interests are reflected in your activities and affinities. Identifying your interests often helps focus you on what ideas and pursuits keep you engaged, an important element in satisfying work. Include interests from graduate school as well as from other points in your life.


The skills you have developed strongly influence your career options. Transferable skills are competencies learned in one environment that can easily be employed in other settings.
During graduate school, students usually acquire sophisticated skills in:
  • Research
  • Problem solving
  • Project management
  • Communicating complex ideas
Taking time to identify and articulate your skills is critical not only for successful career exploration but also for the creation of convincing résumés and cover letters. The knowledge gained during the self-assessment process also translates into greater self-confidence and savvier answers in interviews.
Numerous career advice handbooks feature useful exercises to help you identify your transferable skills. We recommend Basalla & Debelius's So What Are You Going to Do With That? and Richard Bolles's What Color is Your Parachute?
Or use the exercise below to identify skills developed and honed during graduate school. To get you started, read an incomplete list of graduate student skills. (PDF)

Bringing It All Together

Now that you have developed a list of your values, interests and skills, it’s time to bring them together and think about how you could apply these in different careers.
Start by summarizing the main themes that came out of your self-assessment. Then read it aloud and start thinking of careers that incorporate these themes. Share the list with a friend or family member to get additional ideas about careers. At this point, it’s just brainstorming—so write down everything that comes to mind.

Keep your mind open to possible careers. As you learn of something, consider how that career connects to your values, interests and skills. A few suggestions for learning about different careers:

  • Keep a journal of any career related ideas, such as jobs mentioned in books, on TV or by a friend.
  • Read online profiles of people in different careers. Do any of these interest you?
  • Talk to your friends and family about their career paths.
  • Use the Skills Search feature at O*NET to identify careers that use some of the skills you identified.
If you are having difficulty identifying career options, explore some common nonacademic career options for graduate students. Remember—these are only a few of your options! 
After you have identified a few careers of interest, learn more through informational interviewing or by gaining experience in the field.


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