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Assess Your Values, Interests, and Skills

Self-assessment is the process of identifying:

It is important to take a step back, get to know yourself, and understand your wants and needs for the next step in your career. This process is also worth repeating throughout your life as your values, interests, and skills change and grow.

Resource: ImaginePhD, a free career exploration tool designed for humanities and social science students but used by students from all disciplines, has built-in assessments for each of these categories as well.


Recognizing what you value can help focus and narrow your career options. What qualities would you like to have in your career? How do your values connect with the career options you are considering? Ask yourself questions such as:

  • What kind of life do you want to have and how do you want work to fit into it?
  • Do you want your work to satisfy intellectual needs or moral/ethical values?
  • 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 for you?


Interests are reflected in your activities and affinities. Identifying your interests often helps you focus on what ideas and pursuits keep you engaged, an important element in satisfying work. How do your interests connect with the career options you are considering?

  • What past experiences have you found satisfying or intellectually stimulating?
  • What activities do you enjoy most in your graduate work?
  • What activities do you enjoy most outside of your scholarly 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.


Bringing It All Together

Now that you have developed a list of your values, interests, and skills, 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.


Get Personalized Career Coaching

If you are a current graduate student in an on-campus program or a postdoc at the University of Illinois, you can schedule an appointment to meet with a career advisor to discuss exploring and identifying career options.

Schedule an Appointment