“If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.”
― Martin Luther King Jr.

It’s a new year and like many people, you are scoping out job possibilities and considering a fresh start. You may be entering the job market for the first time, re-entering after a layoff or transitioning out of a less than ideal career. Before you rush into fast and frenzied networking, revamping your resume or launching a full-on job search, I highly recommend you first take time to engage in self-assessment.

Early in my career, I remember making career decisions based on what was urgent, practical, logical or lucrative without consciously considering how my interests, skills, passions and values would contribute to my overall job satisfaction and success. I would look at job openings and say, “I can do that!” without fully processing what were the best opportunities for me. I made a few mistakes along the way by accepting assignments and promotions despite not necessarily enjoying the work or by working for companies and organizations that didn’t always value my contributions. Among the reasons for a few of those missteps in my career choices was lack of honest self-assessment. I’m not talking about the assessment that happens as part of your annual performance review. But rather, the process of thoughtful self-analysis about the skills and potential you have to accomplish your career goals and dreams. It’s the work you must do for yourself and it should not be shortchanged in the job search process.

Give yourself permission and time to look deeply at the attributes that make you valuable to the workforce. Consider previous feedback from others, but know that your career success is more about what you can do and what you aspire to rather than the labels and conditions put upon you by others. Supervisors and coworkers can provide you with valuable insight, but only you can gauge what factors energize and engage you about your career. The last thing you want to do is choose your next career based on what someone else says sounds good or based on what someone else is doing that seems exciting without having done your own evaluation.

Choose your work based on what you know about yourself — what you know about your skills, interests, preferences and personal needs. Take that information and build your career in companies and organizations where you can add value and thrive. And, as a professional of color, remember to consider your work self in the context of the larger corporate community as well as that of your own framework of traditions, values and culture. Your experiences and aspirations are part of what makes you valuable and unique in the workforce. That said, be sure you know how your own behaviors, abilities, perspectives and instincts may work for or against you with employers. Investing the time up front to clearly understand what you want and what factors are most critical to potential employers will save you time and eliminate some frustration as you make your next move.

When you consider what you have to offer employers and what you need to be fulfilled in your work, consider the questions in the five categories below:

1. Skills and Accomplishments (Personal, Functional, Knowledge and Technical)
• What do I do well?
• Where do I need to develop?
• What is my personal development plan to increase my career-specific knowledge and skill?
• What credentials do I possess?
• What have I accomplished in each job throughout my career? List out 10-20 accomplishments including the situation, actions taken and the results.
• Where do I see myself in the next 1, 3, 5 or 10 years?

2. Interests and Preferences
• If there were no obstacles, what would my dream job be?
• What is most important for me in a job/career (type of work, culture, people I work with, etc.)?
• What companies and industries interest me?
• What style of communication do I prefer?
• What type of work energizes me? What type of work drains me?
• Is there enough creativity, routine or technology in my work?
• When I am not at work, what do I like to do? Can I do this as a career?

3. Needs, Values and Satisfiers
• What do I value?
• What do I need to be satisfied?
• What aspects of my current or past work have I found most interesting and satisfying?
• What do I dislike about my current or past work?
• What business cultures do I thrive in?
• What benefits do I need (vacation, medical insurance, 401K)?
• What is my minimum compensation? Ideal compensation?
• Is there a flexible schedule?
• What management type supports my work style?

4. How Others See Me (ask a supervisor, mentor or colleague)
• How would you describe me as a professional?
• What are my best work qualities?
• What are my blind spots as a professional?

5. Current or Previous Work Environment
• Do I realize my leadership potential and take steps to cultivate it?
• Who do I have as a role model in the workplace?
• Who are my career mentors/advisors?
• Who am I advising/mentoring?
• What are the highest levels of achievement for people of color at my workplace?
• Does my organization acknowledge the value of my skills and contributions?
• What struggles have I had with previous managers/co-workers?
• What workplace behaviors may have limited my success thus far? What behavioral changes do I need to make?

Spending the time to assess yourself and develop a job search action plan based on your response to the questions above will help you to:
1. See yourself objectively by analyzing your marketable strengths, genuine interests, and preferred skills.
2. Develop results-based accomplishment statements for your resume and responses to interview questions regarding your skills, values, goals and achievements.
3. Identify targets for pursuing your most desirable networking opportunities, positions and companies.
4. Launch a clear, organized and focused job search based on your identified skills and interests and matched with your targeted job descriptions and companies.
5. Understand your historical job patterns, including activities and behaviors to start, stop or continue.
6. Start your job search with more confidence as you reflect on and become aware of your strengths and professional contributions.

Stopping to evaluate yourself realistically can be difficult, but will also help you to see how much more you have to offer than you may have realized. It helps you to see areas for growth and create strategies to advance in your career. Self-assessment allows you to formulate a plan to acquire additional skills, develop new behaviors, eliminate unproductive activities and put dreams on paper so that you can read them and work them into reality. It isn’t as much about looking back as it is about helping you to see how to keep moving forward.

Along the path to career success, refuse to give in to negative thinking that can hold you back. Negative thinking can sabotage you before you get started. Sometimes without even knowing that you are doing it, you self-select your way out of a job or an assignment. When you do that, you eliminate the opportunity to become the professional you are capable of becoming and remove the chance to achieve your level of desired success. Realistic self-assessment helps you avoid negativity and fosters healthy self-esteem. One of the most critical aspects of self-assessment is the resultant self-confidence that comes from knowing who you are and what you are capable of accomplishing. Consider yourself capable and valuable to any workplace and know that your cultural strengths, values and work ethic will hold you in good stead as you go about learning how to do your job and perform with excellence in the process. And know that you can be successful no matter what challenges you face.

Self-assessment can take several different formats, including numerous personality and skills-based assessments designed to assist you in discovering the best path for your career. Certainly, there are several that are worthy of your time. I recommend taking the MBTI (Myers-Briggs Type Indicator) at the CPP, Inc. elevate site and meeting with a certified practitioner to review your results and develop an action plan.

If you are considering a career change and want more help choosing the right field, check out the ONET Online website here . It is a free online resource from the US Department of Labor, Employment & Training Administration where you can search careers with keywords, browse careers by industry and take the O*NET Interest Profiler to decide what kinds of careers you might want to explore.