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Conducting a Career Self-Assessment – for New MBA Admits (Part 1 of 3)

MBAs are often told that a new job search should begin with a process of introspection known as “self-assessment,” yet that advice is not always accompanied by a prescriptive guide for what that process should entail … the words themselves are deemed sufficiently self-explanatory.

At the same time, a good career self-assessment is not rocket science. It involves focusing on three time periods – past, present, and future – and it can benefit from use of a small handful of exercises and instruments, the most prevalent (and useful) of which are the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), whose intellectual antecedent is the philosophy of Carl Jung, and the CareerLeader assessment, developed by Drs. Tim Butler and Jim Waldroop at Harvard Business School.

For a rising MBA, the need to conduct a critical self-assessment is acute because the cost of having to reverse course or of simply “getting it wrong” – for example, by chasing after “your roommate’s dream job” rather than your own, or by discovering that your dream career path lies in private wealth management one week after deadlines for private wealth management internships have passed – is high.

For those who naturally resist the notion that a personality test or any form of psychological or career-oriented instrument can accurately capture and reduce the uniqueness and extraordinary breadth of the human condition to a few letters or symbols, my suggestion is to evaluate these tools not on the basis of whether they can be elevated to the level of immutable laws of physics, but simply on the basis of their usefulness in helping one to be more effective and to reach better decisions.

Examining the Past

With regard to past experience, the simplest way to begin to categorize and make sense of one’s true abilities and preferences is to conduct what I call a “highs” and “lows” exercise. For each chunk of bullet text in your current résumé – whether a particular job, a specific assignment or project, an educational, sports, or other experience – write down the absolute best part of that experience, the “high,” and the absolute worst one as well, the “low” (identify both a positive and a negative experience for each chunk of time and effort).

At what point were your experiences akin to pure pleasure? Describe days in which you felt completely immersed in work, derived pride in your effort, approached challenges and hurdles as though they were fun puzzles to solve, enjoyed the company of your work peers or schoolmates, and looked forward to the next day ( … what specifically made that experience seem that way)? Conversely, what experiences made you feel miserable? Describe the days in which you felt the opposite of all the above, those experiences from which you couldn’t wait to be reprieved. Do this for each significant period (1-2 years) of school and work experience.

A “highs” and “lows” exercise can be useful when facilitated by an experienced career coach (who can recognize patterns across many professionals and MBAs in similar situations), and especially so if the exercise is combined with an MBTI and CareerLeader assessment – the former can help you understand ways in which you prefer to organize information, make decisions, and interact in team work settings, while the latter can help prescribe MBA-relevant career path options (helping you decide, for example, whether working as a venture capitalist or becoming an entrepreneur might make the most sense for you).

Ideally, to bring your self-assessment up to date, you should integrate all three of the above – the facilitated (or self-conducted) “highs” and “lows” exercise, plus the two professionally-delivered instruments (MBTI and CareerLeader are available as part of a number or pre-MBA programs and during many business schools’ orientation programs). The end result is a strong awareness of the contexts in which your talents, interests, and abilities have been most successfully applied in the past … and a guide to where they are most likely to help you flourish in the future.

Tune in next week for the continuation of how to conduct an MBA career self-assessment in the context of the Present (the duration of your business school degree) as well as the Future (the next 3-5, and then 10 or more, years beyond graduation). The goal is to arrive on “day 1” of business school with a critical sense of where you’ve been and with both a highly self-aware and marketplace-relevant strategy for how to succeed in business school and project yourself into the next phase of your life and career.

Ivan Kerbel – bio:

Ivan Kerbel is the CEO of Practice LLC, an educational services firm that conducts an intensive, annual pre-orientation program for newly-admitted MBAs, The Practice MBA Summer Forum.

Ivan served previously as Director of the Career Development Office at The Yale School of Management and as a Sr. Associate Director at Wharton’s MBA Career Management office. He is a Wharton MBA alumnus and a former management consultant at Katzenbach Partners, a New York City strategy consulting boutique. Ivan can be reached via LinkedIn.