3 Tools That Help You Answer the Question "What Should I Do With My Life?"
Career assessments are great. Who doesn’t like the idea of answering a few questions and getting a report that tells you exactly what step to make next? Unfortunately, that’s not quite how they work. But, the good news is that they are a productive way to begin figuring out your next move in a way that goes beyond fretting about it in your own head.
As a career counselor, I’ve come across a variety of neat assessments. But no matter what I try, I always come back to a certain type. It’s not that they’re better or more thorough—it’s that the results require a bit of unpacking that can mean something different for everyone.
So, what are these magical career assessments? Card sorts! They’re just a deck of cards that you organize based on your own skills, interests, or values. How you organize each deck of cards helps you learn more about yourself, which in turn should give you more insight into your latest career conundrum.
1. To Figure Out What Skills You Actually Like Using
If you work with a career counselor, it’s likely you’ll get to play with SkillScan. This deck of 64 cards has a different skill highlighted on each card (e.g., solve problems, negotiate, counsel, make decisions) that you sort into groups based on how much you enjoy using each skill. There are a few directions you can take the card sort from there depending on your particular situation.
The SkillScan card sort results in a formal report illustrating possible careers that require skills that you enjoy. But the part I find more useful is the actual action of deciding which skills you like and don’t like. Big career decisions are daunting, but breaking them up into a series of tiny decisions makes the whole ordeal much more manageable.
The SkillScan is helpful for people who are first starting out or thinking about making a career change. If you’re interested in trying out the SkillScan for yourself, there’s an online version available here for $14.95.
2. To Figure Out Your Career Calling
In this card sort, designed by career counselor extraordinaire Richard Leider, you go through and pick your favorite activities, and then narrow down the selection to discover your “gift” and your “calling.”
The results you get out of this card sort show how you solve problems, the environment you would thrive in, what you care about, what you avoid, and even how others might see you. I’ve found that the Calling Cards have something to offer everyone. Try it for yourself here. It’s free!
3. To Figure Out Your (Real) Values
My absolute favorite card sort and the one I use more frequently with clients is the Values Card Sort by Richard Knowdell. Most people are pretty good at articulating at least some of their skillts and interests, but we get a bit dishonest with ourselves when it comes to values. There are the values we think we should have and then there are the values we really have. (No one wants to admit they care more about earning a high income than helping society.) That, and the fact that they’re just a bit harder to express. Simply put, they’re less concrete than answering the question, “Do you know how to use Google Analytics?”
The Values Card Sort enumerates 54 different career values and tasks you with sorting them into five categories, ranging from “Always Value” to “Never Value.” Figuring this out can help you nail down why you’re not happy at your current job, choose between two career opportunities, or define what you’re looking for in a company’s culture. You can try the Knowdell Values Card Sort for $12 here or a generic values card sort—for free—here.
Next time you have a career question that’s just too big to answer all at once, see if a career card sort can offer any insight. It won’t answer all of your questions, but the process of working through the card sort just might help you to start figuring everything out.
Lily Zhang serves as a Career Development Specialist at MIT where she works with a range of students from undergraduates to PhDs on how to reach their career aspirations. When she's not indulging in a new book or video game, she's thinking about, talking about, or writing about careers. Follow her musings on Twitter @lzhng.More from this Author