Assessing Yourself

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Last month I introduced this column, which discusses career management and job hunting, and gave an overview of the topics I plan to cover. This month we’ll look at what should be the very first step in your career plan: a complete self-assessment. You must search the very depths of your soul and find the answers to these questions:

What are your core values and beliefs?

  • What is most important to you and why? Pride in your work? Making a difference? Contributing to society?

How would you describe yourself, including your strengths and weaknesses?

  • What’s your personality type? Are you introverted or extroverted? Do you enjoy taking risks or are you more conservative?
  • Are you detail-oriented? Do you have good organizational skills? Are you flexible and adaptive?
  • Do you handle pressure, deadlines and criticism well? Do you aspire to be a manager or leader?

Why do you want to be a technical communicator?

  • To help others? Because it’s intellectually stimulating? Because you like working with people? Because you enjoy bringing order to chaos?
  • Do you have exceptional technical and communication skills? Do you know a wide variety of software fairly well, or only a few programs but very well?

What kinds of technical communication do you want to do?

  • Do you like working on Online Help? User Manuals? Developer guides? Websites? Documents for technical users or non-technical users?
  • What kinds of products do you enjoying documenting? Software? Hardware? Home appliances? Products used by companies or products that are publicly available?

Where do you want to work?

  • What size and kind of company? Progressive? Traditional? Growing and always changing? Stable and secure?

These questions will help paint a detailed picture of you as a person, a worker, and a technical communicator. You need to think about the kinds of projects you enjoyed working on, and analyze what it was about them that you liked, and the skills they allowed you to use.

The more specific you can be about these things, the more successful you’ll be at managing your career. This is often the opposite of what many people think when they are looking for work. They mistakenly think that the more unspecific they are (I will work anywhere and do anything), the greater their chances at finding work.

By focusing on what you like doing and where you want to do it, you actually increase your chances of success because you are reducing the number of people you are competing against. You are tailoring the job hunt to you, rather than the other way around.

You should still be flexible, of course, but you must know the “red lines” that you cannot cross. These may include all of the items mentioned above, and other things such as location, pay, and the work environment. You should prioritize and separate your needs from your wants.

In my last job search, I focused on a few positions at small to medium sized firms where I could create highly technical documentation for complex products. I had several interviews and received an offer in less than a month, and requests for interviews continued to arrive even after I ended my search.

Self-examination can be a long and difficult process, but is worth the results. Because you’ll probably change over the years, you should continue this process throughout your life.

Next month, we’ll look at how you can find the places where you can do what is you want to do.