Guest Blog: Helping You Identify Your Career Direction and Leadership Skills

This week, MyHCN is honored to welcome Dr. Elayne Chou as a guest blogger to talk about the importance of career assessments in both your career and your life. In our 9-step Framework, Assessment & Discovery comes in at Step Two in finding your authentic career (and life) path.  After Exposing yourself to the health careers out there, it is absolutely vital to pause and assess yourself, your goals, your interests and your talents in order to find out how you can match them with the health jobs currently in demand. Dr. Chou explains a few very good ways to do this and what it can help you achieve. 

Career Assessments:  Helping You Identify Your Career Direction and Leadership Skills

By Elayne Chou, Ph.D.

Career development is not just a one-time process that you engage in during college when trying to decide on your major or upon graduation when looking for your first job.  Throughout your life you will make many decisions and pursue many different paths in your career, whether you do so proactively and consciously or more passively and based on opportunities that present themselves to you.  Learning to think about your career as a lifelong, ongoing project that you get to design, create, and build is key to accomplishing the goals you have for your career and for your life.  

In fact, I don’t make a big distinction between career and life; all of us spend many hours of our life engaged in activities and most, if not all, of those activities can potentially have relevance for shaping your career and work life.  So I’d like to empower you to feel curious, excited, and engaged in thinking about and taking actions around developing your career regardless of whether you work in an organization, work for yourself in a self-employed capacity, are in between jobs, or are a stay-at-home parent.  

One helpful way to do this is to take career assessments.  Career assessments can provide you with useful information to help you think more deeply and proactively about the types of goals and action steps you want to take in your career.  Assessments can help you unearth the Career Interests, Career Values, Motivated Skills, and Leadership Competencies you possess.  Personality assessments can help you understand what unique character traits you bring to any workplace and team you are part of, and can give you insight into the types of occupations, career paths, or working environments you would thrive in.  Career assessments can tell you your strengths, lay out your areas for development, and provide you with data to help develop your capacity to lead.  

I’ve administered and interpreted assessments to people of all ages and at all stages of their careers; from college students trying to decide on a major or find their first job, to mid-career professionals looking to advance their careers or move in a different direction, to people nearing or in retirement.  Many organizations have high potential employees take similar assessments when being considered for development and promotion. Having this information can be useful to you throughout and at any point in your career.  

Let me give you a snapshot case study of a client I worked with who was trying to make decisions about career choices during her sophomore year in college.  A Latin-American young woman who was the first in her family to go to college, she came to me feeling quite depressed.  In discussing the stressors in her life she explained she had worked very hard to get into a good college with the intention of becoming a doctor, which was her parents’ dream for her.  They felt it would bring respect to her extended family and reflect highly upon her community, not to mention validate all the years of hard work her parents had put in upon immigrating to this country to see her and her siblings become educated and have successful lives.  

As my client spoke, it became clear to me she was in what career theorist James Marcia would call the foreclosure stage of career identity development.  She hadn’t really thought much about her career choice and certainly hadn’t explored in detail what a career as a physician would entail, but she had already made a commitment to this career path and had been taking career actions to move down that path.  She was doing well in her demanding pre-med classes, but she was starting to worry she might not have the stamina to keep going all the way through medical school.  The thought of it made her feel very demotivated, which was scaring her.  She saw this as a personal failure on her part, as opposed to a gut instinct that she could listen to, trust, and learn from.  I shared with her my experiences working with others like her who had similar feelings and we talked about the value of taking the time to deeply explore her motivations for being a doctor, as well as other potential career options that she had never had the opportunity to explore before.  I made sure to assess whether she was feeling a lack of mentoring and encouragement versus a lack of interest or engagement.  

I encouraged her to take several online assessments, some of which she was able to take free of charge through her university counseling center, such as the Strong Interest Inventory, California Psychological Inventory, and the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator.  She brought the results to me and we interpreted them together to better understand her personality preferences and her leadership qualities.  We also did some assessments in my office using card sorts to help her identify her career values and motivated skills.  She wrote an autobiography that provided background and context on who she was as a person and described her life goals, and we spent time exploring her experiences with health career settings, her connections to people in health careers, and her knowledge of health careers in general.  

Over the course of a few sessions my client started feeling less depressed.  She was feeling engaged and motivated by the fact that the assessments had given her more information that helped explain some of the things she had been troubled by.  The results framed what she had considered “flaws” as strengths if viewed in the right context.  For example, she had been feeling over-worked, tired, and stressed in part because she often found herself teaching her fellow classmates when they struggled with parts of the courses they were taking.  She would freely spend time talking with her roommates who weren’t pre-med about medical issues or concerns they had and she found people started seeking her out for this because she was good at it.  It was creating stress for her because she would have less time to focus on her own coursework.  

She had been berating herself and seeing this behavior in a negative light (“I’m a procrastinator”).  But the assessments showed she was the exact opposite; she was someone who was very methodical and plan-oriented, someone who managed her time well and worked efficiently, and someone who started early on homework rather than being deadline-driven.  Through the test results she was able to change her view of herself.  She started seeing her behaviors as a sign that she enjoyed educating others about health issues, motivating and encouraging people to make changes in their lifestyles, and teaching people how to learn for themselves.  

As we explored these themes I encouraged her to start researching health occupations that might use these skills and interests.  She began to reach out to talk to people in various occupations, such as the Health Educators at her university’s health center and a local psychologist who specialized in Health Psychology and worked at a hospital, as well as in private practice.  Over time she realized there were many different occupations that she had never even heard of and the more she explored the more she felt a pressure lifting from her shoulders.  After a couple of months she was able to make some decisions about switching her major and started applying to internships in areas that excited her.  I worked with her on her anxiety about communicating these changes to her family, and at that stage of the process it also helped her to come back to the data in the career assessments.  When she did she was reminded of what her strengths were, what her core values were, and what her vision was of what she could do.  

This is merely one example of how assessments can help you move forward in your career and move away from stress, anxiety, and fears about a path you haven’t yet assessed for yourself. 

If you would like more information about career assessments and how they may be helpful to you in your career planning, feel free to contact me through my website at  Mention that you heard about me through the MyHCN blog and I will be happy to provide a discount to you for a career assessment package.  To your future career success!  

About the Author:

In her fifteen years of professional experience, Dr. Elayne Chou has successfully coached and counseled hundreds of individuals on personal and professional growth issues. She has worked in many diverse settings, including university counseling centers --most recently at UC-Berkeley-- and as a program director at a community mental health center.  Through her affiliation with Leadership Alliance, Inc., ( Dr. Chou also works with managers, directors, and C-level executives at organizations large and small around the world, providing talent management solutions that include pre-hiring assessment, teambuilding, communications training, and executive coaching.  She serves on the Advisory Board for PACT, an adoption education and placement organization in Oakland, California. 

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