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Harnessing Your Inner Compass

6 Powerful Self-Assessment Tools for Personal and Professional Clarity

A wooden figure looks at itself in a mirror

The ancient adage "know thyself" holds a profound significance that transcends time and has become a cornerstone of effective communication and leadership. For those at the helm of their careers, cultivating self-knowledge through heightened self-awareness is not merely a reflective exercise but a strategic asset in navigating the complexities of modern leadership.

Leaders who possess a deep comprehension of their own capabilities and motivations find this knowledge leads to other positive outcomes, including improved personal and professional decision-making, increased empathy and EQ, more effective communication, greater adaptability, better conflict resolution, effective stress management, increased resilience, and greater authenticity. They are also better positioned to make career choices that resonate with their core values, leading to heightened job satisfaction and enhanced performance. Conversely, a deficit in self-awareness can lead to a misalignment between one's role and intrinsic attributes, culminating in personal and professional dissatisfaction.

Through a combination of introspective practices and self-assessment tools—of which there are many—you can uncover the unique blend of qualities that make you distinct. This article aims to present a few helpful tools for an introspective journey, ensuring that your leadership path is a true reflection of your innermost self.


“Even though most people believe they are self-aware, only 10%—15% of the people we studied actually fit the criteria". 

~ Tara Eurich, self-awareness researcher from her 2018 HBR article ‘What Self-Awareness Really Is (and How to Cultivate It)’.

Assessing Your Skills

Understanding our acquired skills plays a crucial role in career development and progression, enabling us to make informed decisions about our career paths, roles, and ongoing education. It aids us in conducting a gap analysis for further skill development, keeping us competitive and relevant in our fields. It contributes to better decision-making, increased self-confidence, and adaptability to change in a dynamic work environment. It also facilitates realistic and achievable goal setting and improves communication about our values and contributions in the workplace.

UC Berkeley Career Engagement has compiled a list of skills to help professionals acknowledge the skills they have used, the skills they would like to use, and the skills they would like to develop.

ACCESS THE TOOL: “Know Your Skills”

Assessment Assessing Your Interests

Understanding our interests, particularly concerning our careers, is crucial to personal and professional clarity and fulfillment. When we align our work with our interests, it boosts our motivation and engagement. It ensures that we naturally invest time and energy in professional endeavors that lead to higher quality work and career satisfaction. However, it's essential to recognize that interests are not static; they evolve as we grow personally and professionally. Even seasoned professionals can benefit from periodically reassessing their interests, as this introspection can reveal new passions or shift priorities. This ongoing process of self-discovery helps keep our careers dynamic and fulfilling, ensuring that we remain engaged and passionate about our work, even as our professional landscape and personal lives change.

Numerous methods exist to evaluate our interests. One valuable online resource, O*Net, offers a range of occupational tools, including the 'Interest Profiler.' This tool helps individuals identify their work-related interests across six key dimensions: realistic, investigative, artistic, social, enterprising, and conventional. 1 It's an effective way to understand how your interests align with different work environments and potential career outcomes.

ACCESS THE TOOL: O*Net Interest Profiler

Assessing Your Strengths

Strengths refer to our unique combination of skills, talents, and abilities, such as being highly organized, creative, a great communicator, or a strategic thinker. However, the concept of strengths extends beyond mere proficiency or technical skill. Being skilled at something that doesn't necessarily invigorate or fulfill us is possible. For instance, someone might be excellent at analytical tasks but feel drained rather than energized by this work. In such cases, despite the proficiency, this wouldn't be considered a true strength.

Strengths, therefore, are those areas where aptitude and passion intersect. They are the tasks we look forward to, the projects that excite us, and the challenges we relish. When working in our areas of strength, we typically experience a sense of flow, where time seems to pass quickly, and we feel a deep engagement with our work. Leveraging these strengths in the workplace not only leads to higher productivity and success but also contributes to greater job satisfaction and overall well-being. Identifying and utilizing these strengths is vital for individuals seeking to maximize their potential and fulfillment in their professional lives.

One popular strengths assessment is the Clifton Strengths Assessment (formerly Clifton StrengthsFinder). This online test measures the intensity of talents in each of their 34 themes, such as learner, maximizer, strategic, activator, futuristic, and so forth. 2

ACCESS THE TOOL: Clifton Strengths Assessment

Assessing Your Personality

Personality refers to the unique combination of characteristics, behaviors, and thought patterns that define an individual's typical way of interacting with the world. Understanding our personality—and the opportunities and challenges it brings—helps us recognize personal strengths and growth areas we might not have otherwise recognized, especially regarding how we relate to others. This understanding can enhance interpersonal relationships, improve communication skills, and lead to more effective conflict resolution. As with the other assessment areas in this article, knowing our personality also assists in career development and job satisfaction.

One of the most researched personality models is the Big Five Personality Traits model. It posits that our personalities can be understood within a framework of five primary dimensions: Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism. 3 By understanding where we fall on the spectrum of each of these traits, we can gain valuable insights into our behavior, preferences, and how we relate to others.

Most individuals experience greater job satisfaction when their work aligns with their style and preferred methods of operating and living. With this in mind, Berkeley Career Engagement has created a simple assessment that helps us identify our personality and preferences across three main categories: Personality traits and personal qualities, personal style preferences, and work environment preferences.4

ACCESS THE TOOL: Personality assessment

Assessing Your Values

Discovering our values may be one of the most critical areas of self-reflection we can engage in, as values are the guiding principles and beliefs that shape our decisions, behaviors, and attitudes. They are deeply held convictions about what is most important in life, such as honesty, integrity, family, innovation, or social responsibility. Understanding our values helps us find our purpose by aligning our actions with what is truly important. This alignment provides clarity in decision-making and keeps us motivated and focused, especially in challenging times.

When our work and life choices resonate with our core values, we experience greater fulfillment and satisfaction. For instance, someone who values creativity and innovation might find a more rewarding career in a dynamic, fast-paced industry. Similarly, a person who prioritizes helping others might find fulfillment in healthcare or social work. By identifying and honoring our values, we pave the way for a more authentic and purpose-driven life and career.

A helpful resource is the ‘Work and Personal Values’ assessment. This inventory allows us to identify values in four key areas and then prioritize and define them so that they become more actionable.

ACCESS THE TOOL: Work and personal values assessment

Making Better Decisions

While thorough self-assessment and deep self-understanding are crucial, they are not the final steps in personal growth. The key lies in translating our self-knowledge and insights into tangible actions. This typically involves setting goals and making choices that may differ from our past decisions. However, the leap from self-awareness to action can be challenging for many. Concerns about advocating for ourselves, fears of making the wrong choices despite their alignment with our true selves, and other apprehensions can be significant hurdles.

Recognizing and understanding the barriers to action is beneficial. The following are common tendencies and mental traps that often impede our ability to take decisive action and make improved decisions.

Cognitive Biases

Common biases that can skew decision-making include confirmation bias, where we favor information that aligns with our existing beliefs; anchoring bias, which involves giving disproportionate weight to the first piece of information we receive; and overconfidence bias, characterized by an inflated trust in our knowledge or abilities. It's helpful to reflect on your own potential biases and consider their underlying drivers, such as a fear of failure or a desire for security. Recognizing these biases is the first step in mitigating their impact on your decisions.

Following the Herd

This refers to individuals' tendency to mimic a larger group's actions or decisions, often disregarding their own beliefs or the evidence at hand. If you find yourself inclined to conform to the crowd, it's essential to introspect deeply about your reasons. Consider what your life might look like if you made decisions based on your own desires and needs rather than simply treading in the footsteps of others. Such reflection can help you discern whether your choices align with your personal values and goals.

Relying on Limited Information

Relying on limited information involves making decisions based on an incomplete set of data, often leading to poorly informed or skewed outcomes due to the lack of a comprehensive understanding of the situation. What might you be missing? Are you making assumptions that need to be tested?

Always Needing More Information

Some individuals hesitate to take action or make decisions, believing they need more information and must conduct further research. This lack of trust in the sufficiency of current knowledge leads to procrastination and delays. If you recognize this tendency in yourself, it's worth exploring what might be driving it. Often, it stems from a fear of making the wrong choice or a fear of the unknown. To counteract this, consider what small steps you can take to initiate progress. Even a minor action can help break the cycle of indecision and start building momentum.

Short-term Thinking

In decision-making, short-term thinking often leads us to prioritize immediate benefits or consequences, potentially neglecting our long-term objectives and the broader implications. This approach can result in choices that are unsustainable or detrimental in the long run. Before yielding to an impulsive (often emotional) reaction or basing your decision solely on short-term outcomes, take a moment to broaden your perspective. Consider the potential impacts of this decision in the months and years to come. Envisioning the future consequences can help you make more balanced and forward-thinking choices.

There are plenty of helpful tools to help us bypass some of the aforementioned tendencies. These include making pros and cons lists and visualization activities, which provide structured methods to aid in clearer, more balanced decision-making processes.

ACCESS THE RESOURCE: Decision-Making Tool 

“Many people fear regret when making important risky decisions. What if it turns out badly? They worry that they would feel terrible, and, lacking the proper tools to assess risk, they exacerbate these fears.” 

~ Don Moore, UC Berkeley Professor | Associate Dean of Academic Affairs 

The journey of self-reflection and assessment is a cornerstone for achieving a satisfying career and a fulfilling work life. By understanding our skills, interests, strengths, personality, and values, we equip ourselves with the knowledge to make informed and authentic choices. Whether leveraging our strengths or aligning our career with our evolving interests and core values, each aspect of self-knowledge contributes to a more fulfilling professional journey and personal life.

Notably, the pursuit of self-understanding is an ongoing process, one that is essential for navigating the ever-changing landscapes of our professional and personal lives with clarity and purpose. So, even for seasoned professionals, revisiting and reassessing our personal attributes can lead to renewed motivation and insights, ensuring that our careers continue to resonate with our true selves.


  1. U.S. Department of Labor. (n.d.). Interest Profiler. My Next Move.
  2. Gallup. (n.d.). CliftonStrengths. Gallup.
  3. Berkeley Well-Being Institute. (n.d.). The Big Five Personality Traits.
  4. Berkeley Career Engagement (n.d.). Personality and Preferences.
  5. Berkeley Career Engagement (n.d.). Work and Personal Values
  6. University of California, Berkeley Career Center. (n.d.). Decision Making.
  7. Tasha Eurich. (2018, January). What Self-Awareness Really Is (and How to Cultivate It). Harvard Business Review.
  8. Berkeley Career Engagement (n.d.). Know Your Skills.
  9. Berkeley Executive Education. (n.d.). Decision-making: Interview with Don Moore.…