Find Your Focus - Starting with you

Unsure of your direction and exploring your options? Finding a career niche that fits you and that will be rewarding and challenging starts with knowing yourself – the skills you have and enjoy using, your interests, your personality and your values. Stepping back to take stock and develop your list of what you are looking for in a career is an important first step. Once you have these criteria or career 'must-haves,' it's a lot easier to generate and assess potential career options.  

Here is a primer on the factors to consider when looking at the 'big picture.' These factors are frequently discussed in career counselling appointments at the Career Centre. Talking to a Career Counsellor can help to clarify your personal career criteria, develop potential career options and explore their suitability. Come into the Career Centre (DV 3094) or call us at 905-828-5451 to make a confidential appointment. 


1. Discovering Your Personal Career Criteria

There are many factors to take into account when developing your career direction, as described in the Career Decision Wheel1 below.   


                                External Factors

Career Wheel

                                Internal Factors

1Career Pathways 2nd ed., Amundson & Poehnell (1996). ISBN 0-660-16397-7

The lower half of “The Wheel” represents internal factors about you. The external factors in the upper half concern fitting into the labour market and expectations of significant others. Many people focus more on external factors like the labour market conditions and how to satisfy them, even though the internal factors are most crucial for finding a career path that is personally rewarding. At the UTM Career Centre, we help you understand your skills, interests, values and personality to develop your own career criteria. This is invaluable in generating and assessing potential career options.


2. Skills

Skills focus on your abilities and the tasks you are able to do and how well you can do them. Focus on the skills and tasks you actually want to do as part of your work — e.g.,analytical, research, writing skills.  

Many graduate students lament that they do not have marketable skills for careers outside academia. Here is a brief list of the marketable skills that are transferable from course work and independent research activities for various discipline areas. Read more about how these skills are useful outside of academia: 

Humanities & Social Sciences 

These graduates possess critical and speculative competencies. They can use empirical methods of investigation prior to drawing any conclusions or inferences from data. Key competencies commonly include: 

  • analytical thinking 
  • critical thinking
  • qualitative research skills
  • report writing
  • debating
  • language skills (bilingualism or multilingualism)
  • deductive reasoning
  • creativity
  • expressivity
  • attention to detail 

Physical & Life Sciences 

In addition to some of the skills outlined above, these graduates possess specialized competencies in: 

  • Using equipment and instrumentation to conduct research and experiments according to rigorous procedures and safety standards 
  • Performing controlled experiments requiring consideration of numerous variables, constants and controls 
  • Executing graphing and process skills requiring precision and accuracy 

Professional Degrees 

These graduates will leave the University of Toronto with the following competencies: 

  • Knowledgeable about current practice in their field of professional endeavour 
  • Capable in the common technical procedures required by their professional field 
  • Capable of mentoring others effectively in a professional setting 
  • Knowledgeable about the professional structures, practices, standards and skills of their area of professional practice 
  • Well informed about, and deeply committed to, standards of ethical practice
  • Prepared to exercise professional leadership in their chosen field 

 Additional skills that could be important for identifying your career direction may also come from: extracurricular activities, volunteering, paid work, internships, travel and study abroad, entrepreneurship, as well as involvements in faith communities, athletics and the arts. Knowing all the skills in your repertoire, including those developed outside academia, is an important step to finding your career path. Identifying those skills that you enjoy and want to use in your future career as well as those you’d prefer to limit or avoid is also an important consideration. To assess and analyze your skills and explore the kinds of careers that fit, please book an appointment to do an assessment of your skills with a Career Counsellor in DV 3094 or by calling 905-828-5451. 

3. Interests

Interests are the types of topics, situations, issues that you are attracted to learning, thinking about and dealing with. Although your field of study and/or thesis work may have monopolized your energy and provided a very specialized interest area, thinking about interests in a broader sense as well as those you have outside of your studies can be very helpful for identifying career areas and options outside of academia. 

Holland Codes Assessment 

The Holland Codes system is a quick and simple way of getting to know your career interests within six broad vocational themes and environments to help you research these areas in more detail. The graphic below shows the six codes, of which most people identify with two or three. Career areas associated with the codes can be used to generate career ideas for further research. Learn more about this assessment here: 


Below is a graphic with the six main Holland Codes this assessment uses. 


Holland Codes graphic

Strong Interest Inventory Assessment 

The Strong Interest Inventory is a more detailed assessment that helps identify your interests in terms of occupations, subject areas, activities, leisure activities, people and some personal characteristics as well. This assessment is more in-depth and time consuming but can be helpful for those struggling to identify their interests. 

Enumerating and Analyzing Your Major Experiences 

A simple but powerful way to understand your interests and values is to examine the major life and career experiences (or parts of them) you have had. Reflecting on them can provide many insights about what motivates and rewards you intrinsically. Knowing what you really enjoyed about an experience, what you disliked, which experiences stand out for you as most worthwhile or inspiring (and why) can add to your personal criteria for a rewarding career. Questions you may want to consider: 

  • What experiences have been the most significant or rewarding for me and why?
  • Which have I disliked and why?
  • What do I feel proud of? What are my shining moments and why?
  • Which moments and experiences would I like to repeat and which would I prefer to avoid in the future and why?

Book an appointment to talk to a Career Counsellor for help identifying and analyzing your interests and values based on your history and key experiences.


4. Values

Values are guiding principles that help us make decisions. Values can change over time and can be influenced by others. They can relate to your 'big picture' (personal values) or to specific contexts such as careers. Examples of career values include 'job security' and 'variety.' Values are often overlooked but are of prime consideration for career satisfaction and sustainability. A career or employment situation that embodies values contrary to your own will feel 'wrong' and present barriers to full engagement, achievement and satisfaction.  

Consider your personal values which inform what is important to you in the grander scheme of things and which help you define a life worth living such as contributing to the development of others, making a positive difference in society through contributing new knowledge, personal integrity etc. Knowing what you need out of a career in terms of work values such as recognition and work-life balance, is also important to finding the right career fit. Try the Career Values Survey below and make an appointment to reflect on your results with a Career Counsellor. 


Career Values Survey 

Values are deeply held beliefs which guide a person’s actions. It is important to recognize the role values play in your level of career satisfaction. This exercise will help you reflect on values you may want to consider when evaluating a career direction. 

  1. Review this list and determine each value's level of importance to you. 

  1. Add any of your own values if not listed. 

  1. Underline the part of the value that best describes you. 

  1. Review those you marked “very important” and prioritize on the last page. 


Career Value

Very Important

Somewhat Important

Not Important


Independence – Be able to determine the nature of work without significant direction from others; not have to follow instructions or conform to regulations.





Job Tranquility – Avoid pressure and “the rat race” in job role and work setting.





Work Under Pressure – Work in time-pressured circumstances, where there is little or no margin of error, or with demanding personal relationships.





Status – Impress or gain respect of friends, family and community by the nature and/or level or responsibility of my work.





Security – Be assured of keeping my job and a reasonable financial reward.





Intellectual Status – Be regarded as well-informed and a strong theorist, as an acknowledged “expert” in a given field.





Change and Variety – Have work responsibilities frequently changed in content and setting.





Advancement – Be able to get ahead, gaining opportunities for growth and seniority from work well done.





Aesthetics – Be involved in studying or appreciating the beauty of things, ideas, etc.





Affiliation – Develop close personal relationships with people as a result of work activity.





Public Contact – Have a lot of day-to-day contact with people.





Help Others – Be involved in helping people directly, either individually or in small groups.





Power and Authority – Manage the work activities of others and guide their direction.





Competition – Engage in activities which pit my abilities against others.





Stability – Have a work routine and job duties that are largely predictable and not likely to change over a long period of time.





Help Society – Do something to contribute to the betterment of the world and make an impact with what I do





Creativity (general) – Create new ideas, programs, organized structures or anything else not following a format developed by others.





Location – Find a place to live (town, geographic area) conducive to my lifestyle, a desirable home base for my leisure, learning and work life.





Financial Reward – Have strong likelihood of accumulating large amounts of money or other material gain through ownership, profit-sharing, commissions, merit pay increases or the like.





Time Freedom – Have responsibilities I can work at according to my schedule; no specific working hours required.




Recognition – Get positive feedback and credit for work well done.




Fulfillment – Feel that my work is contributing to ideas I feel are very important and believe in.




Knowledge – Consider the pursuit of knowledge, truth, and understanding of greater importance than monetary gain.




Excitement – Experience a high (or frequent) degree of stimulation in the course of my work.




Work Alone – Do projects by myself, without much contact with others.




Work/Life Balance – Have a balance between work and personal life commitments.




Diversity – Work in an environment that embraces diversity of its employees.




Travel – Travel regularly for work for short and extended periods of time.




Lifelong Learning – Pursue opportunities to increase my skills and knowledge related to my field of work.




Be Self-Employed – Have an opportunity to be my own boss during my career path.




Integrity – To work in an environment that meets my personal moral interests.





Top "Very Important" Values

1) ___________________________

2) ­­­­­­­­­­___________________________

3) ___________________________

4) ___________________________

5) ___________________________

6) ___________________________

7) ___________________________

8) ___________________________


Points of Reflection: 

  • How did your values develop and become important to you? What factors in your life were influential? ie. Friends, family, society. 
  • Which values would you be willing to compromise if needed? 
  • Which values would you be most hesitant to give up?
  • Which values would be essential for you to be satisfied in your career? 

Values can also be satisfied in ways aside from your career, such as through volunteer activities, leisure activities and participating in clubs. Can you think of other ways that you can incorporate your very important values into your life? 


5. Personality

Personality, also known as temperament or personal qualities, describes how a person relates to the world and themselves, how they process information and make decisions. Dimensions of personality such as “Introversion/Extraversion” are considered fairly stable over time and can be thought of as 'default settings' or preferred ways of being which are most comfortable to the individual. There are many other personality dimensions which everyone is capable of manifesting depending on context, social demands and free will.  In short, we are not just one way or set of personality traits to the exclusion of others. However, knowing your most comfortable and natural ways of being in the world can be very important for finding the right career fit. For example, someone who is most at home in a structured environment with well-defined expectations may not be as comfortable in an unstructured environment where there is little guidance as to how to accomplish tasks. Knowing more about your temperament can also help you to understand and appreciate others who have very different tendencies and preferential ways of being, thus improving social and working relationships. 

The Myers Briggs Type Inventory (MBTI)© is a personality assessment available at the Career Centre. 

MBTI Assessment 

The MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Inventory) is a well-validated and nuanced assessment of personality preference. It can be very useful in suggesting your strengths and weaknesses in order to point to career areas and styles of work that will be fitting for you. This questionnaire-based assessment takes about 30 minutes to complete in the Career Centre and is then interpreted in an appointment by a Career Counsellor who is a certified MBTI Practitioner. It costs $12 for the materials regardless of which format you choose. 

Learn more about the MBTI: 


6. Next Steps

Having a strong idea of your personal career criteria based on your preferred skills, interests, values and personality, helps to generate career options that fit. Try some of the tips and strategies outlined above and book an appointment with a Career Counsellor to get started (or continue the work you’ve already done) developing your career focus.