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“Who’s Steering Your Ship?” How to Build Career Confidence and Make Decisions that Move You in the Right Direction

Whether you’re just getting started in your career or thinking about working after retirement, it’s great to feel confident about who you are and where you’re going. What are your strengths and how will you use them? What’s your next career destination, and how will you get there? What decisions will you need to make to keep moving in the right direction? How will you navigate through those chaotic and uncertain elements life and work inevitably present? Most importantly, how will you stay in control?

A big part of career confidence is self-awareness: knowing and being comfortable with who you are and what you want to do, and using that knowledge to inform the decisions you make about your life and career. Too often, however, other voices—often well-meaning—get in the way of our progress. One of these voices may even be our own, and this often takes the form of comparing ourselves to others who have achieved what we think we should have achieved, and finding ourselves wanting!

In this article, we’ll tackle a key factor that can boost your career confidence, and that’s the knowledge you can gain through career assessment, especially through formal career assessment instruments. These assessments compare you with others in an objective way that reveals your uniqueness and the special value you bring to the world—not in a self-defeating way like your own, more subjective comparisons might. We’ll also discuss how you can take ownership of assessment results, and in doing so boost both your self-confidence and your ability to make sound decisions.

Along the way, you’ll meet Kyle, a talented young client of mine who was full of youthful self-confidence but lacked the insight he needed to make what he felt would be “the right decision” for the next stage of his career. As it turns out, assessment was just what he needed to get where he needed to be!

The Journey from Knowledge to Action

To understand how career assessment can boost your own career confidence and help you make better decisions, it’s useful to understand the overall goals of career assessment and how it works in practice. So with that in mind, we’ll look at the following:

  • I’ll provide a brief overview of my own career assessment process, which I’ve built over thirty years as a licensed psychologist and career counselor, coach and consultant.
  • I’ll explain how I used the process with Kyle, and how the knowledge he gained led to a successful transition from underemployment to the start of a promising new career.
  • We’ll conclude by looking how assessment aids in decision-making, not just at the time of assessment but throughout your career.

As you think about career assessment, a key takeaway is that it’s not a one-and-done activity in which you receive results and are then left on your own to decide what to make of them. Career assessment is a process in which you invest time to work with a career counselor or coach, receive their insights on what those results mean, and then—and this is the critical part—apply your own self-knowledge and goals to decide how you’ll use the results in your career.

Taking Ownership of Assessment Results

My career assessment process consists of three basic elements—a structured interview, formal career assessment instruments, and self-assessment worksheets. Having these elements allows me to gather objective information (from the career assessment instruments) and more subjective information (from the structured interview and self-assessment worksheets).

The secret is in the order of these elements. I almost always conduct the structured interview, for which I draw from a set of 21 standard questions, before administering any formal assessments. Its purpose is to help me get to know the client by asking a range of broad and probing questions. After I’ve administered formal assessments and shared the results with my client, I provide them with worksheets on which they record key observations, such as what they perceive to be their strengths, weaknesses, career goals and so on based on their own self-knowledge and the work we’ve done together.

The self-assessment worksheets are a critical part of my process because they allow my client to sort out what’s most important to them in the findings. Career assessment findings can run to 40 or 50 pages, so I want my client to zero in what most resonates with them. Completing the worksheets also has the effect of having the client take ownership, which is less likely to happen when they’re a passive recipient of the results. Instead, they remain fully in control and engaged.

Examples of structured interview questions: “Tell me about a work experience that was memorable for you. Why was it memorable?” “What value do you bring to the world? What value do you want to bring to the world?” “What are three words that would best describe you as a person?” What’s great about these questions, many of which are based on positive psychology, is that they start to build confidence by having clients recall successful projects or experiences.

Career assessment instruments: My core set of instruments includes the California Psychological Inventory (CPI); Fundamental Interpersonal Relations Orientation-Behavior assessment (FIRO-B); Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI); Sixteen Personality Factors Questionnaire (16PF); and the Strong Interest Inventory (Strong). When two or more of these instruments are used together, strong themes or patterns may emerge, such as a client’s suitability and potential for leading others.

Self-assessment worksheets: To help clients sort and prioritize their assessment results, I developed the Career Ingredients Summary Sheet, Career and Job Compatability Matrix, and Game Plan. The summary sheet includes several sections for clients to complete, including strengths, weaknesses, career goals, personal goals, and desired outcomes. The matrix allows a client to explore work environments that might be appealing, including preferred industries and roles, types of people they want to work with, and other factors. Finally, the game plan invites clients to record career criteria for what they need to thrive in their work in three categories: What, Where, and Who. Clients also record action steps to start the process of fulfilling these criteria.

From Career Confusion to Career Confidence: Kyle’s Story

Kyle,* twenty-six when he approached me for help, was full of self-confidence and potential. When I interviewed him, he described himself as hard-working and competitive, and he admired people who had built their own businesses. He had also earned a degree in business, a sign that he was serious about a career in the corporate and business world. But the reality of his career was another story: Since graduation, Kyle had held only low-paying fast-food and retail jobs, none of which had offered him much in the way of career development or training opportunities.

As I got to know Kyle during the interview, I quickly discovered that despite his general self-confidence and positive attitude, he was suffering from considerable confusion about what to do next. While he knew what he didn’t want, he wasn’t at all clear at what he wanted to do, or could do. And, given his social nature—Kyle was an extrovert who enjoyed reaching out to others for advice—he was easily influenced by other people’s ideas and suggestions, as well as all manner of opportunities that looked attractive, at least on the surface. I call this the “in search of the shiniest object” syndrome.

Completing the career assessment process did wonders for boosting Kyle’s career confidence and focusing his efforts. Let’s look at that briefly.

Structured interview and follow-up work. I’ve touched on much of this above, noting his appreciation for business owners, for example. I also learned that Kyle had played college and high school sports, enjoyed helping and serving others, and loved to learn. In addition, I want to stress here Kyle’s hard work and positive attitude when it came to doing the assessment work we decided to pursue after the interview. He completed his formal assessments promptly and with enthusiasm, and he was also fully engaged and conscientious in completing his self-assessment worksheets.

Formal assessment results. Overall, Kyle’s results painted a picture of someone well-suited for demanding and ambitious work in the business world—work which also happened to require working closely and effectively with people. His MBTI indicated that he was an ENTJ (extraverted, intuitive, thinking, judging). His highest themes on the Strong were Enterprising, Social, and Conventional. On the Strong Basic Interests scale, he ranked high in Sales. His FIRO-B indicated both high Inclusion and high Affection, both positive results for sales and other people-oriented jobs. Finally, on the 16PF, Kyle’s top themes included many related to business and enterprise, including sales, advertising, and marketing.

Self-assessment worksheets. On his Career Ingredients Summary Sheet, Kyle listed “sales and collaboration” as strengths. He was also looking for an environment that was “caring, challenging, and competitive.” Possible occupations included hospital administrator, sales associate and recruiter. On the Career and Job Compatibility Matrix, Kyle checked “manager,” “collaborator,” “partner,” and “implementor” as preferred roles; and his preferred environment was “competitive,” “challenge/results oriented,” and “respectful.” When completing his game plan, Kyle included many of these factors in the What, Where, and Who sections of his plan.

As we discussed these results, it became clear to both Kyle and me that working as a recruiter might be a good role for him and meet many of his career and lifestyle needs. I suggested he connect with a colleague of mine with extensive experience in corporate recruiting. After consulting with my colleague, Kyle was certain that recruiting was the route he should take, and within two months, he was hired by a leading national recruiting firm.

*My client’s name and other details have been changed to maintain confidentiality.

Career Assessment and Decision-Making

Career confidence includes having the information you need to make informed decisions about your career, both now and in the future. Once you’ve been through a thorough career assessment process and completed your worksheets, as I’ve described above and illustrated with Kyle, you’ll have a solid reference point for making decisions. Let’s quickly recap the key benefits of the kind of integrated career assessment process I’ve described:

  • It allows for both subjective and objective information, which you need to make informed decisions. The combination of structured interview, formal career assessment instruments, and self-assessment worksheets supplies a rich array of data to ponder, analyze, and make sense of.
  • Self-assessment work fosters ownership and control of assessment data, which is essential for career confidence and the ability to make sound decisions. To build your self-confidence and boost your decision-making capabilities, you need to apply what you’ve learned.
  • Once you’ve processed assessment data into manageable form through self-assessment, you have a solid reference you can count on to make further decisions as opportunities arise. You’ll know what you need to thrive in your career and what steps to take to get there.

Kyle’s journey from being underemployed to finding a great position as a recruiter illustrates the power of career assessment. Kyle went from being confused and directionless to finding his “True North.” Should he decide to change direction to something new, he’ll have his self-assessment documents as a guide to what he deemed was most important to him. He’ll be the one steering his ship.

Learn More About Career Assessment

If you’re interested in learning more about how career assessment can help you build your career confidence and take your next steps, I’d love to help! Feel free to contact me through LinkedIn or through my website at

If you’re a career counselor, coach, or other career professional interested in career assessment, you may be interested in my book, Game Plan: An Insider’s Guide to Effective Career Assessment, co-authored by @Liz Willis, who also collaborated on this article.

You can find out more about the book—and download a free chapter on specializing in career assessment—at

Using Career Assessment to Help Bullied Clients


By Dean R. DeGroot and Liz Willis





Workplace bullying is a common practice that harms employees and organizations. By employing career assessment strategies, career practitioners can increase both their own and clients’ understanding of workplace bullying dynamics. This benefits clients by enhancing their self-awareness and hope for the future.


The Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI) defines workplace bullying as “repeated, health-harming mistreatment by one or more employees or an employee: abusive conduct that takes the form of verbal abuse; or behaviors perceived as threatening, intimidating, or humiliating; work sabotage; or in some combination of the above” (WBI, n.d., para. 1).

According to WBI’s latest national survey, an estimated 48.6 million Americans are bullied at work (Namie, 2021). Thirty percent reported that they had experienced bullying directly at work, up 57% from 2017. Of those who are bullied, 67% risk losing their jobs, while bullies often remain unscathed. Only 23% of perpetrators experienced any kind of consequences because of their actions: punishment, termination, or being forced to quit, for example (Namie, 2021).

Workplace bullying is harmful to both employees and organizations. Targets of bullying suffer from both physical and mental health issues (Futterman, 2004). In organizations where bullying goes unchecked, damage can happen in the form of turnover, absenteeism, and the loss of high performers who leave such environments (Sutton, 2007).

When bullied employees show up as career clients—whether they present as being bullied initially or their experience with bullying emerges gradually over the course of an engagement—career assessment can shed considerable light on their situation and offer hope for a better future.

Strategies for gathering assessment data

Each component of the career assessment process, from the initial interview and formal assessment instruments, to homework and follow-up discussion, plays an important role in helping bullied clients (DeGroot & Willis, 2022).

The first two strategies below are useful when working with any client and can be particularly helpful in revealing potential vulnerabilities to bullying. The third strategy, for clients who present as being bullied, is an effective way to gather additional useful data.

  • When interviewing clients, explore their attitudes toward work

When both career counselors and clients understand clients’ motivations, career choices they have made, and their overall attitudes toward work, it can aid in identifying those vulnerable to bullying. For example, clients who have been bullied are often naive when it comes to office politics and corporate culture.  This can make them easy targets, whether they are timid, shy, or more outgoing. Clients who are overly focused on their work and less on their interactions with others may also be vulnerable to bullying.


  • Use assessment instruments to explore client vulnerability

Some assessments measure traits related to bullying. For example, the California Psychological Inventory (CPI) measures a personality factor called “Dominance,” which concerns the need for power and influence over others. Although those scoring low on dominance won’t necessarily be bullied, and those scoring high won’t necessarily be bullies, the potential is there. In fact, bullying often occurs when people with high and low dominance work together—usually, but not always, in a boss/subordinate relationship. The Fundamental Interpersonal Relations Orientation-Behavior (FIRO-B) assessment and 16PF (Sixteen Personality Factors) questionnaire are also useful for exploring bullying. Both the CPI and 16PF have high validity and reliability coefficients (Wood & Hays, 2013).

Discuss the client’s understanding of the bullying situation they’re experiencing, and find out what they have done about it

  • Because they are often feeling traumatized and distracted, bullied clients are usually not ready to discuss career issues objectively. However, it is important to explore the bullying situation. Why do they think the bullying happened? What have they done about it? Have they approached their employer or the Human Resources (HR) department? Asking these questions can help determine what interventions are needed, and it can also give additional insights on the client—how they handle stress and adversity, the strength of their network, and so on.

In addition to providing vital career assessment services, career practitioners can play an important partnership and support role with bullied clients. For example, if a client is not sure what steps to take, the career practitioner can help them navigate that process, including working with HR. Benefits of understanding bullying for clients

Because assessment helps clients better understand what is happening when they are being bullied or treated disrespectfully, it has several benefits, including:

  • More positive thinking. Bullied clients often feel down on themselves and hopeless and may make statements such as: “I’m a victim and a loser!” “Why does this happen to me all the time?” “I feel like some kind of punching bag.” However, once they understand what is causing the bullying—that certain dynamics and factors are at play, many of which are beyond their control—they tend to feel more hopeful and positive.
  • Empowerment. Understanding these dynamics can be truly empowering. It can create a pathway to learning new behaviors and taking on different roles. For example, if a bullied client tends to think that it is “not nice” to push back, they may learn that being more assertive and setting boundaries is exactly what is needed to reduce the frequency of the bullying or disrespectful behavior they are experiencing.
  • Awareness of office politics. Most employees focus on their skills, knowledge, and abilities, and equate career success with doing better work. Learning how their personality, interests, and style relate to their behavior and interactions with others helps them see that their work is part of the larger organizational culture. If they want to work well with others, they may need to learn to negotiate the norms and styles of that environment—or find another environment more conducive to their needs.

Facing the future career practitioners and their clients must tackle workplace bullying head-on. Career assessment can help by revealing the dynamics of bullying and giving clients the tools needed to face the future with confidence.




DeGroot, D. & Willis, L. (2022). Game plan: An insider’s guide to effective career assessment.

Innerview Press LLP, Minneapolis, MN


Futterman, S. (2004). When you work for a bully: Assessing your options and taking action.

Croce Publishing Group, LLC, New Jersey


Namie, G. (2021). 2021 WBI workplace bullying survey.       wbi-survey/


Sutton, R. (2007). The no asshole rule: Building a civilized workplace and surviving one that

isn’t. Warner Business Books, New York


Wood, C. & Hays, D. G. (2013). A counselor’s guide to career assessment instruments, sixth

6th ed. National Career Development Association, Broken Arrow, OK


Workplace Bullying Institute. (n.d.). What is workplace bullying?. Retrieved September 14, 2022 from                                


Dean R. DeGroot is a licensed psychologist and business consultant who has helped individuals and organizations navigate change through career assessment and other services for over thirty years. He has a particular interest in workplace dynamics, including job fit, job satisfaction, bullying and disrespectful behavior. Dean holds a master’s degree in behavior analysis and therapy from Southern Illinois University. He is past president of the Minnesota Career Development Association and received the Marty Dockman Merit Award and Jules Kerlan Outstanding Achievement Award for his contributions to the profession. You can reach him at


Liz Willis is a writer and editor with an interest in career development and the obstacles that keep people from realizing their dreams. She holds a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Alberta and a master’s degree in library and information science from Western University. You can reach her at


The article, “Using Career Assessment to Help Bullied Clients”, by Dean R. DeGroot and Liz Willis, originally appeared in NCDA’s web magazine, Career Convergence, at Copyright  October 2022. Reprinted with permission.



The Great Resignation: A Great Time for Career Assessment

Career assessment—interviewing clients, testing them, and helping them define who they are and how they can best use their strengths in the workplace and beyond—is a valuable service we offer as career development professionals. And with the Great Resignation resulting in large numbers of people quitting their jobs and seeking new career opportunities, we’re at a moment when assessment services are more valuable than ever.

Let’s look at some of the numbers being reported on resignations, the likelihood of resignations, and movement towards self-employment.

4.5 million workers voluntarily quit their jobs in November 2021, 4.3 million in December 2021 (Job Openings and Labor Turnover Summary, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2/1/2022).

40 percent of employees surveyed answered “somewhat likely,” “likely,” “very likely,” or “certain” when asked to consider the likelihood that they would leave their jobs within the next three to six months (“Great Attrition or Great Attraction: The Choice is Yours,”, 9/8/21).

9.44 million. That’s the number of self-employed estimated by the BLS, 500,000 more than at the start of the pandemic (“New Data Finally Shows Why People Are Quitting Their Jobs. It’s Definitely Not Because They’re Lazy,”

According to McKinsey, to attract and retain employees, companies often offer “quick fixes” in the form of bonuses, wage increases, and other material perks. But what employees really want is “a renewed and revised sense of purpose in their work”—a greater sense of connection, identity, and meaning. Similarly, according to Inc., the increase in the number of self-employed suggests that people are looking for more control and flexibility in their work.

How Career Assessment Can Help Us Meet This Moment

Over the last 30+ years, I’ve helped hundreds of clients fine-tune their resumes, gain greater confidence in selling themselves in interviews, and become more effective networkers. However, helping people through difficult transitions is at the core of what I do. And seldom do these transitions involve only career change or job search. Often other major life changes are happening at the same time—a new baby, a death in the family, a major illness, marriage, divorce, graduation, a new business.

When we add the Great Resignation with all its upheaval to these life events, we have a level of change occurring in the workforce we haven’t seen in decades. And when people are going through this degree of change and transition, some kind of rethinking and reevaluation is almost always needed. That’s where career assessment comes in.

First, an effective interview can unearth dreams, motivations, and patterns that shed light on what clients really want, and hint at what might be a better fit for them. When combined with other assessment components and techniques, the interview can provide clients with new insights and awaken them to new possibilities.

Second, a battery of tests, or formal assessments, can help clients discover—or reaffirm—objective facts about their interests, personality, personal preferences, and social needs, and this can often help inform their next career move or development opportunity.

Third, focused discussion and special tools can help clients “process” the information they’ve gained from assessment and turn it into a concrete plan of action. Nothing is more useless than assessment that leaves our clients unenlightened and unsure of their next steps.

Let’s Be More Intentional About Our Careers

When I interview clients, I always ask them how they ended up in the field they’re in. Several years ago I analyzed the responses of over 300 clients to this question, and I learned that 58% had arrived at their current work by happenstance—in other words, by following a pathway they had not consciously chose. Not surprisingly, that often led to career disappointment!

Today, with the Great Resignation putting more people in the driver’s seat, many are in a position to be more selective and calculated in their approach to their own career development and job searching. For clients who come to us for guidance, that’s where career assessment can be invaluable.

When our clients know what’s important to them, what motivates them, and what kind of careers and work environments best fit their needs, they’re able to create a more meaningful plan of action. They’re able to move forward with more vigor, with the fuel they need to get to their next opportunity.

Finally, career assessment is not just for our clients, it’s for us as career development professionals as well. In our zeal to help others, we often forget to attend to our own career needs. We, too, need to know what’s most important to us, what motivates us most in working with clients, and what kind of work best fits our interests and strengths. The Great Resignation has opened up unprecedented opportunities for all of us. Let’s not waste them!

Dean R. DeGroot is a licensed psychologist career consultant and owner of Innerview Consulting. His efforts have allowed others to gain new tools and insights and explore new possibilities for social and career connection. Dean has published journal articles in the UK on career practices. Recently he launched the book “Game Plan:  An Insider’s Guide to Effective Career Assessment”, along with his co-author, Liz Willis.