“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