Female Imperial studentSelf-reflection is important for a variety of reasons, including:

  • To help you find appropriate career options
  • To support decision-making when choosing between opportunities
  • To develop strong answers to common application and interview questions like ‘tell me about yourself,’ and ‘why did you apply for this role?’

It’s a good idea to self-reflect throughout your time at university so you are prepared when the time comes to make big decisions or go for interviews. It can be useful to split your thinking into two areas:

  1. What can you offer an employer?
  2. What do you want your work to do for you?

Self reflection

What can you offer an employer?

Almost every job or opportunity you apply for will require you to explain what makes you a good fit for the role. Often, this means skills, strengths, knowledge, and experience that could be considered relevant to the recruiting organisation.

You may be asked to talk about these elements of your experience on a CV, in a cover letter, on an application form or at interview. By undertaking self-reflection early, you can put yourself in a stronger and more confident position when you come to complete these application activities, because you will be prepared to talk about your skills and knowledge in a considered manner.

Here you will find some ideas to help identify what you’re already good at as well as some ways of developing further experiences to include in applications.

Skills Audit

The range of skills you already possess will be influenced by things like which degree subject you are studying, what your hobbies are and what experiences you have already had. You may have some similar skills to other people on your course, but your specific skills and strengths will be unique.

Because of this, it is helpful to recruiters if you can explain what your skills and strengths are, so they can match them against their needs. A great starting point for this is Skills audit will allow you to recognise what you’re already good at as well as identifying gaps in your skill set you can develop over time.

Skills/Likes Matrix

If you are struggling to decide what kind of job might suit your skills, you could try a skills/likes matrix

  • Pull together a list of all the skills you can think of – be specific, so instead of ‘communication’ think about all the ways you communicate, like handling customer complaints or explaining topics to your online tutoring clients. 
  • Next split a blank page into four segments representing ‘skills you like using and find easy’, ‘skills you like using and find difficult’, ‘skills you dislike using and find easy’ and ‘skills you dislike using and find difficult’. 
  • Categorise your skills accordingly and use the outcome to support your decision-making when you find opportunities to apply for.

STAR Framework

To practice how you will explain your skills and strengths to an employer, consider the STAR Framework – a common interview preparation framework for describing your skills using examples from your past experience.

  • S = Scenario (where were you? Set the scene)
  • T = Task (what were you asked to do?)
  • A = Action (what did you do? Note there’s an ‘I’ in action; a recruiter is interested in what you personally were responsible for!)
  • R = Results (how do you know if your actions were successful? What did you learn from the experience?)

It is good practice to keep a notebook or a document saved with bullet-pointed examples of times you have used certain skills, so you can review these during the application process. See more about using the STAR framework on our interview questions section.

Work With Me document

Self-reflection is not just about before you get the job. Understanding what you do well and what you struggle with can be crucial to ensuring you perform at your best, and some employers are now encouraging staff to keep a ‘Work with Me’ document, which they can choose to share if they want to, and which indicates to other team members how to work with each other effectively.

A ‘Work with Me’ document typically answers three key questions:

  1. What am I good at?
  2. What am I less confident with?
  3. How can colleagues work with me effectively?

As a self-reflection exercise, challenge yourself to complete the following prompts:

Brief introduction:

Here you could include a 3-line rocket pitch of your professional identity

What I’m good at:

Examples might include technical skills like programming languages, research abilities or transferable skills like ‘generating ideas’, or ‘explaining science concepts to other people’.

What I’m less confident with/don’t enjoy:

Be careful not to be too self-critical if you intend to share this with anyone, but for your personal records you could include areas you would like to improve on. For example, ‘I struggle to say no to people’, or ‘I’m not good at making important decisions under a lot of pressure’.

How to work with me:

Some of these might be practical things, like ‘give me time to prepare before coming into a big meeting’, or ‘give me feedback on things I need to improve so I can fix mistakes early’. Alternatively, these could be personal preferences that can help new team members get to know you, like ‘I take my tea with oat milk and no sugar’, or ‘talk to me about classic science fiction novels – my favourite genre!’

Knowledge and experience

You will develop new knowledge and experiences as you progress through university and your career.

Places to help develop skills and gain new experiences:

  • On your course – check the skills section of ‘What can I with my degree?’ on the Prospects website for ideas about skills you are developing on your course. Think about different activities you are doing like group projects and presentations – what have you gained from these?
  • Work experience – can help develop skills such as team working and project management – have a look at our work experience pages for more information. 
  • Online courses – there are many services offering online courses in technical areas and also on topics designed to support development of transferrable skills. LinkedIn Learning is available to Imperial College members and offers courses on a wide variety of topics. Or search Microsoft Learn, another free online platform,  for courses focused on learning technical skills. 
  • Volunteering  - voluntary work can support you skill development as well as helping you to explore your values and motivations, all of which are valuable to reflect on in your career development. Websites like Do-It can help you find appropriate opportunities local to you.
  • Extra-curricular activities – active membership of student societies, team sports, and other interests are all great sources of skill development too.

If you have an idea of the direction you want to take after graduation, you can look up live job vacancies earlier than you are ready to apply, to get an idea of the knowledge and experience that will be valuable in future applications.

What do you want from work?

As well as identifying what you can offer, it’s important to consider what you are looking for in a role. Otherwise, you may discover after starting that your new job doesn’t meet your values, aspirations or practical needs.

Values and motivations

Values and motivations include things like your ethical perspective, as well as factors that give your work personal meaning and a sense of purpose. These may include things like security (for example, stable employment), material benefits (like financial reward) or altruism (working for the benefit of others), among many others.

Understanding your personal values can help you make clearer career decisions and perform better in applications and interviews because you will be prepared to demonstrate how your values align with those of the company you are applying to work for.

Some ideas for exploring and understanding your values and what motivates you are:

  • The Career Planner from Prospects is an interactive careers guidance tool that includes a section on motivations. It can help you to prioritise elements you would like to use in a job and suggest careers for further exploration.
  • The Motivational quiz‌ is an exercise that focuses on personal values and motivations to help you consider appropriate options. This is a great exercise to bring to a Careers Discussion as a starting point.
  • A simple ‘likes and dislikes’ list can be a great way to start if you’re feeling stuck too. What bits of your current course would you like to do more of? Is there anything you know doesn’t appeal to you? Writing these ides down can help to focus on your preferences and strengthen your decision making.

Your personality

Understanding your personality can help you think about how you prefer to approach problems, plan your time and relate to people. You can also learn about your preferred working environment and the types of work that might be most rewarding.

There are a wide variety of personality tests you can take if you are interested in exploring how your personality might affect your career decisions. A good place to start is the Career Planner from Prospects, which has a section focusing on personality.

Practical considerations

It’s important to remember there might be external factors that motivate your career choices. For example:

  • Is there a geographical need to be close to family?
  • Will your partner’s job affect your choice of location?
  • Do you have hobbies and interests you need to ensure you still have time for?

You might need to compromise on some of these factors, but by identifying what matters to you, you can begin to decide which ones are negotiable and which ones are not.