Science lab at Imperial

Self-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?

"Including: skills, strengths, knowledge and experience"

Skills and strengths

You gain skills from lots of different sources and self-reflection ensures you can recognise these, as well as explain them to future employers.

Some exercises to help you do this include:

  • Skills audit – a tool to help you recognise the skills you already have and identify gaps in your skillset you can then work towards. Take a skills audit here.
  • A skills/likes matrix can help you prioritise the skills you like using most. To create one: first 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 – is a common interview preparation framework for describing your skills using examples from your past experience. See more on our interview questions section

Are usually attributes or abilities that come easily to you. For example, you may be a natural communicator or find it easy to see anomalies in data sets. Some employers now use Strengths-based interviews in their recruitment processes – you can find out more about strengths-based interviews on our interview questions pages. 

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.
  • 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?

"Including: your values, personality, and practical points like location and salary"

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 motivations quiz [new link required to download the Motivations Quiz Word document] 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.