Episode #14: Tips and tricks on how self-assessment will help your career transition


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Tina PerssonIn episode 14, PhD Career Stories founder Tina Persson returns for another “tips & tricks”-themed episode. In this podcast, Tina shares her experience on how to get started with self-assessments and why it is important to grow your understanding about who you are and what you want and expect from your professional life to land your dream job.

Transcript

Hi my name is Tina Persson and I’m back here to talk a little bit about self-assessment. But before doing that, for those of you who doesn’t know who I am, I am a former assistant professor from Lund university. Before that for many years as post-doc at the Max Planck Institute in Gottingen. And I decided to do a career transition from academia to industry very late in my career.

This time I’m here to talk a little bit more about self-assessment. Previously I have been talking about the importance of constructing a CV and tailoring it to the industry. But before doing that you need to do a personal inventory, you know, an inventory of your hard skills, your transferable skills. I talked a little bit about that in a previous pod I did here at PhD Career Stories.

What I remember when I did my transition, I was actually pretty old, 38 years old, was that I thought that I was going to be very attractive. I was a high performer, very aggressive. I didn’t know my hard skills but I was extremely focused on the results. What I did not know was about my transferable skills which I learned later on. But also about who I was. My self-assessment. I had never done that in my whole life, that was something completely new.

So I’m going to talk a little bit about it today. It is very much about my own experience that I would like to share with you. Today I’m a professional coach, focusing a lot on performance coaching. You PhD:s out there, you are high performers most of you and that goes for some executives as well. You are trained to perform for results and you like results as well.

Today when I coach my PhD students, I learn very quickly from them that some of you are not very keen on doing self-assessment and when you do it, to get the feedback can be very very tough. So again I’m going to share my experience and then you can follow me and how I grow in understanding who I was. From being an assistant professor, having no idea actually about my soft skills to the person I am today where I can be extremely open-minded with about my strength, my weakness, my drive and motivation. This is for you guys. So that you can learn from that and why is it important to be extremely open-minded to do an assessment and to get the professional feedback from a coach or a specialist in assessments. 

My experience from the first time, the very first time I was sent to do a self-assessment, it was pretty simple test, a DISC model, and it was sent from a company in United Kingdom. I got extremely confused. I got questions I could not really choose. I wanted to be perfect. I wanted to be good. So I was asking myself: What is the correct answer? And why should I do a test, they had my CV, they had my cover letter so what was this test good for?

Secondly it was in English, that is my second language. I’m Swedish, I’m native Swedish. And I got the test in English. And that is step one for you guys. Always do your self-assessment in your native language. Because even though some of you consider me to be pretty fluid, I am not. In the deep context, in the feelings, my language is still Swedish, it is not English. And then I asked the recruiter, I just need a job, you have my CV, you have my cover letter so why should I do these things? I really didn’t know what it was. What is this was all about. So he got confused and of course I did not get the job, I asked too many questions. I was the scientist who asked too many questions what it was all about, what was really behind it all. I was suspicious. 

So the question is. Who are you and who can you work with and what people do you have a problem to get along with? These are pretty common questions you get from a recruiter or a hiring manager. 

When I started to apply for a job, I could not answer these questions really. I didn’t really have the words and actually when they asked about my weaknesses, I thought I don’t want to tell them. I don’t want to tell the recruiter or hiring manager about my weakness. I know my strength but you know the weakness, no you’re kidding me, I’m not going to tell you!

Another question you can get is How do you handle a boss when you don’t agree with him? And how did you handle your boss when you did not agree with him? That is a kind of communications questions but also how you actually are dealing with people. When it is challenging or you actually don’t agree. That is also a personality thing. 

So, in my experience, the first test I ever did, I was just irritated. I didn’t understand why I had to do the test. So if anyone of you feel the same thing, that is okay. What you need is more information about what is really a self-assessment and to be careful to get feedback from a professional coach. 

So what was my next step? When I was an assistant professor at the university and I was looking for a new opportunity, I started a new career beside my job at the university. I started working as a fitness instructor.

As a fitness instructor I am a very driven person. So believe it or not, this career outside of academia learned me a lot about myself. Being a spinning instructor and a bodypump instructor, I got feedback from my clients and the people in the audience I had. And after a while, more and more people started to come to my classes, both for bodypump and spinning, even though it took one or two years but still, and I started to communicate with them. And I asked them Why are you coming to my classes? Well, we like you, they said. Ok, why do you like me? Well you know, you are always here, you are nice and you are a bit tough, you are challenging. But we can trust you. You deliver. Hmm I thought. That is interesting. That must be maybe something in my personality then. So my next step for learning more about myself was actually being a fitness instructor!

One of the persons in my classes was working for Sony Ericsson, that is a big IT company in Sweden. She said, Tina, I’ve heard you are looking for a new job and that you are having a challenge to find a job outside of academia. I said Yeah I have. It seems as they don’t know who I am. In academia I feel misunderstood and she said have you heard about these personality tests, the self-assessment tests? Yeah I did one once, I said. But I didn’t understand it. And she said Ok, I’m going to give you a chance because I am working in the human resources department, so I can offer you one for free.

So that was a kind of a DISC model again and that time she helped me when I had questions. So I came out as ‘red yellow’. Now what is a ‘red yellow’ person? Well it is someone kind of dominating but also good at socializing and networking. And I think that was the first time I got an understanding of why I did not like my work at university.

As I told in my previous point, I don’t like to write, that is not my thing, I prefer to communicate orally. But the other thing that became a big Aha! moment for me was, OK If I am ‘red yellow’ dominating, I like to communicate, I like to talk, I like to network. I actually like to have people around me and I like the energy of it. The people at my department they were nothing like that. They were extremely detail-focused. I’m not detail-focused. And maybe that was the reason also that they got irritated about me when I did not know exactly how many electrons were involved in a certain reaction because I had a much more a bigger picture about things. 

So I think that was my big Aha! moment. That is maybe why I did not like to work at the university in addition to of course the politics and writing and all that stuff. You know just writing an article or just writing a fund application. Even though I know I don’t get the money. That is also part of it I didn’t know that at time. But still, that was the first hint. Okay I am ‘red yellow’. Hmm. Funny.

But what does that have to do with bodypump and RPM?. Actually a lot. Much more than I thought. Because bodypump, what is it? For those of you who does not know, for me, weight training is power, action, be strong, structured, organized. I have a clear goal. And I can be tough and challenging. Because the people coming to the classes, they like to be challenged. They like when I am tough, that is why they are coming. They like to train, they like to exercise. That goes for RPM as well, when you have to be counting the intervals, how many, how long and how hard are they.

So OK that kind of woman I am. Is that part of my personality? Absolutely! But now of course, the next question, what does that has to do with the job? And knowing about your weaknesses, your strengths, and your drive and motivation?

I say everything! I could tell you that that was also another moment I realized, okay what kind of job would I actually like to have? I like to be fitness instructor and that a kind of job. I like the people, I like the energy, I like to be tough, I like to be challenged. But what kind of job could it be more? Could it be something more than this?

That was another hint of why it is important to start to reflect over who are you. Both when it comes to your PhD work. What motivated you? What demotivated you? What people did you get along with? What people did you not get along with? And what do you do in your spare time? In my case it was fitness. But what is it in your case?

To start to understand who you are will make it easier for you to become a leader. And to feedback people. And to tell other people who you are so you can communicate. And it will make it so much easier for you to communicate and understand what other people need, not only you, but what other people need.

But what do you do as a PhD student, when you are sitting out there thinking about how can I learn more about myself to actually start to understand why recruiters and why hiring managers are asking all those questions? Who do you like to work with? Who do you have a challenge to understand to work with? And how do you deal with the boss you don’t agree with?

You can answer those questions honestly if you understand who you are. And when you want the dream job or if you are going to find that job you are going to like and find the driving motivation for, you must be very honest to yourself. And honest to the people that are interviewing you and the people that you are going to work with in the future.

And believe me, that goes for your partner as well. Because that is a relationship as well. To actually understand what kind of drives you have. What motivates you and what kind of feedback you need to get energy in that relationship whether it is a partner or at work. So good luck and find someone that can help you with the self-assessment and go for professionals to give you the feedback! 

Thank you for listening!

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