April 2002

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Smart Practices

On Balance

Career Assessment: A Renewal

Marcia Pennington Shannon

Each spring we think of renewal, and that is especially true this spring. In last month’s On Balance, Stewart Levine discussed the process of change and the opportunities that come with it. Here, I address a specific area of change: assessing and implementing changes to be made in your career.

The First Step: Getting to Know You

For most of us, next to our families and relationships, work has the greatest impact on our overall satisfaction with life. Career assessment has led some to expand their practice interests, others to change where they work and others to look outside the traditional practice of law. Still others have confirmed that the work they do, and the way in which they do it, fits them at this time in their lives.

Begin your career assessment by asking yourself these questions:

Am I really happy with my life, professionally and personally?

Do I use my time in a way that reflects my values and what is important to me?

Do I enjoy the work I do?

Does my work still motivate me and allow me to use my talents, interests and skills?

Is the environment in which I’m working energizing me?

Do I enjoy the individuals I work with, and do we share similar values and goals?

Is my work well integrated with the rest of my life, leaving time to enjoy outside pursuits, relationships and other activities?

Asking these questions is essential because it gives you a sense of direction. It lets you be the architect of your life. Many go through their lives without engaging in this kind of introspection. They may very well awake one day to realize that they have lived a life without personal satisfaction or success.

As you write your answers, you may see themes emerging. For example, one individual discovered that her dissatisfaction with work did not come from her substantive practice. Instead, it arose from the particular environment in which she was practicing. She didn’t like the location of the building, and she didn’t share similar goals and values with her colleagues. She then created an action plan by using the information she had learned about herself as factors in evaluating potential employers. Now, she is employed in a new firm with like-minded people and is much more satisfied with her work.

The Second Step: Taking Inventory

Based on your answers to the questions in step one, you may want to delve further into several areas related to your satisfaction. Consider using a variety of career assessment inventories that can provide additional rich information.

Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. The MBTI, based on Carl Jung’s Theory of Personality Types, is a personality preference inventory. It helps identify preferences in four different areas that affect how you are energized, how you gather information, how you make decisions and how you approach life and work. In understanding your preferences in these areas—your personality type—you can learn more about the environments will energize you, careers you might be drawn toward, your communication style and much more. You can find a short version of the MBTI at, as well as in Do What You Are by Paul D. Tieger and Barbara Barron-Tieger (Little, Brown, 2001). Longer versions are available through career centers, counselors and coaches (who should be certified to administer and interpret the MBTI).

Strong Interest Inventory and Campbell Interest and Skill Survey. These two inventories help you identify your particular areas of interest, as well as compare your interests with individuals satisfied in a number of wide-ranging occupations. Both are very useful for anyone considering a career change or a change in environment. In addition, they can help an individual recognize areas of interest to be pursued to lead to greater satisfaction, both inside and outside of work. The inventories are available through career counselors and career centers.

Individual skills inventories. Often people are dissatisfied because their work demands skills they do not possess and are not motivated to learn. It’s vital to identify the skills in which you are competent and that you enjoy using. Also, if you decide to change jobs, you need to identify and describe your transferable skills—skills that can be used in multiple settings. Skills inventories can be found in Richard Bolles’ What Color Is Your Parachute? (Ten Speed, 2001) and Deborah Aron’s What Can You Do with a Law Degree? (Niche Press, 1999).

Work values inventories. Values are our motivators. They lead us to want to do the work we do. It is not unusual to be dissatisfied in one’s work because of conflicts with personal values. You’ll find a good inventory of values at

Next Steps

After taking these career-assessment steps, you may have a keen sense of what your next steps will be in terms of bringing greater meaning and satisfaction to your career. You may also find it helpful to dig even deeper, either through specific additional resources or by working with a career counselor or coach.

The career assessment process, in and of itself, is important because it allows you to be in control of the life choices you make. As Dr. Denis Waitley once said, "There are two primary choices in life: to accept conditions as they exist, or accept the responsibility for changing them." Enjoy your time of renewal—greater career success and satisfaction await you!

Marcia Pennington Shannon ( is a principal in the Washington, DC attorney management consulting firm Shannon & Manch, LLP. She is co-author of Recruiting Lawyers: How to Hire the Best Talent (ABA 2000).