Explore yourself

banner_1_square_150_res200There is no point in looking for a job if you're unaware of who you really are. Finding a fulfilling job requires an understanding of
your personality, motivation and interests.

Four crucial components of your professional identity you need to consider are:

  • what you know and are skilled at.
  • what you've done and experienced.
  • what you want and what motivates you.
  • what your personality is like.

On this page you can find a collection of online resources to help you reflect on your motivations, values, interests, skills and talents.
All of them are specifically designed for researchers.
But first, let's listen to some philosophical advice to get you started.

Why it matters

Taking this crucial step early on in your career development journey is key to:

  • Focusing your job applications on roles that match your values, skillset and motivators in life.
  • Making informed and conscious career choices.  
  • Discovering career opportunities that weren’t on your career radar before.
  • Identifying your key development areas when selecting from training offers, building your network or engaging in other types of learning that will help you achieve your personal career goals.

A practical self-assessment guide

This guide provides you with practical questions and exercises that will help in getting to know yourself better. The guide is organised around what you can do and what you want to do. Take the time to take stock of yourself. You will surely benefit from it. The guide consists of two more sections that we'll discuss in part two and three, respectively.

The guide is available both in English and Dutch 

Ugent competency matrix for researchers

competency tool

The competence tool for PhD students  was specifically designed by Ghent University to help early career researchers identify competencies and development needs. Competencies combine the knowledge, skills, attitudes and behaviors that help you excel at things like innovation, analysis, collaboration and communication. By engaging consciously with the process of developing your competencies over the course of your research project, you will be better prepared to underline your key strengths and unique experiences in future job applications.

Using the tool

  • Step 1: Determine your personal competency profile

Each competency in the tool is accompanied by a series of statements that describe how the specific knowledge, skills, attitudes and behaviours associated with that competency can be put into practice successfully. As you start and progress your PhD project, you can use this to determine your personal competency profile. You can do this by mapping the experience you have built up in relation to each competency against these statements and indicating the extent to which you feel confident in your ability to put them into practice. While you may have an innate ability to excel in some areas, developing specific examples of where you’ve successfully demonstrated a certain competency will bolster your ability to pitch your skillset in grant applications or job interviews.

  • Step 2: Define your professional development priorities

Once you have a sense of your own competency profile, you can start to work out your professional development priorities. The process of managing and completing a research project offers a wide range of development opportunities. Being strategic about how you seize those opportunities is precisely what the competency tool is there to help you achieve. Which areas do you want to strengthen further? Which areas should you develop in which you’ve not had much experience? What are the key competencies recruiters for your dream job will be looking for? The clearer you can articulate your development priorities, the more your choices around which courses and conferences to attend will map onto your professional ambitions.

  • Step 3: Discuss your professional development

Critical feedback is as crucial to your professional development as it is to your research. Your supervisor(s), peers, other colleagues, family and friends who engage with and observe your work can add important perspective to your own judgments and help you to refine your professional development goals. As a starting point, the competency tool can form the basis for the designated section on this in the yearly self-reflection report and lead into an open conversation with your supervisor(s) or advisory committee about your professional development. They can advise you on where to focus your development and help you to identify opportunities you can exploit to gain high level experience in key development areas.

The competency tool is part of the annual self-reflection report. More information about submitting your report can be found on the website of the Doctoral Schools.

Additional resources

  • National Postdoctoral Association Core Competencies: on this website , you can rate your current level of development in each of the six NPA core competencies. They are meant to serve as a basis for self-evaluation and identifying further training opportunities.

International resources

  • Career Development Toolkit for Researchers: a brief practical toolkit assisting you in taking stock of where you are in your career and formulate your ongoing career strategy.
  • Euraxess “No limits toolkit”: a career orientation tool developed for researchers, which provides resources on and information on Values & Motivations, Skills, Careers Options and Development Plan.
  • Euraxess Talent Development Suite: a tool that does not focus on your skills but aims to give you insight into your vision of your future career. By focusing on your past, present and future journey, the tool aims to help you find out your dreams and ambitions for the future. 

Domain-specific resources

  • Guide to Life Science Careers: an online career guide for researchers in Life Sciences.
  • ImaginePhD: a free online career exploration and planning tool for PhD students and postdoctoral scholars in the humanities and social sciences.
  • Cheeky Scientist: a website with loads of information and free e-books for PhD’s who consider transitioning to industry.

Further reading

  • University Researchers and the Job Market - A Practical Career Development Resource for Research Staff:  an extensive working booklet that brings together practical tips for developing a career plan and advice about the job search and selection process. It also provides a comprehensive list of useful information resources, surveys and reports on employment patterns and careers of researchers. 
  • Vitae website on career and professional development: a website where you can find resources and advice supporting you in your future academic or non-academic career.


Steps in the career cycle

Explore yourself

The first part is devoted to exploring your own strengths, motivations
and values.

Explore what's out there

The second step is to discover career options in academia and beyond that fit your professional self-understanding.


Step four deals with applying for jobs, including writing your CV and cover letter and preparing for the job interview.


 The third step is all about setting a goal and focusing on how to get there.