Know Thyself, Warts and All

Korn Ferry's CEO Gary Burnison breaks down the key personality traits and drivers that many workers fail to see in themselves.

Gary Burnison is CEO of Korn Ferry and author of Lose the Resume, Land the Job, from which this is adapted. For more information, see

Most people don’t like being put under the microscope. It makes them feel vulnerable and they often overestimate strengths and underplay weaknesses. But to know what type of career opportunities may best suit you, you must look inward and take a close look. No matter how difficult this task may seem, you’ll only be able to find the right job after you identify your motivations and what works best with your personality.

A portion of you right now might be rolling your eyes, thinking you don’t need to know anything about your traits and drivers to snag a good job. Big mistake. If you’ve been looking for what has been missing in your career and what has kept you from progressing, this self-awareness is it. Let’s dig into who you are, so you can find that golden opportunity.

What’s in your DNA? Think of personality traits as your natural tendencies. Do you see the glass half full or half empty? Are you comfortable in a room full of strangers or want to be the wallflower? Some of the common traits that can help you figure out how you perform best include risk taking, persistence, assertiveness, and focus. While certain natural tendencies can change over time—an introvert can learn to master small talk—it’s good to examine them to know where your abilities stand now. Are you comfortable with unanticipated changes of direction? If so, one of your traits is adaptability or being able to tolerate ambiguity. Do you like to pursue a deep understanding of even the most obscure information? Your curiosity could be useful in solving complex problems with creative and intellectually driven solutions. Traits guide your behavior, but can be very difficult to observe—which is why assessing yourself is so important.

What drives you? This simple question is actually quite tricky, and yet it’s extremely important for your career. Drivers are the values and interests that influence your motivation and engagement. They can be specific (such as wanting to earn $100,000 or more) or broad (such as preferring work that gives you freedom from organizational constraints). Think of drivers as your passion and purpose, the things that help you get out of bed on the days when you really want to curl up underneath the covers. Some of the more common drivers include challenge (are you driven by tough assignments?), structure (do you prefer stability, predictability, and job security?), and balance (do you want flexibility that can ensure you have a balance between your work life and personal life?). By determining your drivers, you’ll be able to understand the best culture fit for you and how likely you are to be engaged by certain jobs.

Remember, once you know who you are, you’ll be able to articulate your value and understand where you’ll fit best. As the saying goes: Claim your strengths and make friends with your weaknesses.