Assess for success: What you don’t know can hurt you

Face it, being assessed can make you feel vulnerable, like you’re in one of those attractive hospital gowns waiting for your doctor to give you every diagnostic test possible. Uncomfortable doesn’t even begin to describe it.

But just like that medical examination, assessments of your strengths and weaknesses as part of the job-search process are good for you. What you don’t know can hurt you! You’ll most likely overestimate your strengths and underestimate your weaknesses — and you’ll never get a clear picture of what you need to become more successful.

No matter where you are in your career now, at some point you are going to be assessed, whether in your current job or the next one. Even at the middle-management level, you’ll find that employers want to know as much about you as possible: your strengths and weaknesses, your leadership style, how well you fit the culture, and so forth. Even if you are not formally assessed, you will be asked in the job interview to discuss your strengths and weaknesses. You can’t fake these answers — you really need to know yourself. That’s why you need to develop an “assessment mindset”: a genuine eagerness to learn more about yourself as you can continue to learn and grow throughout your career.

An assessment is not a math quiz! No one is expected to score “100 percent.” Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. At any level, knowing who you are and what you bring to a position showcases you as being self-aware. You’re willing to be coached and developed, and ready for those “stretch assignments” that can accelerate your career.

Once you get the job, formal and informal assessments can pinpoint what you need to keep you on a growth track. (The most important considerations for taking any job is what you’re going to learn and who is going to teach you.) Interestingly, Millennials are more likely than others in the workforce to embrace ongoing feedback.

When it comes to formal assessments, though, there can be a natural tendency by people at every level to view them as being intrusive. Yes, you’re asked a lot of questions about yourself. But the company is trying to determine your mindset, skills, and experience to determine how well you’d fit the job — the stakes are high for employers these days. Companies are under more pressure today than ever to hire as diligently as possible. Increasingly, leading employers know what success looks like and how to measure for it. Yet even the most experienced senior executives don’t seem to get this, and in missing the point, they put their entire careers in peril.

Putting the Blinders On

“Jeffrey” spent most of his career at one company, rising through the ranks mostly because of seniority. As chief financial officer (CFO), he thought of himself as the heir apparent who would take over when the current CEO retired in a couple of years. Then the company’s board of directors beefed up the succession planning process, with formal assessments to identify employees’ hidden strengths and uncover blind spots. Assessment results were discussed with people and used to help prepare them for taking on positions with more authority. And, when it came to the CEO role, the board wanted to ensure they identified the best candidates.

Every time Jeffrey was contacted by HR to arrange for his assessment, he resisted. With his blinders securely in place, Jeffrey saw no reason to look beyond what he thought of as obvious: the next step after being CFO was to become CEO. Finally, Jeffrey was brought in for a day of assessment exercises. Needless to say, given his attitude, he did not do well. The assessment uncovered some serious blind spots involving his ability to motivate and manage others. When the consultants presented the feedback to Jeffrey, framing it as an opportunity for him to further his development and build his leadership capabilities, he resisted that as well. The board, meanwhile, found Jeffrey’s assessment to be very informative: as some had suspected, he clearly was not ready to become CEO. His negative attitude about being assessed and his unwillingness to address his blind spots only supported their doubts. When the CEO retired, Jeffrey did not get the job. Soon thereafter, he left the company.

Knowing Thyself

The outcome for Jeffrey could have been very different had he embraced the assessment process and used the feedback to inform a development plan. This is the advantage that comes from “knowing thyself” — and the earlier in your career you adopt this attitude the better. Through assessments, you can engage in development that’s tailored to helping you improve. And, when you’re up for a senior position one day, you’ll readily embrace the assessment process as being good for you — and the company that’s investing in you.

Whether you are formally assessed for your next job or evaluated through ongoing feedback, self-knowledge is a competitive advantage. Yes, you might squirm “under the microscope” at first. But the more comfortable you become with looking objectively at yourself, the more confident you will seem. After all, it takes self-knowledge to engage in self-improvement.

Gary Burnison is the CEO of Korn Ferry and author of the recently released book, “Lose the Resume, Land the Job.”