Who do you think you are? Reflection for employability

By Miriam Hemingway, Careers Project Coordinator

“Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.”- Aristotle.

Who do you think you are? We all have an idea in our head of who we are, and quite often find ourselves wondering (or worrying) what other people might think of us. But how often do we pause to think about how our actions align with our values, or how we might learn from our experiences to support our employability? 

Reflecting on our experiences and behaviour in order to better understand who we are and how we act is one way we can prepare to meet our goals and ambitions, and enhance our awareness of what those might be. 

From the greek philosophers, 19th century existentialists, to modern day artists and creatives, reflective practice has been explored as a means to better understand ourselves and the world around us. But what does it mean to reflect and could it be a tool to help us be better prepared to land our dream job or plan our next steps? 

Let’s dig in and find out: 

What is reflection anyway?

“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” ― Søren Kierkegaard

Reflection is the act of thinking about and analysing our past experiences, thoughts, feelings and actions to help us learn from and be aware of them for the future. This might look like asking questions of ourselves and others. What went well? What didn’t go so well? How did you feel? Asking some open questions like Who, What, When, Why, and How can help to draw out some useful information in a gentle way. 

When we’re in the middle of an experience, we can’t always see the big picture. It’s only afterwards when we can look back at it from a distance that we can make sense of it. 

Reflection is a key part of learning new things. To be able to reflect means that you are open to developing yourself – which has all sorts of positive benefits even outside of employability. Reflection might help you to work on your grades for academic assignments, improve your performance in a sport you like to play, or even improve a recipe for something you love to bake or cook! The benefit of reflection is that it’s a skill that can be practised by anyone, and a useful tool to support you throughout your life. 

Why reflect? Is it worth it?

“Difficulty creates the opportunity for self-reflection and compassion.” – Suzan-Lori Parks.

Sometimes things don’t go quite as planned, and that’s ok – it’s an important part of trying things out! But reflection helps us to look at that experience and think about what you might do differently next time. Similarly, reflection helps us understand what DOES work too, applying some analysis to successes so we can replicate them. 

Reflecting on our experiences isn’t a silver bullet – there will always be circumstances we can’t predict, but reflection allows us to work towards being better equipped to deal with challenges as they arise, informed by awareness of our responses and learning from past experiences. 

Reflection is also really helpful when preparing for job applications and interviews. Employers are often keen to understand how you might deal with difficult situations or important targets – reflecting on your response to challenges can help to prepare for demonstrating this based on your experiences. By reflecting on the situations you have been in, you can identify where you’ve used your skills and strengths to navigate difficulty, feel more confident, and be better prepared to share this in an interview. 

Watch this video below for more reasons why people around York think about why you should reflect!

If you’re interested in reflection, or just want to practise it for the future, applying for York Award is a great way to have a go and get some feedback. In 2022/23 York Award will open for all final and penultimate year undergraduates during Spring Term, and for postgraduates in July. Most students typically apply towards the end of their time at York. Through guided questions, York Award can support you to reflect on your university experiences and practise how you would communicate your achievements to future employers.

“The York Award is a great opportunity to reflect back on what you’ve done and think about your future opportunities. York Award makes you really delve into what you’ve achieved at York and how that contributes to your future career options. It boosted my confidence, giving me clarity about my direction” – York Award recipient 2022 

How do I reflect?

Reflection goes beyond just a description of an event or situation. Simple description doesn’t pose any questions or offer any thoughts on what happened or why.

“It is not sufficient simply to have an experience in order to learn. Without reflecting upon this experience it may quickly be forgotten, or its learning potential lost. It is from the feelings and thoughts emerging from this reflection that generalisations or concepts can be generated. And it is generalisations that allow new situations to be tackled effectively. ”- (Gibbs, 1988) 

To reflect on an activity or experience you need to ‘stand back from the event’, ask questions about what happened and offer your thoughts, answers and conclusions. A reflective approach is useful as it will help you to analyse your behaviour (how you approached the task), consider the positives and also the areas to address for improvement in the future.

Many different models and approaches have been suggested for reflection. One approach that can help you structure your reflection is the Gibbs model: 

We provide a variety of reflective tools for employability on the Reflective practice: employability Skills Guide. These resources are aimed at everyone, but will be particularly useful for students who want to do some or all of the following:

  • capture their transferable skill learning from work experience, extra curricular activities and academic course content
  • prepare for a job or further study application
  • apply for the York Award 

“Not choice, but habit rules the unreflecting herd” – William Wordsworth

We can all sometimes get stuck in the same routines, with habits and patterns of behaviour that keep us there. Being able to pause, and think critically about our habits what they might be telling us can help us to move through difficulty and find a new direction. 

Learning how to capture, reflect on and evidence your experiences and skills will support you in your ongoing development, prepare you for future applications for employment or further study and help you manage your career over your entire working life. With practice, we can form a healthy habit of reflection, and learn to incorporate this into our routines and work practice for the long term. 

Our ability to learn from our mistakes, cultivate a growth mindset and persevere through adversity is often what will help to set us up for success and set us apart from competition when we’re looking to secure that dream role. 

York Award is 25 this year – be part of the celebration and apply for York Award in 2022/23! Explore the Reflective practice: employability Skills Guide and start preparing for York Award today.