Boston University Sargent College of Health & Rehabilitation Sciences
Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation

Boston University Sargent College of Health & Rehabilitation Sciences
Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation

Identifying my Preferences

What should I think about when identifying my preferences for work?

Why is “identifying my preferences” important?

Choosing a job is about picking a job that you want. Many of us think we need to get any job that will have us, but taking any job may lead us to work in a job that we don’t like.

Identifying your preferences is a big part of Choosing the kind of work you might want to do.  Identifying your preferences is deciding what you are looking for in a work situation. Identifying your preferences can help you to think about what works for you, and what you prefer in a work environment. It will allow you to avoid working in jobs that don’t “fit” who you are at this point in your life.

Preferences are considerations we use when making a decision. (Cohen, et al., 1991Nicolellis et al, 2015) When we figure out our preferences when Choosing work, we identify what is important to us so when it’s time to choose, we can pick the job setting that is best.

How do I figure out my preferences?

Your preferences come from your life experiences. Taking stock of your experiences can help you to identify what you want out of your next job or career.

  • First, take stock of your work and school experiences. These experiences can be jobs, volunteer work, informal jobs, or military service. Write down what you can remember about those experiences, including some of the details such as what you did there, and what role you had.
  • For each of those experiences, list your likes and dislikes. Likes are those tasks, people, places, and experiences that you enjoyed and might even like to see again. Dislikes are those that you did not enjoy and may not like to see again in a workplace. Examples might be: Likes: Getting good at the tasks and finishing them every day. Dislikes: Having a supervisor breathing down my neck!
  • Also include what you were good at and what you were not so good at.  Think back about what you got feedback about.  What were you told you did well with?  What did you feel good at?  What did not work so well?
  • After you’ve detailed your experiences, your likes and dislikes and your strengths and weaknesses, pull out the experiences that are significant to you.  Which likes and dislikes do you think you want to consider when selecting a job or career?  Which strengths or areas to work on stand out to you?
  • Give a name to what you want to see in the future.
    • What likes do you to consider in the future?  For example, “I liked working on my own when mowing lawns for my neighbors.  My Preference is Autonomy or Working on My Own.”
    • What dislikes should be in the mix?  Think about what you would like to see instead, such as: “I disliked having a supervisor breathing down my neck. My Preference would be having a Supportive Supervisor.”
    • What strengths do I want to add to the list?  For example, “I was good at working with my hands. Working with my Hands is one of my Preferences for my next job.”
    • What “weaknesses” do you want to turn into Preferences when choosing a job or career?  This can look something like this:  “I’m not good at working with numbers. I prefer working with people.  My Preference is “Working with People”.
  • Make a list of your Preferences.  Having a list of 6-12 preferences can give you a pretty good picture of what you are looking for.  This list can be used for researching jobs and careers, for Choosing between Options, and even for getting more specific about your Preferences, as seen in the question, “How can I make sure I am doing something that makes me happy?

How will my disability affect identifying my preferences?

Your diagnosis may or may not affect this process at all. The first thing is to get to know yourself. Learn what you are good at and not good at given your diagnosis/disability. Learn what you like and don’t like. For some people, the disability may have changed things quite a bit, and you may have to get to know who you are as a worker in a new way. You may need new experiences with work to see what you are still good at, what you are good at now that you weren’t good at before, and what you like and dislike now.

Remember that some things may have changed – you are older than you were before (even if “before” was last month), you have learned new things, and you may know more about yourself now. Take stock of what works for you now if you can.

You may want to ask loved ones and people you respect what they know about you and your preferences. You may want to ask them if and how they think the disability is interacting with your Preferences. They may have an interesting perspective. Depending on your culture and your family, you may want to involve the clergy, and/or friends in the decision-making.

What other resources exist to help me identify my preferences?

There are lots of resources that can help you figure out what kind of preferences you have, and what kinds of work you might want to do.  If you are looking for a workbook to help you figure out some of these things yourself:


  • Self-Directed Psychiatric Rehabilitation Activities (McNamara, Nicolellis, Forbess, 2011).  This workbook is designed to help you walk through the process of psychiatric rehabilitation on your own or with a supporter.
  • Vocational Peer Support Trainee Handbook (Nicolellis & Legere, 2015)
  • My Career Story: is a workbook in which the job seeker tells his/her own career story.
  • Mass CIS: This is a tool for career and school counselors, job seekers, students and educators, providing information on: career assessment and planning, occupations, the labor market, outlook, and educational options. Tools that are needed to help people make better-informed career and school choices. (Free in MA but available from University of Oregon)

There are also resources in the community that can help you to figure out your Preferences, such as:

  • Vocational Rehabilitation: a state and federally-funded employment service specifically for people with disabilities.
  • One Stops/America’s Job Centers: Employment centers for all Americans, including people with disabilities. This link will help you find local resources.
  • Certified Peer Specialists:  Peer supporters, including Certified Peer Support Specialists are people who have lived experience of recovery, with whom you can support each other’s recovery, including getting involved with employment.
  • Supported Employment: this website offers a description of SE and links to helpful resources for Supported Employment, a much-researched employment support model developed at Dartmouth College.
  • Clubhouses offer people membership and a work-ordered day, among other things. This link is to the international certifying body for Clubhouses, which gives good information about clubhouses and additional links.

There are online resources, too.  In particular, try:

  • O*NET:  O*NET is an online resource for people who want to Choose the right kind of job for their preferences, skills, and experience.  An interactive website, people can explore, research, and gather information at their own pace.

How can I make sure I am doing something that makes me happy?

They say that if you find something to do that you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.  In other words, finding work that makes you happy feels less like work and more like doing something you love to do.

Not everyone has the opportunity to do work that makes them happy. Work can be a lot of work! But most of us are more happy with our jobs if they fit who we are, what we like to do, and fit our lives in some way. For example, a mom with school-age kids may want a job nearby, or one with early morning hours. A young person who is a night-owl might want a job that starts later and goes into the night. A creative person may want a job that allows them to create, and someone who is not a book-learner may want a job that allows them to work with their hands.

If you are interested in working on your preferences in order to try to find a job or career that is likely to make you happy, then you can get more specific with the list of preferences you’ve created. (Cohen, et al., 1991)

  • Review your list of Preferences
  • Define your Preferences: ask yourself what you mean by each Preference, and what you would see if the Preference was being met by the job or career. For example:
    • Example of a Job Preference, defined: Supportive Supervisor – A supportive supervisor would be one who would give me work to do, leave me to do it, and then give me both positive and negative feedback.
    • Example of a Career Preference, defined: Working with my Hands – would mean that most of the work in this profession would require me to learn by doing, and keep me busy with physical work.

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