You may personally have memories of taking an assessment in high school and being told that you’d make a good funeral director, salesman, scientist, or any number of other professions for which you had no interest! Despite a similar negative experience with a career assessment — or no experience at all — you may be wondering if an assessment can truly help you determine “what you want to be when you grow up.”
What is a Career Assessment — And Who Is It For?
In simplest terms, career assessments are tools that are designed to help individuals understand how a variety of personal attributes (i.e., values, interests, motivations, behavioral styles, aptitudes, and skills) impact their potential success and satisfaction with different career options and work environments. Assessments of some (or all) of these attributes are often used by individuals or organizations — such as university career services centers, career counselors, outplacement firms, HR staff, executive coaches, vocational rehabilitation counselors, and guidance counselors — to help individuals make more informed career decisions.
These decisions may be on the front-end — as in, “What are some suitable career options I should pursue?” — but they are also beneficial for helping experienced professionals assess why they are feeling unfulfilled in their current occupations or worse yet, totally “burned out.” Additionally, some individuals are “thrust” into exploring careers because the career path they were on is no longer viable, either because of industry, economic, or life changes.
Career assessments can help you learn about occupations that are a good match for you, identify skills you bring to a job and/or decide where you need training, consider careers you may not have thought about before, and even help you write a more personal, focused résumé.
In short, a career assessment can help you make the best career decisions to grow both personally and professionally.
However, there are some drawbacks. Although the results of an assessment may provide some enlightenment and options, it may not address your particular issues and needs. Additionally, some of the best assessment tools require the help of a qualified professional to ensure you interpret and apply the results correctly (lest you find yourself on a path to working in a funeral home!). Also, keep in mind that many of the assessments are based on your view of yourself and we are often unaware of our own strengths, weaknesses, and ingrained misperceptions.
Assessment Tools: The Basics
Whether completed online or in print (paper and pencil), the majority of assessments are administered in the form of a questionnaire. You may be asked to choose from a group of options, select from terms that are most like you or least like you, or rate activities as those you most enjoy/least enjoy.
Each assessment is scored against characteristics of various occupations — the skills/abilities, interests, values, and motivations required to effectively perform and enjoy the occupation.
Assessment results are not randomly matched to occupations. The Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) System, a United States government system of classifying occupations, is used by U.S. federal government agencies collecting occupational data. This system enables comparison of occupations across data sets. The SOC covers all occupations in which work is performed for pay or profit and reflects the current occupational structure in the United States.
On the other side of the equation are the tools themselves, which are drawn from research studies, collected data, and theories developed by psychologists. Several well-known and popular assessments are modifications based on these studies.
Free or Fee?
There are many fee-based assessments that a qualified career counselor can administer, score, and interpret, as well as many free career assessments available on the Internet. You may find it helpful to take more than one assessment to help you determine which evaluation provides the most reliable and useful results for you. If you find that the same career options are being suggested by more than one assessment, it’s worth exploring in greater detail.
Online assessments vary considerably in terms of interactivity, what they measure, what kind of results they provide, and whether they really are cost-free. Some tests provide only a short list of possible careers; others are highly detailed reports. Some assessments are totally free, others provide you with one level of results for free, but offer more detailed results for a fee.
A few words of caution about taking an assessment online versus working directly with a qualified career services professional: Many assessments offered on the Internet lack evidence for validity and reliability. And when you register by providing your personal contact information, you are opening the door to future marketing and promotions from the assessment provider.
Next time we will look at some specific tests that you can use.