Use Career Assessments Wisely -- or Not at All

Use Career Assessments Wisely -- or Not at All

What do you want be when you grow up?

If you're trying to figure that out, you're probably considering taking some career tests, like the Strong Interest Inventory, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator or one of the dozens of other vocational assessments available in print and online.

It's a great idea. But, please, be careful. Used wisely, career assessments can help you get a better sense of the types of jobs and activities that might be a good fit for you. Too often, however, people who take career tests misunderstand them, misuse them (almost always unintentionally) or mistake them for being more than they really are.

Career Tests Aren't 'Tests' at All

The word "test" implies right or wrong answers, but most career assessments don't have right and wrong answers. Whatever career assessments you choose to pursue, know going in that your goal isn't to be right, but to be accurate and true to yourself.

Career Assessments Suggest -- They Don't Tell

No matter which career test you take, its purpose isn't to tell you a specific career to pursue. No tool is that powerful. All a career assessment can do is suggest ideas about careers you might want to explore in more depth. Think about it this way: If any career test could accurately tell you which occupation to go into, wouldn't everyone be taking it?

Garbage in Equals Garbage Out

A career test's results will only be as good as the information you put in through your responses. So be honest. Respond in terms of the way you actually are, not the way you hope to be or wish you could be. And make sure the responses are yours, not (subconsciously) those of someone else in your life.

Consider Your Results with a Very Open Mind

Some career assessments -- like the Strong Interest Inventory, for instance -– offer a list of potential careers that might be a good match for you in their results. As a career counselor, time and again I've seen clients laugh off job suggestions they think they know something about or discard suggestions they know absolutely nothing about. Don't make these tragic mistakes. Thoroughly explore all the occupational suggestions that show up in your test results, not just the ones you're already familiar with.

Read Between the Lines of Your Results

Beginning in high school and several times since, I've taken the Strong Interest Inventory. In each case, one of the suggested careers for me to explore was "Clergy." I used to chuckle and then promptly forget it. But as I thought about the key skills and interests clergy members have -- compassion, the ability to listen, the willingness to help -- I realized that even though I'll never be a member of the clergy, I can still use that suggestion to explore other careers that call for similar interests and skills, like career counseling, for example.

Beware of Junk

There are many career "tests" available online. Some of these tools are quite reliable and valid, but many are not. Explore career assessments with a dose of skepticism and be a smart consumer. Has the test you're about to take, and perhaps pay good money for, been well-researched so it accurately measures what it claims to measure?

Don't Get Test-Happy

You can easily convince yourself that you're doing something about your career concerns by completing a whole bunch of career assessments. But it's easy to fall into the trap of doing so much testing that you're not taking any other constructive action on your career: The paralysis-by-analysis quandary. Go easy on the number of tests you complete; there are lots of other things you can and should also be doing to explore your career options, like informational interviewing or reading books about a field of potential interest.

Career assessments have helped many thousands of people get a better sense of where they might fit in the world of work. But thousands of other people who have taken career tests would have been much better off not using them at all. So be savvy, both in the tests you take and how you interpret and use the results.