Learning about yourself – Career Tests and Assessment Tools
Careers in the 21st century can take unexpected turns. Opportunities arise, new avenues reveal themselves, new experiences change our aspirations and expectations…… And the economy itself is changing faster and faster. Perhaps none of us should look forward to ending up exactly where we planned in the course of our working lives.
Now more than ever, it could be argued that the only constant you can rely on, throughout your career, is you. Wherever you go, as the saying goes, there you are. So taking some time to understand yourself is an excellent investment in your own future. You’ll change as well; but building your career, from the start, on a foundation of real self-knowledge can help improve the odds that the changes that do come will be changes that can serve your needs, reflect your values and goals, and make the best use of your talents.
The simple truth that self-knowledge empowers us has spawned an entire industry of assessment and self-assessment tools for career planning and development. These tools can point you towards fields of work that best suit you – quite possibly in areas you’ve never considered – and can make clear if you require further education or experience. And if your potential career paths do involve expensive education, having a clear idea of where you want to go, and why, is especially important.
There are hundreds of career tests and assessments available, the good news is that among them, there a a few that are used extensively, and are deemed to be quite accurate.
The problem with determining the accuracy of career, personality, or other psychometric (measuring the mind) tests is that often there is limited information about how the results are calculated by the assessment tool. Two things are important then to know about the accuracy of a test you are considering taking – validity and reliability. These terms refer to statistical measurements that test designers and researchers use to determine confidence in results. Validity refers to the test actually measuring what is claims to measure. Reliability refers to the accuracy of that measurement, particularly if a person takes the same test at different times, will they get the same results.
The insight that assessment offers can be broken down into four basic categories – your personality, your work related values, your interests, and your skills and aptitudes.
-Your personality is who you are – your traits, motivations, responses, emotional makeup.
-Work related values are the specific attitudes and values that shape your attitude towards work. Do you most value money? Status and power? More abstract forms of achievement and reward? A chance to serve humanity? Autonomy? Novelty? Security?
-Your interests are the things that you enjoy – physical activity, deep discussions, nature, participating in events as a spectator.
-And, your skills and aptitudes are the capacities, learned or innate, developed or, as yet undeveloped, and perhaps even unknown, that you can bring to your working life.
The resources below are organized according to which of these four categories (personality, values, interests, skills) they emphasize. Some focus narrowly on a single element of assessment, while others are designed specifically for career development, and so combine aspects of more than one element in their questions and in the workplace/career-oriented insights they offer.
Don’t just do one: do at least a couple in each category; they use somewhat different methodologies and terminologies, and take different perspectives.
Remember: they aren’t telling you who you are, and they aren’t perfectly accurate. They’re tools, not authorities. They’ll quite possibly tell you contradictory things about yourself, and offer up different careers for you to consider. Use their results am as a starting point for your own reflections about what you want out of a career, out of life, and about which vocations and what training are most likely to take you there. The act of arguing with the results they offer can be a path to greater insight about yourself.
Miriam Webster defines personality as: “the complex of characteristics that distinguishes an individual….the totality of an individual’s behavioral and emotional characteristics.” Our personalities may change over our lives (and hopefully do so for the better), but at any given point in our lives our personality is who and what we are, undeniably and inescapably. It certainly can’t be changed or chosen off the rack to suit a job. So it’s a very good idea to choose your career path in the light of a clear understanding of the type of person you are, and the traits that most thoroughly and deeply define you. Here are some of the best-regarded personality assessment tests. Their value lies not just in the answers they give you, but in the fact that they’ve become the basis for a whole culture of work-related discourse – chats, dialogues, blogs, online articles…. They offer you a door into that discussion, and give you the opportunity to think of your qualities and the world of work in the same terms. This more than makes up for the fact that some of them can seem a bit simplistic.
The Big Five personality model, sometimes known as the five-factor personality model, characterises individuals according to five basic personality traits: these are our degree of openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism, measured as relative qualities y\that can include their opposites – closedness, introversion, etc..
Self-administered Big Five tests are easy to find online. Here’s one. You’ll be invited to respond to a series of questions (“I pay attention to details…I worry about things…I have a vivid imagination…”) by agreeing/disagreeing on a five-point relative scale. Tests typically take about five minutes.
If you want a more fine-grained assessment, there are longer questionnaires – such as the Truity “300-Question Personality Test” that measure more distinct personality traits. The Truity test takes about 30 minutes and can be found here.
This is another very well-known test. Unlike the Big Five test, which measures people relatively in terms of different traits, the test defines people according to their dominant personality traits, according them one of four personality types. Orange types are energetic, spontaneous, and charming; Gold types are punctual, organized, and precise; Greens are analytical, intuitive, and visionary; Blues are empathetic, compassionate, and cooperative. People are grouped by the test accordingly, and then in terms of the ways that this dominant trait interacts with their secondary traits. This test also takes just a few minutes to complete, and can be taken here or here.
Keirsey Temperament Sorter
Like the True Colors model, the Keirsey Temperament Sorter divides people into types. For Dr. David Keirsey, these defining types are guardian, idealist, rational, and artisan, defined as “temperaments”: “a configuration of observable personality traits, such as habits of communication, patterns of action, and sets of characteristic attitudes, values, and talents …” And like the True Colors and Big Five models, the Keirsey model is oriented towards employment and organizational situations in general; the the discussions you can find online about all of them and their results can be a source of useful insight as well. The test to find your Keirsey temperament can be taken here, and a discussion of the model is here.
This method was first developed during the Second World War to help steer women entering the industrial workforce towards the jobs they were best suited for, while the men were off at war. It defines 16 personality types based on people’s self-identification according to four simple dichotomies: are they introverted or extroverted, sensible or intuitive, thinking or feeling, judging or perceiving? There are 16 possible combinations of the four answers, and these are the Myers-Briggs types. You can take free versions of the test here, or here. And you can read about the underlying theory, and the interesting history of the model, at the Myers-Briggs Foundation’s website, here.
Hogan Personality Index (HPI)
Where personality tests offer you descriptions, in terms of “traits” or “types”, of who you are, interest assessments point you towards the range of vocations that might best appeal to you, as suggested by your answers to assessment questions. Some of these assessments are short and simple, while others are longer and more involved. Some are free and some are quite expensive. Paying for an assessment package doesn’t guarantee a more accurate result, but it can get you a more detailed exploration of the links between the characteristics they have identified in you and the fields of employment they suggest.
The basic idea behind the Holland code model is that people will look for job environments that suit them, and for the right fit will allow them to flourish. The developer of the model, John Holland, believed that “the choice of a vocation is an expression of personality”, so it’s no surprise that tests based on the Holland model basically use a theory of personality types to point people towards jobs for which they’re suited. Holland’s types are: Realistic, Investigative, Artistic, Social, Enterprising, and Conventional, but model takes into account the fact that no-one is simply a type – we’re all combinations of different traits.
These tests, commonly called RIASEC tests, are available in many different formats. A couple of basic, interactive tests can be found here and here, and a more involved test here, which can offer a “Full Report” on your results for $19 can be found here. But if you want to take a really deluxe version of a RIASEC- model interest test, you should check out…
The O*NET Interest Profiler
This is another RIASEC-based test. But it’s more thorough than others, its interactivity is more sophisticated, and it integrates questions about how much education or training you’re prepared to undertake before it offers job suggestions. It offers excellent explanations at each stage of the process, and ultimately offers a selection of “careers that fit your interests and preparation level”. These are general (“Clergy”, “Accountant”…) but each general category links you to a detailed description of the career: the tasks and responsibilities it involves, the knowledge, skill and abilities required, the education path towards it and where to get this education, and the outlook for that particular career field – including salary ranges, the future outlook for the category nationally and by state.
Finally, there’s an even more detailed report about each category, which indicates the relative importance of dozens of skill and abilities, and the responses of people in the field to questions about the job, such as: “How much decision making freedom, without supervision, does the job offer? ?”…”. How important is being very exact or highly accurate in performing this job?”…
The O*NET site, and My Next Move, of which it is a part, can offer such extensive resources for free because they’re are funded by the Department of Labor. They’re one of the most important on-line resources you can access in the process of career development. The O*NET Interest Profiler can be found here.
The Motivational Appraisal Personal Potential (MAPP) is used in over 50 countries, in 15 different languages. The MAPP assessment involves ranking sets of activities, such as: “Be a member of a social planning commission / Be an auctioneer at estate sales / Be a movie or television actor…”. The results from 71 of these rankings point to your vocational interests.
The MAPP test is proprietary; you’ll have to register and give them your email to take their free test, which will only provide you with a basic analysis. More detailed results can be quite expensive, and tend to lead back to the resources offered by O*NET and My Next Move. The MAPP website is here.
The iSeek Career Cluster Interest Survey
This quick survey asks you what you enjoy doing, what interests you, and the qualities you see in yourself. It then uses your answers to offer up what it calls a “career cluster” – a field of work that your answers suggest you might be interested in: “Architecture and Construction”, for example, or “Human Services”. Brief descriptions of the field are included, as in: “Human services workers help individuals and families meet their personal needs. You might work in a government office, hospital, nonprofit agency, nursing home, spa, hotel, or school. Or, you might work in your own home.” The test can be taken here.
Strong Interest Inventory
Like the Myers-Briggs assessment model, the Strong Interest Inventory has a century-long history, beginning with the work of E. K. Strong Jr. In the years after the First World War. The test is extensive, with over 270 questions that integrate a RIASEC interests model with other indicators, and that point those taking it towards not just fields of interest but also “personal style preferences”. Because the model is proprietary (it’s now owned by the Myers-Briggs company) a detailed assessment will cost in the neighborhood of $80. The range of Strong products on the Myers Briggs website can be found here.
Birkman International Inc. offers a range of tests, some self-interpreted and others that involve detailed engagement with Birkman Certified Consultants (in person or by phone). The theoretical model is similar to that of the other tests listed above, but the opportunity for one-on-one consultation sets this option apart. It isn’t cheap, however, at $129 for a self-interpreted “Careertyping” report of about 20 pages, which includes graphic representations of the results and as well as detailed occupation recommendations. A report and a 60-90 minute consultation will cost $625. A template of the basic report, showing you the information it will include, can be seen here.
Aptitude, Skills and Abilities
Skills can be learned or they can be ‘natural’ talents. They can be ‘hard’ – computer skills, mechanical know-how, languages – or ‘soft’, such as interpersonal skills, leadership or self-discipline. Taking thorough stock of your capacities, learned or innate, is a valuable step to take when considering a career path. Some skills and talents are naturally suited to particular career paths, and some career paths absolutely require better-than-average capacities in particular areas. If your search for a career path is open-ended – if you have no firm preconceptions as to where you want to start or where you want to go – then basing your choice on your talents and acquired skills can be a successful strategy; your innate talents will be with you throughout your life, and the skills you’ve learned to date will give you a head start, while probably also reflecting your interests and things you enjoy doing.
Taking inventory of your skills and abilities is even more worthwhile if your career path includes extensive education or training; these represent a serious investment of time and money. Online tests can’t tell you whether you have the co-ordination to be a brain surgeon or a high steel worker, or whether you’re strong enough to be a fire fighter, but they can help you explore such things as your organizational and leadership strengths, your capacity for autonomous work and for working with others. There are also resources, listed at the end of this section, that will match your skills, abstract (leadership”) and practical (“mathematical”) to jobs that make use of them.
The Personal Strengths Inventory:
This assessment tool “measures your personal strengths across 24 key areas, as outlined by psychologist Martin Seligman”. Its 240 questions lead to an assessment of your personal strength in 24 categories within four broad categories: Strengths of Intellect (Curiosity, Judgment, Love of Learning…) Strengths of Self-Management (Self-control, Prudence, Courage), Social Strengths and Strengths of Joy. Your assessment includes the advice that you reflect on the results – reflect on whether you make use of these strengths, whether your job does, whether you might have uncovered strengths you were unaware of. It’s good advice. The test can be taken here.
CliftonStrengths (formerly Strengthfinder)
This is a similar tool to the Personal Strengths Inventory, designed to help people discover and develop their natural talents: “Each person’s greatest potential for growth is in the area of his or her greatest strength”. It’s all very clearly designed for the world of work – with packages offered for organizations and teams as well as individuals. There’s a package specifically designed to help students choose a career based on an inventory of their strengths; but the entire program is proprietary, and this package costs from $49.99. Before you spend your money: a clear summary of the approach that Cliftonstrengths takes can be found here.
The CareerExplorer method combines elements of interests assessment, values assessment, personality and skills assessment, as well as responses about your education and work history to date, to provide you with a set of recommended careers. The basic version is free, and it’s one of the more interesting tests to take, though you may find the career matches it finds for you a bit surprising if you don’t upgrade to a paid version. The test can be found here.
These are a ubiquitous feature of the modern working world. IQ tests and SATs are aptitude tests, and many employers have prospective employees complete various forms of aptitude test. They’re a mandatory part of enlistment in the armed forces, in the form of the ASVAB. You can practice for a wide range of these tests on sites like this, and this. A very simple aptitude test, provided by the Johnson O’Connor Research Foundation, can be found here, on Oprah’s website.
O*NET Skills Search
Once you have a sense, from these assessments, of the skills you possess (or if you have a good sense already) you can visit the O*NET site and plug those skills into its really excellent vocation information resources. It will suggest how closely your skills match particular employment fields, and then offer you the same insight into the jobs themselves as described in the O*NET Interest Profiler entry above. Find it here.
Career Onestop Skills Matcher
This site connects your self-assessed practical skills (mathematical, mechanical, administrative, musical…) to appropriate career field, suggests the degree to which your skills align with their requirements, and offers a general of the pay and prospects in each(“Bright”, “Average”, Below Average”). Start the test here.
A career choice that’s at odds with your values can lead to a rocky career path and a chronic lack of work-satisfaction. This is true whether the issues concern explicit beliefs (religious or political), intrinsic values – honesty, autonomy or security, a desire to be of service, the need for intellectual fulfillment – or extrinsic values such as the desire for a high income or recognition and respect from others. Many sites offer tools that help you assess and prioritize your values. Some involve results gleaned from your answers to questions, and others involve reflection and self-assessment. It’s best to try both sorts.
Philidelphia University Work Values Inventory:
No algorithms here. It’s a printable form that lets you choose the values most important to you, from (alphabetically) Advancement and Autonomy to Variety and Visual Results. It then invites you to consider how you came to choose these values, and how your planned career path matches with these values. Many other post-secondary institutions offer similar tools. You can find this one here.
123test Work Values Test
This one does involve an algorithm, using your answers to 140 questions to provide you with a measure of the importance you assign to autonomy, creativity, variety, and 11 other work values. It also gives you graphic representations of how your results compare to those of typical values profile types, such as “ambitious”, independent’, ‘conventional’, ‘people-minded’. And has a useful discussion of the importance of work values in you career. It can be found here.
Barrett Values Centre Personal Values Assessment
This organization offers a free assessment tool that offers a broader, less work-focused but still useful analysis of your choice among a host of values, from accountability and achievement to well-being and wisdom. It turns these into an assessment of your core values (making a difference, self-esteem, internal cohesion….) and invites you to both reflect on the results and to discuss them with your partner, family and friends. You can take the test here.
O*NET Online Work Values tool
Once you have a sense of the work values that are important to you, the O*NET Online site has a tool (of course it does!) to help you find jobs compatible with these values. You can find it here.
Career Explorer : A one-stop assessment tool:
The people at Career Explorer offer an assessment that combines measures of interests, personality, skills preferences, and values, in a 20-minute test. The basic product – the results of the assessment – are free, while a more detailed and ‘insightful’ product is also available. The CareerExplorer website is here.
Self-assessment through focused reflection:
Reflection is bound to play a part in any life-defining decision. Some of the assessment tools that aim to offer insight into your personality, values, interests and strengths have made exercises in reflection a part of the process – while of course others are just proud to produce answers for you. Answers are great; they have a place. But it would be hard to overestimate the value of self-reflection, and it would be hard to reflect too much concerning decisions as important as choosing a career and the means of getting there.
The results of the automated assessment exercises you undergo may or not be consistent, and they may or may not produce results that you feel are right for you. If it seems like they aren’t, then “Why is that?” would be a good subject for reflection. If you feel that the results of the algorithm-based assessments are consistently wide of the mark, either in the judgments they offer about you or the career directions they suggest, perhaps you can spend some time concentrating on assessment tools aimed at involving you in active reflection.
For example, you can visit the Amherst College Self-assessment for Career Planning website. It leads you through a series of questions to…think about, and answer for yourself. Then it invites you to consider broader questions, such as “Did you notice any themes or threads that connected your various interests?”. It covers interests, skills, values, family and cultural influences, and personality. It can be found here. Many other colleges and universities offer similar resources – designed to make you wrestle with the questions that assessment tools offer to solve for you. Though they’re offered by colleges and universities, they can be very useful even if you aren’t considering post-secondary education – or if you’re well into your working life, thinking of changing careers and want some direction in your search for the right choice, with or without further education. Other such sites can be found here, here, and here (click on the “values interests and skills workbook” link for this last one).
Even if you’re satisfied with the results of the assessment tools discussed on this site, and feel like you connect with the career options they’ve led you to, this sort of reflective process is well worth the effort.
To be clear: Reflection is not indecision. In fact, indecision is one of the roadblocks that self-reflection can help you get around. Why would you hesitate? Is it because you just don’t find any career suggestions that appeal to you, in the results that the battery of assessments have produced? Or is it because they don’t seem to describe a person you recognize? Is it because they seem to point in a career direction at odds with your self-image or expectations, or the expectations of your family? Do the stakes seem too high, given the cost of education and the uncertain future of the field you’re drawn to? Is it because you’ve taken the results of the assessments as something more than helpful suggestions and pointers – a starting point? That’s all they are; the final decisions will always be yours.
There is a best answer for you out there. And in this case “out there” really means inside yourself. Practical issues, for example issues of cost, or the problems that might come with a need to relocate, are concrete and quantifiable; and you can make decisions that measure their importance and take them into account. The real questions you have to deal with are about what’s best for you; and to know that you have to be able to judge what’s best for you, as best you can. And the best way to do that is to reflect – on all the answers and issues the assessment process throws up, on the prospects that careers offer, on the lived experience that will be yours in that career, five, ten or twenty years from now.
This section has discussed many different tools that you can make use of to help you clarify your best path forward. The most useful tools you can bring to the self-reflection process are honesty and imagination.