Career testing is a big industry, and many a Washington DC career consultant relies heavily on such testing to guide clients as they explore possible career paths. Career tests come in many shapes and sizes. Perhaps the most widely used one is Myers-Briggs. In a previous post I expressed significant reservations about Myers-Briggs' value as a guide for people looking to switch careers (http://dclifecounseling.com/blog/2010/5/8/how-valuable-is-personality-testing.html). Myers-Briggs sorts people into one of sixteen categories, and then provides a list of suggested careers for people in each of the categories. Back when I took the test I was given a list of eighty (!) career possibilities.
A list of career options to consider can provide valuable stimulus, allowing clients to expand their vistas, and if a career test is used in that way I fully endorse it. Unfortunately, too many clients investigating career options (and too many career consultants who administer these tests) look to them for concrete answers rather than for possible paths to explore. All of the companies, organizations, and websites offering career testing tout the value of their tests, but in fact, there is virtually no research that examines the track record of career testing as an artifact able to predict career satisfaction and / or success. So if career testing isn't terribly accurate as a predictor, why is it so universally popular? I think the answer is a fairly simple one: choosing a new career is a monumental, life-altering decision, and a highly complex one. It's also one that is best undertaken over time through a process of self-reflection, conversations with people who know the person who is seeking to select a career path or make a change, research, networking, etc. A career test provides a quick, relatively definitive set of answers - a seeming shortcut. But if the shortcut is to a desination that isn't right it's not a terribly valuable shortcut.
Rutgers University Career Services expresses my philosophy well as it applies to people just beginning their career path: "Your results are not likely to provide a final academic or career choice, but may help you discover more about the values you think are important. This information could be shared with your advisors, parents, professors, and/or career counselor to help brainstorm potential college majors and career options".
As for mid-career individuals contemplating a change, testing can help frame a person's skills, values, and interests in ways that shed new light on them. It is, however, unlikely that testing will uncover a career-related dimension of personality or experience that will come as a discovery or surprise. I couldn't help but chuckle when I read one of three testimonials listed on what is purported to be the most popular free career test, offered on Livecareer.com, which claims to have administered five million tests. Here it is:
"LiveCareer made me reconsider my future plans and gave me a deeper vocational insight. It made me move in a slightly different direction educationally than I originally planned to." - Sam
Less than a ringing endorsement, I'd say.
Fortunately there are many free tests that can be found on-line that will adequately serve the purpose of suggesting possibilities. One of the best is the VIA Signature Strengths test, featured on famous psychologist Dr. Martin Seligman's website: http://www.authentichappiness.sas.upenn.edu/tests/SameAnswers_t.aspx?id=310 .
I encourage a number of clients to take this test, as it provides fodder and stimulation for the kinds of in-depth conversations that are more likely to shed light on viable career possibilities than is testing alone. In my experience, it is in those conversation that little anecdotes emerge that point the way to fruitful career choices.