Building Your Path

A Career Counselor’s Guide to Career Assessment

Career assessments are used to help educate students about themselves and their career opportunities. These assessments are one of the most fundamental tools to career guidance.

During career exploration, the right career assessment can play a critical role in moving students from a state of unawareness and confusion into their next opportunity. A good career assessment helps students increase their self-awareness and their understanding of the job market.

Most career assessments follow the methodology that a student needs to understand their interests, aptitudes, values, and skills to determine where they fit within the job market. Career counselors have a myriad of options when it comes to choosing a career assessment.

To make a decision on which one to go with, you’ll need to know:

  • why you want a career assessment
  • how you plan to use it, and
  • what kind of assessment will work best.

When considering which career assessment is best for your situation, you’ll want to work through a series of questions and possible career assessments.

Here’s our guide to the process:

Why do I want to use a career assessment?

The first thing you’ll want to do decide when considering career assessments is why you need one in the first place. Career assessments are a good method to:

  1. Increase self-awareness
  2. Increase awareness about the labor market
  3. Get students excited about Careers
  4. Prompt self-reflection
  5. Act as a jumping-off point for counselors
  6. Provide guidance

While most career assessments are able to increase self-awareness and promote self-reflection, it takes a special process and assessment to get students excited and passionate about their careers. While you read through the guide and think about creating a process around an assessment, keep in mind that how a student engages with an assessment will affect how much value they take away from it and how invested they are in their results.

In short, if students are bored or confused by an assessment, it is not going to accomplish much as the student won’t be motivated by their results. On the other hand, if a student loves taking the assessment and feels like it was personal to them, they are likely to be excited about their results and engaged in careers overall. This gets at the true purpose of an assessment: ignite passion in the person.

You can only ignite this passion in a person when you pair the correct career assessment with the correct environment:

For what context do I want career assessments?

Before you choose a career assessment, you’ll want to know the context in which you plan to use it. You’ll want to think about:

  • The Audience: Who is going to take the assessment? How old are they? Are they fluent in the language of the assessment? Are they open to career guidance?
  • The Objective: Is the user a novice in career and vocational exploration? Are they a career changer with years of experience? Are they a dedicated student considering career options?
  • The Environment: Where is the user going to take the assessment? Will there be a proctor or counselor present?
  • The Debrief: Will a counselor meet with the user about their results? Do you have enough resources to meet with every user?

Understanding the context in which you are going to use career assessment is critical to having a successful session. Make sure before you move forward with career assessments you’ve carefully considered your audience, objective, environment, and period for debriefing.

What process should a career assessment support?

Career counseling is a process. Generally, a person begins in at state of unawareness and confusion about themselves, the job market or both and the process should bring them to some resolution. The Career Diamond is a well documented framework that illustrates this process:Career Assessment - Career Diamond

The career diamond illustrates the person, beginning at the “A” stage. At that point, the person is aware that they need to make a career choice or go through career exploration. The first step in the process is making sure the person taking a career assessment knows they are going to be making a career choice or actively exploring the world of work.

The top of the diamond signifies the person’s awareness about themselves expands and then narrows to the “C”, representing choice or change. Across the bottom, the person’s awareness of the world of work expands and then narrows to a choice.

The left side of the diamond is called The Exploring Phase. During the exploring phase, the person needs to both explore their self-concept and expand their external awareness of the world of work. The right side is the integration phase during which, the user applies their self-concept and integrates it with their new knowledge of the world of work:Career Assessment - Career Diamond Integration Phase

One way to think about this, is to think of how the counselor can help a person complete each step:

  1. Expanding self-awareness: Examining and identifying traits, preferences, interests, aptitudes, and skills about the person.
  2. Expanding external awareness: Exploring the breadth of the labor market, introducing them to jobs they may not have known existed.
  3. Applying self-concept and Integrating External Awareness: Relate specific traits, preferences, interests, aptitudes, and skills to specific careers, industries or opportunities.

A person’s career journey can be understood as a series of connected diamonds, as they go through this process, again and again:

How career assessment fits with the Career Diamond

A career assessment should be able to help a person through this journey. An assessment can accomplish different parts of the diamond, ideally with a counselor helping provide additional context and reflection.

  • Expanding Self Awareness: Most career assessments accomplish expanding someone’s self-awareness to varying degrees. The best career assessments will help people have a clearer picture of themselves.
  • Expanding the External Awareness: Career assessment that provides exploration enable some amount of expanding external awareness, although, this step is often provided in reverse after the assessment makes a career recommendation. The best assessment systems would include content to provide context about the careers as many new careers will not be known by the user.
  • Applying self-concept: Career assessments that include career recommendations help apply the self-concept by demonstrating how the assessment makes the recommendations. The recommendations are not the application of self-concept, the logic behind the recommendation is. For an assessment to help with the process of applying self-concept, then, it needs to be clear why a career recommendation was made and how a person can reflect on the reasoning as well as the recommendation.
  • Integrating External Awareness: Career assessments that include career recommendations often help integrate external awareness by showing the user the career recommendations.

Career assessment can help users through the Career Diamond to varying degrees. The best career assessments would help expand self-awareness by helping people form a more clear picture of themselves, expand external awareness through career exploration, apply self-concept by making the logic of career recommendations explicit and integrate external awareness by making clear career recommendations with context.

What do I want to assess with a career assessment?

You can assess a lot of different factors of career fit using a career assessment. The most common include: interests, aptitudes, personality, values, strengths, skills.

Assessing Interest

Interest is a fundamental concept in education, personal development, and vocation because it describes a state of positive engagement, during which the individual is happy to continue working and learning. In academics, 25-30% of performance is based exclusively on interests. Interests are important because interest increases both the enjoyment and performance of a task.

People who are interested in a subject exhibit:

  1. Pleasant feelings of applied effort
  2. Increased attention
  3. Greater Concentration
  4. Willingness to learn

Identifying what interests people is paramount to helping them with career exploration because when they work on tasks that they are interested in they’ll often do so at the optimal engagement threshold, known as serious play or flow. During these periods, they’ll enjoy working and be effective. In short, being interested in a task elicits that feeling of time flying while you’re working and being productive. The correct career for someone will often include numerous tasks that they are interested in doing.

What is an interest?

The consensus among researchers is that an interest is the positive phenomenon that occurs when a person engages with pattern structures they enjoy within their environment. For instance, a musician will likely be interested in the pattern structure of musical notes. They are able to elicit positive feelings by interacting with musical notes, playing an instrument, composing music, and other musical activities. Interests are pattern structures people enjoy interacting with.

Interests can be difficult to identify because they are not exactly the activities we enjoy engaging with and because interest as the term is often incorrectly applied to other components of career analysis, most often: type assessments. In spite of this difficulty, interest is one of the most important components career counselors should seek to identify with a career assessment because of its major impact on both enjoyment and performance on a different task.

Assessing Personality

It can be difficult to define personality as all of the factors could fall under personality as a category. Personality can be understood as habitual behaviors, cognitions, preferences, or emotional patterns. Different frameworks posit various personality traits. For instance, The Big Five personality assessment, which is favored by psychologists assesses openness to experience, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism.

The Myers-Briggs personality assessment assesses preferences in how people are energized, perceive information, make decisions, and live their lives. What both the Big Five and The Myers-Briggs personality assessment have in common is their factors assess how people approach situations, handle themselves and make decisions.

These types of factors are great for increasing people’s self-awareness but, they do not tend to be useful for integrating with the external world. Why? Because people can be happy and successful with their careers independent of how they approach them, handle themselves or make decisions. Actually, diversity in all of those categories makes a workplace better.

For instance, conventional wisdom would expect extroverted people or those who gain energy by being around others to be better salespeople. In reality, extroverts and introverts are equally effective at sales. This is important to keep in mind because personality is great to increase self-awareness and for reflection but it is not an integral part of a career assessment. Think of it as a great supplement or optional aspect of the process, good to have but not required.

Assessing Values

Values are a subset of personality. They are generally used to describe what a person values in a workplace or in their life. For instance, a person may value work-life balance or helping other people. Ideally, this information would be identified in the expanding self-awareness phase and used during the integration phase. Values are also important for judging how well a person will fit with a company or organization because they will be most comfortable in organizations that value the same things.

Values are an important aspect of career assessment and ideal to assess using a specific assessment or as part of a larger assessment platform.

Assessing Strengths

Strengths can be difficult to concretely define. Most strengths assessments are based on the Theory of Positive Psychology which is a branch of psychology that concentrates on what it takes for people to thrive and be happy in life. The branch particularly focuses on people’s strengths and what other methods will make people happy and successful.

A strength is characterized as a pre-existing, natural or intuitive way of behaving, thinking, or feeling that the person feels is true to themselves, they are good at and they are energized by doing. For instance, being analytical could be a strength for a person who enjoys crunching data.

Strengths are a great way to increase self-awareness and can play a critical role in integrating a person’s self-awareness with the labor market. Unfortunately, there is no system that links strengths to a job database, which means that while an important optional or supplemental concept to assess, you’ll need to make sure you have some more substantial components, too!

Assessing Aptitude and skills

Aptitude and skills are difficult to assess, especially in a general. If you want to know hard skills like typing speed, for instance, you can determine if a person has that skill but for more complex skills like communication, coding and collaboration. Furthermore, most skills can be learned and improved.

As far as aptitude goes, while it can be useful to know how smart a person is relative to their peers, it will likely have little impact on their career opportunities, especially when compared to more practical components like education.

Generally, then aptitude and skills are good components to consider in the increasing self-awareness stage but not integral to career assessment. If you are concerned about how a person’s aptitude may affect their job using a Theory of Multiple Intelligence assessment can be a good method to determine where a person’s intelligences generally are.

What kinds of Career assessments are there?

There is a number of different kinds of career assessments: type assessments, game assessments, and adaptive assessments.

Type career assessments

Type career assessments are assessments that set a series of criteria, known as a type, and then assess people to identify which type they fit in. Type career assessments are often accessible and easy to understand but are often viewed as superficial and statistically inconsistent. Famous type career assessments include the Myer-Briggs Type assessment, The Holland Code Type assessment, and the DISC profile assessment.

Type assessments can be difficult for many audiences, objectives, and environments because they often require a high degree of self-awareness, career experience, and ample opportunity for debriefing with a trained counselor. The required debrief time is inherent to the concept of a type of career assessment because many people will not fit perfectly within the type and will need to work through how the information relates to them. Type career assessments are often not seen as particularly engaging because they are static which means that every user will see the same questions, often in the same order.

The strengths of type career assessments:

  • Easy to understand for the user and counselor
  • Well established

The weaknesses of adaptive career assessments:

  • Can be boring for users
  • Superficial results and matching
  • Poor user experience
  • Expensive
  • Aren’t specific to the person

Game career assessments

Game-based career assessments are neuroscience-based interactive exercises that use behavior to assess cognitive and personality traits. These assessments can be difficult to administer because they often require more Flash and other software that may not already be installed on people’s devices. Game-based career assessments to be engaging, especially for younger audiences but the objective of the games often do not align with career

The strengths of Game-Based career assessments:

  • Novel and intriguing to users
  • Eliminates the need for self-reporting

The weaknesses of adaptive career assessments:

  • Requires a computer, tablet, or phone to complete
  • Requires internet connection
  • Relatively new, requiring counselors to adjust to them
  • Identities mostly behavior components which are not strong indicators of career fit

Adaptive career assessments

Adaptive career assessments are digital instruments that learn and adapt to the user, choosing the next question for the user to see based on their previous answers. Adaptive career assessments are generally more engaging for users to take as the process is more individualized. This type of career assessment excels at making up for a lack of debriefing opportunity as they promote self-reflection during the process of taking the assessment. Adaptive career assessments are often able to adapt to their audience to ensure the content, questions, and matching is appropriate for the user.

The strengths of adaptive career assessments:

  • More engaging than other career assessments
  • Individualized to the user
  • Shorter than other career assessments
  • Promotes self-reflection during the assessment through more specific follow up questions
  • Increased specificity in results and in matching

The weaknesses of adaptive career assessments:

  • Requires a computer, tablet, or phone to complete
  • Requires internet connection
  • Relatively new, requiring counselors to adjust to them

I know a lot more about career assessments, what now?

Now that you’ve learned a lot more about career assessment the best thing you can do is try some.

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