August 15, 2008
Putting potential jobs to the test
The Wall Street Journal
Noting that my 19-year-old daughter seemed frustrated about career choices after changing college majors a few times, I did what any good helicopter parent would do: I bought her a career-testing and counseling session.
Vendors of career tests, which assess one's interests and abilities and link them with potential occupations, see rising demand from teenagers, young adults and their parents, representatives say. Some people who take them are wondering whether a specialized high school or college major is a good fit. Others are trying to discover their calling. Depending on how the tests are used, the results range from overwhelming the student with possibilities to teaching lifelong career-management skills.
My daughter says her experience - a three-hour assessment of her innate aptitudes and abilities, followed by a two-hour interpretive session with a Seattle-area psychologist - was helpful. It enabled her to put the last nail in the coffin of her waning interest in medicine, by showing that most medical careers don't suit her introverted problem-solving style. And it helped place on her radar screen two métiers she hadn't considered - systems design and marketing.
As a parent, however, don't make the mistake I did: expecting a "Eureka moment" - when the perfect career path unfolds before your child like the yellow brick road.
Too many people believe "you take a test and it tells you what you should do," says Spencer Niles, a professor of counselor education at Penn State. "There is no such test."
I, and many others, placed too much importance on the assessments, which are really just a starting point for the tough self-exploration and research needed to find or revitalize one's livelihood.
A good place to begin is a campus career center. Many offer students and alumni free or low-cost tests, plus the counseling essential to interpreting them. Another route is to consult a private career counselor. For a directory, see the National Career Development Association's Web site at NCDA.org, and click on "Career Center." Expect to pay roughly $75 to $200 an hour.
One type of test assesses clients' perceptions of themselves. Among the most popular: The Self-Directed Search, a 35-minute survey also available for $9.95 online at self-directed-search.com; or publisher CPP Inc.'s Strong Interest Inventory, a 291-question survey offered only through trained administrators.
The inventories are often helpful for young people who say things such as, "I don't know myself, I don't know what my skills are or I have so many options, I can't decide," says Janet Lenz, a career-center official at Florida State University.
For a deeper look, batteries of aptitude tests gauge inborn abilities and skills. The nonprofit Johnson O'Connor Foundation administers a $600 battery of abilities tests in two 3.5-hour sessions, plus an interpretive follow-up session, at its 11 regional centers.
Test-takers perform such tasks as assembling three-dimensional puzzles, replicating patterns or responding to sounds, to assess such innate abilities as design, visual-spatial perception or pitch. Separately, publisher Highlands Co. offers three hours of online tests through 200 trained administrators nationwide, usually for about $450.
My daughter took the Highlands assessment, plus a personality test, with Seattle-area psychologist Paul Marano for $475. From the analytical, technical and other skills she exhibited, he derived more than a dozen career possibilities, from design analyst to astronomer.
The sheer bulk of data was almost overwhelming. But as I listened to Marano encourage my daughter to vent her self-doubts, unearth her passions and plan follow-up job shadows and informational interviews, I realized he was teaching a set of skills and attitudes inherent to lifelong career management:
Trust your own interests. Do your homework. Tune in to the big picture. And be honest with yourself. If you can line up your passions behind your natural talents, even the most daunting obstacles may shrink to surmountable size.
Not a bad takeaway for life.
- career profile (166)
- cool jobs (71)
- education and training (63)
- entry level (70)
- etiquette (107)
- events (71)
- featured (431)
- finding your passion (98)
- health care (76)
- interviewing (90)
- job fairs (61)
- management (94)
- market trends (92)
- networking (278)
- resumes (103)
- salary (85)
- social media (92)
- technology (116)
- unemployment (57)
- work/life balance (92)