Career Tests: How to Make Them Work for You

by Piyali Syam | February 11, 2013

If you’re a student or recent graduate wondering what career path to pursue, or a professional dissatisfied with your current job and considering a career switch, a career test can be a helpful tool. Career tests won't give you a magical prediction of your professional future. But what they can give you is insight into yourself—your unique talents, strengths, weaknesses, values and goals—which translates into suggestions of careers which you are likely to find fulfilling. There are many types of career tests, most of which rely on a coding system that expresses the major aspects of your personality. Below are two of the most popular.

Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI)

While not explicitly a career test, the MBTI is often given out as part of a career assessment in order to match personalities to careers which suit them. The idea of the test is that every single person falls along different spectrums of human cognitive processing and behavioral tendencies. By measuring the combination of an individual’s unique preferences along these spectrums, the MBTI paints a picture of a personality type’s methods of perception, decision-making and functioning. There are four traits it measures, each of which has two possible ends of a spectrum, to make a total of 16 possible personality types.

  • The first scale the test measures is the Introversion (I)—Extroversion (E) scale, which explains how you derive your energy. Introverts are energized from within their internal worlds of thoughts and ideas and find too much social interaction draining. Extroverts gain energy from being around other people and find being alone for long periods of time difficult.
  • The second scale is Intuition (N)—Sensing (S), which details how you gather and process information. Intuitives are big picture thinkers who view the world through abstract ideas and possibilities for the future. Sensors are more down-to-earth and detail-oriented, preferring to focus on the concrete, practical realities of the present.
  • The third scale is Feeling (F)—Thinking (T), which describes your primary decision-making mode and how you interpret information. Feelers are emotionally driven and place importance on subjective considerations like sensitivity to other people’s feelings and values. Thinkers view the world through a primarily logical lens, with objective data and rational assessment being their tools of choice.
  • The fourth scale is Perceiving (P)—Judging (J), which measures how you relate to your external environment. Perceivers are more flexible, spontaneous and open-ended, preferring to avoid making deadlines or definite plans. Judgers like to stick to a schedule, view deadlines as definite and rely on organization and planning.

So what does all this mean for your career? The first scale determines how you prefer to work, the second is likely to carry over into your particular skill set, the third impacts the type of corporate or individual goals and missions you mesh best with, and the fourth has implications for the kind of environment in which you work best. An introvert may find sales frustrating, while an extrovert may find research less than stimulating. Feelers may hunger for harmony and social good, while thinkers may seek scientific truth. Moreover, your unique four-trait code illuminates how all these factors interplay. So if you are an INFP, the combination of your introversion, intuition, feeling and perception preferences may draw you to careers like psychology or the arts. Whereas if you are an ESTJ, the combination of your extroversion, sensing, thinking, and judging preferences make careers like business or law ideal choices.

Holland Occupational Themes (RIASEC)

The Holland Codes or Occupational Themes test (closely associated with the Strong Interest Inventory) builds upon the foundation of personality psychology laid out by the MBTI and elaborates on its career implications. The test asks questions about your personality, the type of tasks you enjoy doing and your career interests and then tabulates the results to match you to one of six types:

  • Realistic: Realistic types are practical, stable and resourceful and enjoy manual, tactile, physical and athletic work, such as that of an engineer, park ranger, veterinarian or surgeon. 
  • Investigative: Investigative individuals are analytical, intellectual, inquisitive and logical and enjoy work that requires research and analysis, such as that of a doctor, professor, scientist or computer programmer.  
  • Artistic: Artistic minds are creative, intuitive, expressive and innovative and enjoy work that emphasizes emotion, inspiration and imagination, such as writing, film, music, theater, photography and fashion or graphic design.  
  • Social: Social personalities are helpful, nurturing, outgoing and empathetic and are drawn to service-oriented professions which depend on interpersonal interaction, such as community organizing, psychology, teaching, clergy or social work. 
  • Enterprising: Enterprising types are persuasive, assertive, dominant and ambitious and are naturally suited to careers which involve influencing others, risk-taking, management and competition, including entrepreneur, politician, CEO, consultant or lawyer.    
  • Conventional: Conventional people are organized, responsible, efficient and thorough, and thrive in detail-oriented, quantitative, clear-cut work such as that of an accountant, mathematician, financial analyst or investment banker.  

As with the MBTI, the test scores preferences, so that while a person may have a predominant “type,” some people may have a combination of two or even three types. For example, someone with high Artistic and Social scores may enjoy a career in art therapy.

The ultimate takeaway from career tests is not that you are boxed in by a “type,” but that a career that draws upon and emphasizes your particular strengths and talents, rather than one which frustrates or works against them, can be a smarter decision in the long run. You are certainly not restricted to pick only from among the suggestions listed in your results, but you can gain a better understanding of the unique challenges and opportunities you might face in your work—and how to tackle them, if necessary—to have a satisfying, fulfilling career.

Have you taken career tests? Did you find them helpful? Share your experience in the comments below! 

Filed Under: Job Search


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