• How Valuable Are Career Assessments?

  • About a year ago I met a gentleman, Michael Mulroney, at a local networking event.  Michael had spent his career as a corporate attorney for a major industrial company in Stratford, CT.  At age 59, he was downsized and decided to "make lemonade" by relocating to the Berkshire Hills of Western Massachusetts, and focusing his expertise on the profusion of smaller businesses that are located here.
    As soon as Michael discovered that I was a career coach, he popped this question:  "What do you think of career assessments?"
    I smelled a set up, but I answered as honestly as I could.  "Multiple assessments can have great value -- as long as you also apply the filter of your own wisdom and experience."  
    It turned out that as part of his downsizing package, Michael had been given outsource assistance, including a battery of assessments" the upshot of which was a strong recommendation that he should become an architect. 
    "Can you imagine", he said, "that I should toss out 32 years of legal experience and start over as an architect?  It may fit technically" but it's just not realistic."
    My point exactly.  It's not that starting over should always be ruled out, but when you're hovering on retirement, it's just not an ideal time to make what would amount to a 6 year investment in re-training -- never mind the time to build a sustainable practice. 
    Still, They Are Worth Every Penny
    With 15 or 20 years of work experience, many career-changers feel that they already know what they're good at, what they like and what they don't like.   And while it's true that assessments may not reveal startling secrets, they provide terrific reference points that can:

    • help you articulate a great number of skills and preferences much more clearly, and an expanded list of options lessens your risk of a poor career choice
    • validate what you already know" which leads to greater trust in your new choice and, quite possibly, the courage to make the switch
    • open up specific career choices that are a good fit for you, and perhaps even better, break down these careers into "component pieces" which can provide more possibilities to consider.
    • pinpoint your aversions" so that you can better manage them (i.e., do less of them, do them with humor, or not do them at all)

    Research Findings
    Assessments come in a Baskin-Robbins assortment of flavors.  Some test for skills, others for personality or motivations.  After considerable research and multiple conversations with industry experts, here's what I've found:

    • There is no single gold standard despite the fact that every company touts their assessment as such.
    • It takes considerable time and a sizable investment to create an assessment that is credible, predictive and clear in interpretation.
    • Most of the Internet freebies lack, or at least, don't publish such credentials; the old saying 'you get what you pay for' probably applies.   The upshot:  online freebies are more fun than fact; many are simply a teaser with limited reporting" as enticement to pony up for a fuller assessment.
    • Higher priced assessments don't necessarily mean better or more valid; they may be more proprietary and therefore, require a greater level of interpretation and support.
    • Career experts unanimously recommend taking several tests for a well-rounded, vocational picture.  You end up with expanded self-awareness, more options and less risk than by taking a single assessment.
    • Professional interpretation of results is one of the best investments you can make in your career-change process.

    Good Advice From The Real McCoy
    Richard Bolles, author of the classic What Color Is Your Parachute?, says that all assessments "should be handled with care.  Never let an assessment tell you what to do," he warns.  "Its purpose is only to give you some clues about your skills and interests.  You've got to decide whether the clues are useful.  No single test is totally accurate take two or three to get a good, composite picture of yourself."
    So, Which Assessments Measure Up?
    I investigated over 30 career resources" with the exception of the test developers themselves.  I wanted to be able to provide you with the experience of users" not the promotional material of the developers.  I was interested in finding one or more instruments that could uncover that 'big picture' AND which met these criteria: 
    a) validly constructed;  b) widely used and easily administered; c) reasonably priced.

    My favorites: for personality assessment, the classic Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI); for interests and preferences, the Strong Interest Inventory, and if you think you want to run a business, add  Strong's Entrepreneur Assessment.  I also like the Motivational Appraisal of Personal Potential (MAPP).

    Patricia Soldati is a former President & COO of a national finance organization who re-invented her working life in 1999.  As a career fulfillment specialist, she helps corporate professionals enhance their working lives" both by staying within the organization" and by leaving it behind.   She is a certified coach (International Association of Coaches) and was recently selected to be a thought leader for a major workplace-related website.