"Success is where preparation and opportunity meet." - Bobby Unser
Choosing the right career path is both an art and a science. It’s the art of whittling down a seemingly infinite number of career possibilities to the ones that best fit your individual interests, skills and values. It's the science of understanding yourself through self-assessment, personality testing and career testing to make informed decisions about which direction you should take.
On this page, we're taking a closer look at career testing and asking, what's so special about a career test? How is it different from other assessments such as personality testing, and how can it support you in your career exploration?
What is a career test?
A career test is a way to measure your unique aptitudes and interests in order to identify which career paths may be best suited to your individual preferences and skill set. It provides an objective look at yourself through the lens of the workplace. By analyzing the results of self-assessment questions, you gain insight into whether or not certain roles would be a good fit.
Career tests come in many forms, including online questionnaires, paper-and-pencil inventories, or even interactive simulations. Different tests measure different things. For example, some might focus on a single factor such as your personal values. Others take several attributes into account such as values, interests, personality traits, motivations and skills to provide a basis for experimenting with different career paths.
What are the goals of career testing?
Career testing has two main objectives:
- As a tool of of career planning, to help you choose your career path or college major, or to explore new options when you feel ready for career change, and
- As a tool of career development, to help improve your performance in your chosen field.
Let's look at each of these in turn.
Career testing for career planning
As every high school student, college graduate and job seeker knows, there are lots of options out there. A career test can help narrow the field and make sense of the many paths you potentially could take. It does this by:
- Analyzing your individual career profile, that is, the total of your interests, values, skills and personality traits
- Highlighting the professional fields and industries that best fit your individual profile
- Recommending college majors that match your personality and attributes
- Providing variation and potential new directions you may not have considered
- Suggesting resources to further explore the options
- Exploring any gaps in knowledge or skills so you can prepare for success
To be clear, a career test WILL NOT make your decisions for you, nor will it limit your options to a single choice. We all have different interests. What is right for person A may not be right for person B even if they have similar profiles.
For example, one of the most popular career aptitude tests is the Holland Code. This test measures preferences in six broad areas of interest – Realistic, Investigative, Artistic, Social, Enterprising and Conventional. People who prefer Investigative (also called Thinking) are drawn to activities that involve theory, research and intellectual inquiry. They like working independently with ideas and concepts and are likely to find the greatest career satisfaction in jobs that allow them to do so.
What are those jobs? Well, the list is very long and diverse! Investigative types may apply their skills in engineering, science, IT, political science, business analysis, social research or the law, to name just a few options. These fields are very different and it is unlikely that someone who is Investigative would be equally excited about all of them.
So, while career testing can signpost you towards the fields and roles you are more likely to excel in, it is ultimately up to you to do the research and make a decision on which one suits you best.
Career testing for career development
Finding your ideal job is only the first step in a successful career journey. Once you've chosen your career path, career testing can help take your performance to the next level. It does this by:
- Providing guidance on the skills and knowledge needed to be successful in your chosen career
- Assessing personal strengths and weaknesses
- Highlighting any gaps in knowledge or skills
- Helping you create an action plan for improvement and professional development
For example, imagine you are a manager interested in stepping up to a leadership role. A career test can reveal what skills you have already that make you a strong candidate for leadership, and identify the areas you need to work on. A good test will also provide guidance on the best way to build your knowledge and develop the necessary competencies.
Again, no career development assessment can tell you exactly how to reach your goals. But it can provide an insight into the direction you need to take and the resources that can help you get there. At the very least, the insights you uncover can form the basis of a more effective resume and help you hit the right talking points when interviewing for a new role.
When should you take a career test?
Career testing is an invaluable part of any career transition, whether that's:
- Choosing a college major
- Applying for internships
- Choosing your first career path
- Exploring a potential career change
- Advancing your existing career
- Finding more fulfillment in your professional life
- Choosing a work environment that fits your preferences and work style
- Making a comeback after an extended break
- Testing your entrepreneurial potential if you'd like to start a business
Ultimately, it is up to you to determine when (or if) you need a career test. But if you are feeling lost or stuck in your current job role or job search, or just want to explore new options without wasting time on something that won't work for you, then taking a career assessment can be a great place to start.
Is a career test the same as a personality test?
While career testing and personality testing share some similarities, they are two distinct types of tests. We distinguish them by the traits they measure, and what they are seeking to achieve.
Personality tests focus on who you are as a person – how you see the world, what drives you, how you make decisions, how you respond to the outside world, and so on. Their goal is to give you
a high level of self-understanding that will help you live, work and ‘relationship’ better, and create a life that is more in line with your authentic self. Examples of personality tests include the Myers and Briggs personality system and the Big Five.
Career tests focus on figuring out which job roles and work environments will bring out the best in you. They focus on what makes you tick in the workplace, such as the skills and aptitudes you bring to the table and how much you would enjoy and excel at the different types of roles and tasks that make up a typical workplace. Their goal is to provide data-driven guidance on which careers are most likely to be a good fit. Examples of career aptitude and work style tests include the Holland Code, DISC profile and Truity's Career Personality Profiler.
Two sides of the same coin
That's not to say that you should disregard the role of personality testing as you think about your career. A personality test can be very beneficial in helping you gain a better understanding of who you are as a person – your likes, dislikes, strengths, vulnerabilities, comfort and discomfort zones, personal perspectives, interpersonal communication styles, and a whole lot more. All of these insights can be invaluable in helping you make the right career choices, and you could benefit tremendously from this knowledge.
Many people choose to do both types of assessment. However, if your aim is to explore and evaluate specific job roles, career testing should come first.
Career testing won't tell you what your 'one dream job' is or which path to take to get it. But it can provide useful data and insights into your strengths and preferences that will help inform your decisions as you plan for success. With a clear understanding of your potential, you can more confidently adjust your job search strategy and map out a career path that is in line with your true interests, abilities and goals.