“The will to win, the desire to succeed, the urge to reach your full potential... these are the keys that will unlock the door to personal excellence." - Confucius
It's easy to think of career tests as something you do once and for a specific purpose. The trigger may be finding your first job, re-entering the workforce, or navigating a crossroads in your career. No matter why you're taking a career test, the perception is that it fulfills its purpose as soon as you've figured out what you want to do and how to get there.
In reality, career tests can offer so much more than just pointing you towards a new job. A good career test will provide an assessment of your skills, interests, motivations, values, personality type and workstyle – insights that can be used to inform decisions throughout the entirety of your professional life.
On this page, we're looking at the many situations in which a career test can provide invaluable guidance, whether you’re starting out, starting over or moving up in your professional journey.
The benefits of career testing
When you’re exploring career options, a lot of jobs sound like they could be interesting choices. But this is looking at things backwards. The starting point isn't the career, it's you. When you have a clear understanding of when you’re great – the tasks, environment, management style, reward systems and culture that you thrive in – you’ll be able to weed out jobs that might sound appealing but force you to work in a way that hinders your growth.
So, while we can list dozens of career-testing upsides, it boils down to one major benefit: self-awareness. Specifically, self-awareness of the things that make you quintessentially you and of the careers that will validate and support this. A good career test will help you:
- Figure out your strengths and weaknesses
- Learn about your values and principles
- Identify where your interests truly lie
- Discover what motivates you
- Confirm if you're on the right path
- Identify careers that match your goals and talents
- Uncover good-fit careers you may not have thought about before
- Make better-informed career decisions
- Be good at, and feel good about, what you do
The limitations of career testing
Like any test, career tests have their limitations. Here are the big three:
The results are only as valid as the input.
If you're not honest with your answers, the report won't be accurate. Often, we see high schoolers answering questions based on what they think their parents want, job seekers answering questions based on what they think the job market wants, and career transitioners answering questions based on the working style they were conditioned into in a previous role. These scenarios lead to misdiagnosis and frustrating results.
The test isn't a crystal ball.
It used to be that you found a stable career and stuck with it. But today’s career paths look less like a novel that you read from start to finish and more like a choose-your-own-adventure story. Jobs that exist today may not exist tomorrow (and vice versa), and the way you do your job may be disrupted by technology, trends or even a pandemic. These movements are not captured in career tests because they can't be. The most a test can do is dig into what makes you tick and capture a variety of potential paths to explore. There is no one best fit, and the current marketplace of employment will always be an important factor in your ultimate career choice.
It reflects a snapshot in time.
Yesterday you wanted to be a lawyer, today you want to be an air traffic controller, tomorrow a career in public relations may speak to you. According to the Holland Code, these are all great careers for a “Persuading” person – but clearly, they are very different. A career test can provide a great overview of what you're looking for in your career, but it only recommends career options based on how you feel today. It can't anticipate shifts in interests and priorities or account for motivations you haven't even discovered yet.
The bottom line is that career testing is never a once-and-done activity. Rather, it's a tool to support a lifelong process of career development in which your skills and interests change over time.
With that in mind, let's look at some specific situations that can benefit from career testing.
When should you take a career test? 9 scenarios that benefit from career testing
#1: Job search & interviews
So you’re ready to take the plunge and actively search for a new job. A career test is an invaluable tool for gaining clarity and control over such a confusing process, helping you discover what types of roles you should target, how to focus your resume on relevant experience, how to answer tricky questions during interviews and how to identify red flags that a job isn’t right for you.
Fundamentally, the job search is a sales process, and the product you’re peddling is you. By making self-awareness a priority, a career test can help you see your true value and convincingly demonstrate your worth.
#2: Dissatisfaction and burnout
Many factors can take their toll on your happiness and stress levels at work, from poor communication and leadership to a lack of personal autonomy. The one thing they have in common? Not feeling like you fit in. Career tests can help with burnout and job dissatisfaction by pinpointing which elements of your current role are causing the most stress and suggesting steps you can take to make a change. Something as simple as asking your boss to give feedback in a way that makes sense to you can make all the difference.
#3: Finding meaning at work
The days of mindlessly clocking in, doing your job and clocking out are over. People want more meaning from their jobs – they want to be engaged, connected to something bigger than themselves, and feel like they are accomplishing something that matters. Purpose differs from person to person. Career tests are a great way to discover your inner criteria, so you can find the job and workplace that align with your values and goals.
#4: Changing careers
Changing careers is no small feat and most people will only make a significant career shift a few times in their life. A career test can be instrumental in the process, helping you identify recurring themes in your career so you can single out what you excel at and what energizes you, and make a more informed decision. Career testing can also give you a clear picture of how your current skills and interests fit into other fields. Knowing what gaps you need to fill to make a successful transition can help you boldly step in a new direction.
#5: Reentering the workforce
Returning to work after a break can be daunting and lots of very capable people need help getting their “work identity” back after an extended break. Career tests are extremely helpful for assessing your strengths, taking stock of skills, and identifying areas where you may be out of date. Your experiences outside of work will have given you a fresh perspective to bring to the table, but they may be hard to articulate. The insights you get from career testing can help you package your story into professional assets that employers are looking for.
#6: Planning for advancement
Just because you landed the job doesn't mean you should sit back and relax. Career testing can help you identify which areas to focus on for career advancement, what skills and qualifications are required for the next level of responsibility or promotion, and how to best leverage your current position to set yourself up for success in the future.
#7: Making a lateral move
Sometimes, a big move isn't necessary for career growth. Lateral moves into a new job role or industry can be just as beneficial than climbing up the ladder. A career test can help you get clear on the type of move you want to make and why you want to make it, as a scattergun approach rarely works. For example, you may be satisfied with the tasks you do every day but stressed by the corporate culture. A career test can help you uncover what it is you need for career satisfaction and how to find it, whether that's more autonomy, more direction or more collaboration. It can also help you identify the skills you have that can easily transfer to a different role or sector.
#8: Planning for college or vocational education
What do you want to become? How do you want to live your life? What career is right for you? These are important questions to answer when you're about to invest a lot of time and money in your education. For would-be students, a career test can help you identify which field of study is best suited to your interests, values and future career goals so you're not wasting years of your life on a course that won't actually get you where you want to be. It can also provide some much-needed objectivity and agency at a time when parents, friends, teachers and society are all trying to influence your choices.
#9: Planning for retirement
For many seniors, retirement is a time of opportunity. Many choose a late-in-life career change, including entrepreneurship and volunteer roles, as a way to achieve long-held dreams and personal goals. Others look to off-ramp gradually by transitioning into mentoring and training roles where they can share their knowledge with a new generation of workers. These opportunities become clearer with career testing. Tests offer reliable insights into your work self without the mask and baggage of your current job description and help you discover good career matches for a lifetime of skills.
No matter what stage of life or career path you’re on, a career test can be a valuable tool in helping you make the best decisions for your future. As Albert Einstein once said, “Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.” With career testing, you can ensure that you’re moving in the right direction.