Using an Interest Inventory

How are your likes and dislikes are a clue to to the right career

Woman with surfboard on rocky beach
Stanislaw Pytel / The Image Bank / Getty Images

What is your favorite thing to do on a day at the beach: surf or lie around reading? In your day off from work, would you choose to build a bookshelf or balance your checkbook? Do you prefer to work on a project independently or as part of a team?

There are no right or wrong answers to these questions. Your responses merely indicate your interests—which leisure activities are enjoyable and which are not, what tasks you like to do and which ones you avoid, and how you prefer to perform your job.

Many years ago, psychologists realized that people who worked in the same occupation shared similar interests. By discovering these likes and dislikes, one can find a career that fits. Psychologists now had a goal: find a way to learn about people's interests.

Interest Inventories to the Rescue

In 1927, psychologist E.K. Strong developed the first interest inventory. This tool measured individuals' interests and compared them to those of people working in various occupations. It was called the Strong Vocational Interest Blank.

This tool has undergone many revisions and name changes over the years. It is now called the Strong Interest Inventory (SII), and it remains one of the most popular self-assessment tools that career development professionals use today. Other interest inventories on the market include the Kuder Occupational Interest Survey, Self-Directed Search, and the Campbell Interest and Skill Survey.

How to Take an Interest Inventory

A career counselor or other career development professional will administer an interest inventory as part of a complete self-assessment. In addition to looking at your interests, an assessment should also take into account your personality type, aptitude, and work values

Taking an interest inventory requires completing a questionnaire with a series of items about your likes and dislikes. They will measure, for example, your interests regarding leisure activities, work-related tasks, people with whom you prefer to work, and school subjects. To get the most accurate results, answer each question as honestly as possible. There are no right or wrong answers. The counselor won't judge you based on your responses.

When answering questions that are related to work activities, don't worry about whether or not you have the skills needed to complete the particular tasks. It doesn't matter at this point in the career planning process. Indicate only your interest in the activity. Decide during the career exploration phase, which will occur later, whether or not to undergo the training and education to acquire them.

Getting and Understanding Your Results

After completing an interest inventory, you will receive a report. Go over it with the professional who administered it. They will help you understand your results which should also include a list of occupations that may be suitable for someone who shares your interests.

Some of those careers may be appealing and others will not. Just because an occupation shows up in your self-assessment results, it doesn't necessarily mean it's the best choice for you. Before choosing a career, it is essential to learn about it. An occupation may be unsuitable for a variety of reasons, even if you share interests with other people who work in it.

Discover Your Interests Without Spending a Lot of Money

If you want to try using an interest inventory on your own, some free or low-cost ones don't require hiring a career development professional. If you're finding it difficult to decide on your own, however, it can be helpful to work with one.

The Self-Directed Search (SDS), published by PAR (Psychological Assessment Resources, Inc.), is available online for a small fee. You will receive a printable report containing a list of occupations that most closely match your interests.

The O*Net Interest Profiler is a free assessment and one of several tools that are part of O*Net Online, a project sponsored by the Employment and Training Administration of the U.S. Department of Labor. There are a few versions of the Interest Profiler including a short-form web-based version, a mobile one, and a pen-and-pencil form that can be printed out at home.

Career Cruising is an assessment tool that many public libraries offer to their visitors for free. It generates a list of occupations after users answer questions about their interests. You can then explore those careers from within the Career Cruising database. Check with the reference staff at your local library to see if it offers this resource.