How to Use Self Assessment Tools to Choose a Career

A career development facilitator and client
A career development facilitator helps a client complete a self assessment. Tetra Images / Brand X Pictures / Getty Images

Individuals who are trying to choose a career often wonder if they can take a test that can tell them what occupation is right for them. Unfortunately, there isn't a single test that will magically tell you what to do with the rest of your life. A combination of self-assessment tools, however, will help with the decision.

During the self-assessment phase of the career planning process, gather information about yourself to make an informed decision. A self-assessment should include thoroughly examining your values, interests, personality, and aptitude.

  • Values: the things that are important, like achievement, status, and autonomy
  • Interests: what you enjoy doing, i.e., playing golf, taking long walks, and hanging out with friends
  • Personality: a person's traits, motivational drives, needs, and attitudes
  • Aptitude: the activities you are good at, such as writing, computer programming, and teaching. They may be natural skills or ones acquired through training and education.

Many people hire a career counselor to help them with this process and administer a variety of self-assessment inventories. What follows is a discussion of the different types of tools, as well as some other things to consider when using your results to choose a career.

Value Inventories

Your values are possibly the most important thing to consider when choosing an occupation. If you don't take them into account when planning your career, there's a good chance you'll dislike your work and therefore not succeed in it. For example, someone who prefers autonomy would not be happy in a job where he or she can't be independent.

There are two types of values: intrinsic and extrinsic. Intrinsic values are related to the work itself and what it contributes to society. Extrinsic values include external features, such as physical setting and earning potential. Value inventories will ask questions like the following:

  • Is a high salary important to you?
  • Is it important for your work to involve interacting with people?
  • Is it important for your work to contribute to society?
  • Is having a prestigious job important to you?

During a self-assessment, a career counselor may administer one of the following value inventories: Minnesota Importance Questionnaire (MIQ)Survey of Interpersonal Values (SIV), or Temperament and Values Inventory (TVI).

Interest Inventories

Career development professionals also frequently administer interest inventories such as the Strong Interest Inventory (SII), formerly called the Strong-Campbell Interest Inventory. These self assessment tools ask individuals to answer a series of questions regarding their (surprise) interests. E.K. Strong, a psychologist, pioneered their development. He found, through data he gathered about people's likes and dislikes of a variety of activities, objects, and types of persons, that people in the same career (and satisfied in that career) had similar interests. 

Dr. John Holland and others provided a system of matching interests with one or more of six types: realistic, investigative, artistic, social, enterprising and conventional. He then matched these types with occupations. When you take an interest inventory, the results are compared with this study to see where you fit in—are your interests similar to those of a police officer or to those of an accountant, for example?

Personality Inventories

Many personality inventories used in career planning are based on Psychiatrist Carl Jung's personality theory. He believed four pairs of opposite preferences—the way individuals choose to do things— make up people's personalities. They are extroversion and introversion (how one energizes), sensing and intuition (how one perceives information), thinking or feeling (how one makes decisions), and judging and perceiving (how one lives his or her life). One preference from each pair makes up an individual's personality type.

Career counselors often use results from assessments based on Jungian Personality Theory, such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), to help clients choose careers. They believe individuals with a particular personality type are better suited to specific occupations. An example would be that an introvert would not do well in a career that requires him or her to be around other people all the time.

Aptitude Assessments

When deciding what field to enter, you need to discover your aptitudes. An aptitude is a natural or acquired ability. In addition to looking at what you are good at doing, also consider what you enjoy. It is possible to be quite adept at a particular skill, yet despise every second spent using it. Generally speaking, though, people usually enjoy what they are good at.

While you're assessing your skills, think about the time you are willing to spend to acquire more advanced or new skills. A question to ask yourself is this—if a career holds all the qualities I find appealing but it takes X years to prepare for it, would I be willing and able to make this time commitment?

Additional Things to Consider

While going through the self-assessment process, take into account other factors that will influence your career choice. For example, think about your family responsibilities and your ability to pay for education or training. Don't forget that self-assessment is the first step in the career planning process, not the last.

After completing this phase, go on to the next one, career exploration. With your self-assessment results in mind, next, evaluate a variety of occupations to see which ones are the best fit. While your self-assessment may indicate a particular career is suitable for someone with your interests, personality, values, and aptitude, it doesn't mean it is the one that is most right for you. Similarly, don't discount an occupation just because it doesn't show up in the results of a self-assessment. Do a lot of research about any profession in which you are interested.