Cathy's irreverent guide to career testing
Considering a career change but don't know what to do next?
Midlife, mid-career clients often begin their search by asking,
"Can I take a test to learn what career wold be best
The answer is, "Maybe."
Career coaches and counselors are divided on the subject
of tests. Some insist that all their clients undergo a battery
of tests. Others dismiss tests entirely. One career counselor
says, "I can learn more about a person from astrology
than from any personality tests." One coach asks clients
to define themselves as "earth, wind, fire or water."
Before you pay for testing, I encourage you to ask what you
hope to gain from the time and money you invest. Be aware
of the limits on what tests can do for you. After all, if
you could just take a battery of tests to forecast your future,
we wouldn't hear from so many job-frustrated people!
So why don't tests have all the answers?
A job is much more than a series of skills. Every career
or profession includes an ambience - style, working conditions,
flexibility of time. Often it's not the work itself that drives
people out of the field. It's the "other stuff."
Take teaching, for example. You love kids and want to work
with them and you don't mind earning less than your corporate
counterparts. Your workday ends at three and you get summers
off. You get a decent pension and great benefits.
However, that's not the whole story.
Your day begins as early as 6:30 AM.
You give up a lot of personal freedom. There's no phone on
your desk to make a call home -- and certainly no privacy
to talk. A quick trip to the bathroom? Someone has to cover
the class. The students go home at three - but you have papers
to grade, meetings to attend, and perhaps a rehearsal to direct.
Your school district rewards test results, not creative learning.
Another example. Now let's say you like to earn money and
solve math problems. Are you ready for a CFO job? Each company
has its own culture, of course, but in general the business
world values image and style. You have to be comfortable moving
through a hierarchy and giving the appearance of respecting
Bottom line: Your aptitudes and values may drive you to teaching,
but you will soon be searching for a new career if you are
a night person who also values workplace autonomy.
If you have been working a long time, tests often show you
are perfect for the job you hold now. After all these years,
you've probably internalized values and attitudes of your
profession -- and you obviously have enough aptitude to remain
employed! Clients frequently come to me after paying hundreds,
even thousands of dollars for midlife, mid-career testing.
"A waste," they say ruefully.
On the other hand, your college-age children may benefit
from testing, especially if they are thoroughly confused about
their first career moves. College testing centers often employ
high quality professionals because they train counseling students
Tests may not help you balance tradeoffs. Your aptitude and
values may point you to a nature-loving outdoor career, but
you realize there are few jobs available and those won't pay
enough to live on. You have to be creative if you're going
to make this combination work. The question, "How can
I enjoy my love of nature and still earn a good living?"
might best be discussed in a series of one-to-one conversations
with someone who understands the career jungle.
On the other hand, strong motivation can compensate for low
aptitude. In her book Crossing Avalon, Jean Shinoda Bolen
writes of her determination to become a doctor, following
a strong religious experience just before she entered college.
Bolen easily aced her liberal arts courses but struggled
with sciences. At one point she received a midterm "D"
grade in a zoology course. Yet she was accepted to a fine
medical school and became a respected psychiatrist, Jungian
therapist and best-selling author.
In a corporate setting, what appears to be test effectiveness
may be self-fulfilling prophecy. MegaBig Corp administers
aptitude tests to all applicants for sales positions. Only
those who achieve a score of 80 out of 100 are hired. Those
who earn 95 or higher are identified as high-potential superstars
and sent off to special training. Managers, of course, see
scores of their new hires, and they report a strong correlation
between sales success and scores.
If you really wanted to test the tests, you'd administer tests
to all applicants, hire a sample regardless of scores, and
refuse to disclose test scores to supervising managers and
trainers. Few companies would be willing to do this.
However, in one study, researchers told high school teachers,
"Here is a list of IQ scores for your class." In
reality, the "scores" were locker numbers! Those
with higher locker numbers mysteriously out-performed those
with lower numbers.
The teachers tried to be fair, but anyone who has taped a
classroom knows teachers can give subtle cues of approval,
disapproval and support. Managers can do the same.
You probably can't refuse to take a corporate test, but you
may be in a position to ask some tough questions.
Before you spend money on tests, ask these three questions.
(1) Do you need to take tests to obtain this information?
If you've been a successful accountant for ten years, you
probably have a knack for numbers and details. However, testing
may enhance your confidence if you feel shaky.
Elaine, a top executive in a Fortune 100 company, had been
promoted to vice president in a male-dominated specialty.
However, Elaine was getting nervous. There were only three
or four departments like hers in the entire country and, if
her job ended, so would her career.
Elaine visited a career counselor who began with a battery
"The tests show I'm very organized and I'm a good manager,"
she reported happily.
Elaine dealt with thousands of pieces of paper each week
and had been a highly-paid manager for over ten years. Her
friends were not at all surprised by Elaine's test scores.
However, Elaine had received little praise or validation from
her own management. She wanted those test scores to bolster
her confidence as she began her midlife career exploration.
(2) Who will be administering these tests? University counselors
work with bewildered undergraduates seeking their first jobs.
Outplacement counselors work with experienced corporate executives,
many of whom want a job just like the one they left. Find
a service where you resemble the other clients.
Tests must be interpreted to be useful. If your counselor
starts to gush about your intelligence or creativity, you
may indeed be the next Einstein or Michelangelo -- or you
may be in the wrong testing center. If your counselor hopes
to sell you on follow-up sessions, she'll be highly motivated
to come up with a story that leaves you feeling confident
Often test results are written so ambiguously that they could
apply to almost anyone -- a frequent critique of both astrology
and Myers-Briggs. Overly specific recommendations can be equally
useless. What will you do if the tests suggest you should
become a police officer or a funeral director?
Have some fun. Pick any of the sixteen Myers-Briggs profiles.
Ask a few friends to take a test. Pretend to score the test
and then hand your friends the profile you chose at random.
Nearly every time, your friends will say, "That's me!"
However, be careful. Studies also show that people have trouble
shaking their beliefs in bogus feedback, even when they're
told it's bogus.
(3) Who designed these tests?
Some assessments are carefully designed while others have
no more value than a light-hearted quiz from a popular magazine.
If you are asked to complete an assessment or test, don't
be shy about asking questions. If you want to push some buttons,
ask about reliability and validity. Ask whether the test was
"normed" on a population that shares your demographic
"Self-validation" is a bogus concept. As we have
seen, there are many reasons you might say, "That's me!
One skeptic has put together or a solid
critique of a popular test, the Myers-Briggs scale.
Bottom Line: Alas, there is no magic genie who can direct
you to a new career. Tests may feel more scientific -- but
career research suggests that career-changers to listen
for messages from serendipity and their
own intuition. In particular, when learning to navigate
a new career world, you need to develop creative strategies
that allow you to plan realistically while remaining open
to surprises that, ultimately, change your life
|Cathy Goodwin, Ph.D. is an author, career coach, and
speaker. She works with mid-career professionals who want to make a fast
move to career freedom. Visit her site http://www.movinglady.com
or call 505-534-4294.