Figuring out your aptitudes and interestsSo how do you go about assessing your personal strengths, weaknesses and career interests? There actually are a slew of career assessment tests (also known as aptitude tests) out there that can help. But (1) most of them will cost you money; and (2) they are built to come up with some answers based on someone else’s assessment criteria.While the tests can perhaps help you get a better understanding of yourself in general (especially helpful if you feel clueless), they may not provide the exact answer. Nor should they. That’s still up to you to decide. So here’s a little info about them if you’re curious.
Which Career Assessment Test is Right for Me?If you do decide to go ahead and take one or more of these tests (alumni and other career centers may even offer them at little or no charge), just know that some of them, even the ones experts still use, were first put together a long time ago and haven’t completely caught up with all the jobs or skills we have nowadays. Although some jobs, of course, are timeless.For instance … when I was taking courses for my career development certificate, we got to take a bunch of them. My favorite result – what the test said I am most suited to do – was tattoo artist. Perhaps I’ve missed a golden opportunity, but I gotta say it really wasn’t an answer I found helpful.So take the results with a grain of salt – or ink, in my case – and use them to see what they tell you about yourself that you don’t already know … or may be forgetting about. I do love design and helping people get what they want; so there was a small glimmer of useful truth there. And in the name of full disclosure, other tests did lead me to consulting (something I’ve done for many years) and career counseling. But I already knew that. And that’s not quite as fun a story, is it?There are many such tests, but to start you off, here are a few of the more well-known tests you may already have heard of or taken at some point:
- The Strong Interest Inventory – This was first developed in 1927 but has been revised several times. You can find it online for about $40-80, I think. Still feels a bit out-of-date to me, but it is aimed at helping you narrow down your career choices based on shared interests with other people who are in various professions. (I always wondered if the people it was based on were first asked if they really like their jobs.) The last version I saw a couple of years ago came with a built-in gender bias, proclaiming “research shows that men and women tend to respond differently” so scores are compared to others of your gender. That said, it might be useful in helping you clarify your interests, especially if combined with tests that look at skills, aptitudes and values.
- Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) – This is probably the best-known test, designed to help you know yourself better, and more about how you interact with others. You can find it online for $59 or maybe less if purchased with other tests, and comes with a personalized interpretation of the results. It looks at a person from 4 dimensions:
- Extraverted or Introverted? Do you get your energy from other people, or from your own internal world?
- Sensing or Intuitive? Do you focus on the present and what you can see, or the future and what you can imagine?
- Thinking or Feeling? Do you make decisions based on logic, or on values and people?
- Judging or Perceiving? Do you prefer things structured and organized, or flexible and spontaneous?
- Self-Directed Search (by John Holland) – This one is only $4.95 and can be found online. It comes with an assessment tool that things you would like to do and things you’re good at. Also feelings and attitudes about certain careers. After you get your Summary Code, you can look it up in the Occupations Finder. This is where I found tattoo artist. But the questions themselves do get you to think, so it might be a fun exercise to get the process started.
- Free tests online – You can also snoop around and find free tests (of varying quality) online that can at least help you begin the process of figuring out who you are, and what you want to be when you grow up. Not that we ever stay the same. We take on new skills and interests and even learn to do things we never thought we could. So you may very well test differently at various stages of your life. I have.
- Career books with aptitude / assessment tests – Bookstores often have career sections just filled with books to help you figure out what you want to do and who you are. Or you can buy them online. I suggest buying one or two of them and using the tests they offer. They’re kind of fun. Many books offer a variety of tests, including skills, aptitudes, values and interests. And try to help you make sense of the results. Years ago I bought one of those books and it helped me decide to be a talent agent. But truth is, it was what I wanted anyway deep inside. I just let the book give me permission. (And it wasn’t a good match after all. But that’s a story for another time.)
Assessing Your Own Strengths, Weaknesses and InterestsWhile I see these assessment tests as hit or miss, with some useful info, there are people who swear by formal assessment tests and are certified to work with you to interpret and help you apply the results. I leave it up to you to decide if this is something you would like to do. But if you want to try it on your own, here are some self-assessment exercises I put together for you to help get you started:I like to think of the assessment process as trying to figure out what you want to do, what you’d actually enjoy doing, and what you can do – or at least can learn to do. Let’s start with some basics:
- Personal values – Take a blank sheet of paper (in fact you might want to use a notebook so you can save the results) and make a list of 10 things you value dearly. (More is ok.) Things you would contribute money to or volunteer for or want to read things about or surround yourself with or perhaps fight the good fight for or simply care about deeply. You can also think of people in your life or elsewhere whom you admire, and ask yourself “why?” to help. Do it quickly without thinking too much. After you’ve done that, look at the values you listed. Now select only three of them, the three you consider the most important of all. Even if it feels difficult, make your final choices. You can use these later on to help you assess whether a potential career or job will actually feel good to you in the long run.
- Skills and aptitudes – You might as well know what you are good at and what you might offer an employer. So go to another blank page and quickly list 20 skills – things you are really good at whether you enjoy them or not; you can include things you have an aptitude for, meaning things that you learn quickly. Don’t censor yourself even if what you come up with at first seems irrelevant; many things are transferable to real jobs or help you understand your task preferences within a job better. (You can find more on transferable skills in other articles.) I want you to list 20 if you can, so that you include all kinds of skills, including job-related skills. Now take that list and divide it between things you’d like to do in an ideal job and things you’d prefer not to do. (This will also be useful in helping you aim your resume away from things you hope never to do again in a job.) Pick your favorite 3.
- Career interests – Once again, starting on a blank page, list 10 – 15 careers or jobs you might enjoy. Don’t think too much about right or wrong – just let your fingers fly with possibilities. Now look at your list and once again, pick the top three, assuming money and other limiting factors were not part of the picture. What calls to you most?
- Personal history insights – One of the most important indicators of where you might want to go, is where you’ve been – and how you’ve handled things along the way. Time once again for that blank page. List 10 things that you did really well … at work, school, sports, hobbies, special projects, your own business, volunteer activities, etc. Make some notes about what skills you used and what you did to make things turn out successfully. Think about each one carefully, to really zero in on some of your strengths. (This also will be useful when it comes to interviews.) Now do the same for your weaknesses. List 10 times when you screwed up or something you were involved in went wrong. (If you don’t have 10, just do as many as you can.) Again, make some notes, including what you might have done better. (This can also be useful in interviews later on, showing you’ve learned from mistakes.)