Perhaps you’re going to graduate soon. Or maybe you’re unhappy in your current career. Odds are someone will tell you that you absolutely need to take a career aptitude test. But how useful are career aptitude tests really? And how much should you rely on them when making career choices?
When I was studying for my career counselor certificate, we covered career aptitude testing. And the topic was presented a bit overly-simplified — and optimistic. As if these professional tests would help open doors to a client’s happy career future. But, I knew from my own experience that this was not always the case.
NOTE: I italicized “professional” because as much as they claim to be scientifically-based (and I have no doubt the attempts are sincere), real people still put them together. And real people take them, with all our many aspects and difficulty fitting into neat boxes.
So I just don’t want any of you to be unduly influenced by the results when you do take them. Best to think of the findings as ideas and possible directions to explore, rather than absolutes.
What career aptitude tests tell you
So now let’s look at what aptitude testing might be able to do for you:
- It can help you narrow down the field of things you might be good at — and hopefully enjoy.
- You might discover careers you never heard of or considered. (It’s not always the #1 or #2 result that would work well for you.)
- Some of the skills the test helps you identify may never have seemed useful, but now point you in an interesting direction.
- If you’re really lost, it can help point you in a direction — at least enough to get you started.
- Testing, and the way it asks questions, can also provide a framework for you to explore your own ideas.
- For some people, aptitude testing can actually identify an ideal career. At least for this point in your career life.
- The test may simply give you “formal permission” to go pursue something you heart desires.
How career aptitude tests miss the mark
Not to take anything away from the potential benefits of aptitude testing, but there are some limits to its magical ability to discover the right career for you.
- However good the test is, it still is standardized — and therefore based on a formula that may not be completely attuned to your specific blend of personality and characteristics.
- The career it chooses for you simply may be wrong. I once rated highest as a tattoo artist, something I would never want to do.
- Your result may fit well with everything you answered, but it still may not be right for you as a career. I once was told that I would make a great talent agent. But when I tried working in the field, I realized I hated all the schmoozing.
- People are dynamic and evolving. Career tests results are based on a point in time. You may even be having a bad day, and so your answers are slanted enough in one direction to taint the results.
- Some people try to outguess the test, aiming it in a direction that winds up not offering anything new or useful.
- And, even if the test identifies a great career choice, it may miss that inner voice that even you are not letting come out in the answers. Ideal on paper is not always ideal in real life.
How seriously to take aptitude tests?
For me, the tests were fun and offered interesting ideas for me to think about. And, in some cases, they helped me focus in on skills and aptitudes I hadn’t really thought much about.
But unless you have lots of money to spare, I wouldn’t go overboard in what you spend. You may even find some good free ones online. And while these kinds of tests can be a wonderful PART of your thought process, I would take them with an exploratory grain of career salt.
And that exploration also includes things like: online research, informational interviews, working with a good career coach, and actually trying things on for size if possible. Just know that career aptitude tests aren’t the absolute science some of them claim to be.
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