In the old days, you had to meet with a counselor to take career assessments. The instruments came with a booklet, a score sheet, and a number 2 pencil. After taking the assessments, the counselor had to mail it off for scoring before you could see your scores and experience and interpretation of the results.
These paper-and-pencil instruments are still around, but career assessments are now ubiquitous on the web. Many of them are packaged with other assessments in career assessment systems, for which you are usually required to pay a fee to access. There are many of these in the marketplace—close to a hundred by our latest count. How can you tell the good ones from the bad ones? The following questions can help you evaluate a career assessment system you might be considering. Before making the leap, logging on, and entering your credit card number, think them through and make sure you have the info you need to make the right call.
- Does the assessment system use instruments with strong support for reliability and validity? Reliability and validity evidence is the quality control criteria that psychologists and other professionals use to evaluate assessment instruments. For more information, check out our information for psychologists. A good assessment system will provide at least a summary of reliability and validity evidence for its scores, probably with a link to more detailed, highly technical information. If it does not, contact the company and ask for this information. If they are reluctant to provide it or say that it is not available, you cannot be sure that the information you’ll get from the assessments is accurate. Move on to another option.
- Has the assessment system as a whole been empirically evaluated for effectiveness? Only a few assessment systems have been tested in experiments designed to investigate the effect they have on the career decision-making confidence (among other outcomes) of users. If the system you are evaluating has been tested, what were the results? If it has not been tested, how do you know it will be helpful?
- Does the assessment system provide an opportunity for you to interact with a professional who is trained to interpret your scores? Most career assessment systems are self-directed, but some provide access to human interaction, even by phone or skype, or by a counselor in your area who can work with you to interpret the results provided by the system. You can benefit from navigating an assessment system on your own, but research shows that interaction with a counselor significantly improves the effectiveness of computer-based career assessment systems.
- Does the assessment system provide linkages of your assessment data to job titles that are predicted to be a good fit for your profile? Many systems provide more than just scores on your attributes—they use those scores to recommend good-fitting jobs. If a system offers this, from what source does it draw its information about jobs? Some use the O*NET, the U.S. Department of Labor’s occupational information database. Others have their own proprietary database. A good assessment system should disclose whatever source they use, so you can evaluate the quality of the information.
- Can the assessment system link you directly to potential employers? Some systems provide job postings. Not many link you to actual positions on the basis of your profile of scores, but this kind of “e-Harmony for jobs” function is probably the way of the future.
- Is the assessment system cost-effective? Most systems are affordable, but the fees do vary. How much does the system you are evaluating cost, and how well does that cost reflect the value you receive? Will you derive proportionally greater benefit from assessment systems that are more expensive than others?
- What promises does the assessment system make? Be wary of any claims that success is guaranteed, or that even hint that your results will reveal the career path you “should” pursue. Career decision-making is a complex endeavor, and although assessment systems can play an important role in your process by giving you helpful information, that information is just one piece of the puzzle. It can inform your choices, but not make them for you. Success is never guaranteed, and no system can tell you what you “should” do with your life.