Marissa Mayer knew at 12-years-old that she wanted to be a pediatric neurosurgeon. Sheryl WuDunn, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, looked to Connie Chung for inspiration -– and thus wanted to be a broadcast journalist. And Hillary Rodham Clinton had trouble choosing between becoming an astrophysicist, doctor or teacher.
“What do you want to be when you grow up?” The question that turns children into dreamers and young adults into the anxiety-ridden is such an important one. The answer determines what you study in college, if you go to college at all, where you get your first job or if you create a job all your own. That answer will map out your 20s, or it could.
But without having experienced the workplaces, the individual stresses of each job, the personality types you’ll encounter and so many other variables, the answer to that question is a tricky one — and most don’t get it right the first time.
Career aptitude tests were created to address just that problem. Today, there are thousands of career assessment tests, most within reach via a simple Google search. Can a test really tell you, though, what career you are best suited for?
Pros and Cons of CATs
“I recently took a new startup’s career aptitude test and it told me I should be a sailor. I mean, really? I think ‘merchant mariner’ was the exact suggestion.””I recently took a new startup’s career aptitude test and it told me I should be a sailor. I mean, really? I think ‘merchant mariner’ was the exact suggestion.”
Online quizzes and tests are popular engagement tools online, and many of them are created simply for their ability to share well. Victoria Ransom, founder and CEO of Wildfire, toldMashable in a previous interview that some of the most sharable pieces of content are “personality” apps, including quizzes, trivia and “pick your favorites.”
It’s no wonder, then, that some career aptitude tests produce out-of-the-box results like “merchant mariner.” Those tests aren’t meant to be accurate. They are meant to be shared with your friends and to get the test’s host site more views. But not all career aptitude tests are created equal.
“I do believe career tests can be incredibly helpful in a directional sense: helping you understand which activities, skills and contexts give you the most pleasure,” says Minshew. “Do you like working outside? In teams or small groups? Are you primarily data-focused or people-focused? I think the answers are interesting, but should be taken as a single data point rather than a definitive answer.”
One test Minshew recommends is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator test, which is less of a career aptitude test and more of a workplace personality test.
“My team uses it and finds it helpful for sometimes diffusing miscommunications, and it can sometimes indicate strong trends in a workplace. For example, some management consulting companies report that over 50% of employees identify as ENTJ, a single type!”
Though, if you are on the fence about what you want to do “when you grow up,” a reputable career aptitude test may be a good idea. The results aren’t necessarily accurate, but they can be helpful in pointing out career fields you might not have previously considered.
“Career aptitude tests (CATs) are helpful in measuring a person’s natural skills and abilities. They can also help point out someone’s strengths and weaknesses,””Career aptitude tests (CATs) are helpful in measuring a person’s natural skills and abilities. They can also help point out someone’s strengths and weaknesses,” says Elizabeth Lintelman, career services manager at Rasmussen College. “Good CATs can help users identify specific industries — not necessarily specific jobs — that would be a good fit for their interests. Well-written CATs can also provide test-takers with a deeper understanding of themselves and their talents. This allows test-takers to highlight those abilities and connect the dots to different job opportunities.”
Honesty is important, though, when taking CATs, Lintelman points out. Preconceived notions of what the “right” answers are (i.e. “How organized are you on a scale of 1 to 10?”) versus what we know are our true characteristics can throw even a good test off, which is why it is important to do your research.
“Look at those industries, go online to sites like Indeed.com and look at those job descriptions. See if it’s something you can see yourself doing,” says Lintelman.
For most people, though, career aptitude tests are just one piece of the puzzle to figuring out what you really want to do and which industries might best suit your personality type. Keith Speers, a life and business strategist and consultant, says that most CATs are only as good as the amount of time, thought and honesty you put into them. And even then, with a list of careers and industries that will most likely align with your skills and interests, CAT results are just one data-point — and usually, not the deciding one.
“I know many people who have used the assessments, but most people use them and get one piece of data to consider in their decision-making,” says Speers. “The reality is that other outside factors that are not aptitude-centric play larger roles in decision-making for jobs and careers. Things like salaries, benefits, perception of colleagues and your supervisor have a larger impact on final decisions than the outcome of a career assessment.”