Career Assessment

Career AssessmentCareer assessment is the process of gathering information that is used to better understand a client and his or her educational or career situation. Psychological instruments and structured questions are typically used in career assessment. The assessment provides information that can be used in the initial stages of counseling to inform the counselor about the client (diagnostic information), as well as in the intervention stage of counseling to increase the client’s self-understanding, especially in relation to educational or work settings.

The assessment of different measures, such as an individual’s interests or personality, can influence career development and counseling, giving both the individual and the career counselor useful information for decision making. This section discusses three central points regarding career assessment: (1) career assessment has a long and distinguished history forged by some of the leading test developers in psychology; (2) the reliability, validity, and usefulness of career assessment measures are unsurpassed in psychology; and (3) comprehensive and multivariate assessment with a variety of high-quality and specific measures will best reflect the individuality that underlies career development.

Career Assessment Tests

Career Assessment Inventories

Career Assessment Surveys, Scales, Questionnaires

Career Assessment Tools, Techniques, Models

Personality Assessment for Careers

Other Career Assessment Topics

Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

Modern psychological assessment began just over 100 years ago when Alfred Binet created the first intelligence test in 1905. Some 15 years later at Carnegie Institute of Technology, a number of pioneering psychologists were devising ways to measure vocational interests. From that work emerged in 1927 E. K. Strong’s Vocational Interest Blank, a powerful and practical measure that has been revised and expanded over its 80-year history by leading psychologists. Today, the Strong Interest Inventory (Strong) is an icon of career assessment, and it illustrates many of the important ways that individuality can be measured to give meaning to career decisions.

People’s responses to career inventories matter. Career assessment, as well as work life, has undergone sea changes since those early beginnings. The world of work is very different now than it was 80 years ago when the Strong began. Strong’s first samples were often Stanford undergraduates, and they were exclusively male. His early work with working adults was exclusively with men; and in fact, he did not believe that women’s interests were well focused. Today, women are the majority in many professional schools such as veterinary medicine, human medicine, and law. Women’s scores on scales for leadership and academic achievement equal or exceed those of men. The validity, meaning, and implications of career measures for women are every bit as good as they are for men. Moreover, many career assessment tools appear to have good cross-cultural validity, both globally and across U.S. ethnic and minority groups.

Also, in the past 30-40 years, the kinds of constructs that can be usefully measured in career inventories have greatly expanded beyond interests. What interests (or disgusts) a person is still centrally important to career life, but there are also many other important things. Assessment across diverse domains is the keystone of vocational psychology. Most revolutionary has been Nancy Betz and Gail Hackett’s 1981 adaptation of Albert Bandura’s ideas of social agency to the theory and constructs of career self-efficacy. Moreover, personality measures are now recognized for their close links to educational and work life. There are many hints that some early personality dispositions may be causal for the development of other career inclinations, such as interests, self-efficacy, and satisfaction.

Robust Psychometrics in Career Assessment

The quality of measures in career assessment is as good as any area of psychological assessment. The meaning of a measure for career counseling derives from its reliability and validity. Meaning rests on scale quality. The pioneers in career assessment 70 years ago, such as Strong, Frederic Kuder, and D. G. Paterson, were astutely attentive to reliability and validity. Developers of career measures since then have stood on the shoulders of these giants. Strong launched the empirical, criterion-based occupational scale and showed with decades-long longitudinal studies that interests of adults are quite stable. Kuder pioneered the concept of internal consistency underlying content scales with high homogeneity. In the late 1960s, David Campbell merged these kinds of scales in the Strong as he brought John Holland’s content-based concepts to Strong’s empiricism. In the current 2005 revision of the Strong, the internal consistency reliabilities for those Holland scales are all .90 or more.

Career measures are robust because career constructs are robust. People differ tremendously in how they see themselves and their work lives. If test developers ask physicists if they like calculus, 90% will say yes, but an equal number of car salespeople will say they dislike calculus. In other words, how people feel about mathematics, whether they enjoy it or can do it, comprises potent dimensions of individual differences. Most people develop these math cognitions and emotions in their youth and persist with these reactions to math throughout their lives. They become part of one’s persona and sense of personal agency. Test developers can readily construct measures of math interests or self-efficacy with high reliability. These measures in turn have potent validity and meaning for both practice and science. One’s reactions to math cascade throughout the career development space. They determine how one chooses to embrace or flee a college major in accounting, physics, engineering, or actuarial science. Such college majors in turn have lifelong effects on the course of careers. Reactions to math tend to have high test-retest reliability and high predictive validity for many of career life outcomes. An accountant, physicist, or actuary who hated or feared math would certainly be an outlier.

How one feels about math is one of the most potent dimensions of individuality in career space. There are many other practically significant dimensions. The number of individual differences variables in the self-report realm that importantly affect career life probably exceeds 50. This assertion, based on the trend of recent research, clearly flies in the face of Holland’s triumphal advocacy for six career types. Certainly, those six Holland dimensions are an effective and efficient summary of one’s career persona. (They have reliabilities of .90 on the Strong partly because they are long scales.) So if one is an enterprising type, looking toward business and leadership is the right first step. However, within the enterprising domain are crucial facets such as management, entrepreneur-ship, sales, marketing and advertising, public speaking, law, and politics. Those facets are moderately correlated for a group of people, but individuals with an enterprising bent often differ tremendously on those specific facets. Those facets add very substantially to the meaning and validity of career assessment of individuals. Courses of study, such as college majors, are closely tied to those facets, so a student is well served to have knowledge about those facets. A marketing and advertising major is quite different from a political science major, as are the people moving into careers from those majors.

Toward Comprehensive and Multivariate Career Assessment

Quite paradoxically, the simplest assessment systems, such as Holland’s six broad scales, have prevailed in the last 4 decades along with complex systems with specific scales. The best example is the Strong, as revised by Campbell. The Strong, since then, has contained six broad Holland scales as well as 23-30 Basic Interest Scales (BISs) arrayed under the Holland scales. In the Strong, simplicity of broad scales coexists with complexity of specific BISs. The Holland scales enable a three-letter code that has proved enormously popular in understanding Holland’s theory and simplifying career counseling. At the same time, multivariate research (e.g., Donnay & Borgen, 1996) has shown that specific scales such as the BISs increase validity severalfold over the Holland scales for specific criteria such as college major and adult occupation. Campbell’s Interest and Skill Survey is similarly structured so that the same conclusions apply to it. The simple six-dimensional system is practically efficient and easy to apply, even though important additional valid variance resides in the specific facets. The same phenomenon has occurred in personality assessment where the simplest systems have become the most popular and widely applied even though there is more valid and meaningful variance remaining in specific facets. The clear examples here are the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and measures of the Big Five personality dimensions.

In the past decade there has been a surge of studies showing how personality, interests, and self-efficacy are interwoven and linked to career development. The evidence shows not only that these domains overlap substantially, but also that they contribute incremental validity in explaining important career outcomes. When specific scales are constructed as homogeneous content scales, it is possible to combine them in linear composites that predict complex, heterogeneous criteria, such as membership in a college major or occupation. Thus, for example, the ingredients of marketing and advertising are a combination of artistic creativity, writing, public speaking, management, and marketing. These are likely the ingredients of Strong’s traditional occupational scale for marketing and advertising; but because occupational scales are actuarial, constructed with blind empiricism, their content has always been opaque. Now, with a multivariate approach to content scales, counselors can match people to college majors and occupations and also make transparent the ingredients of that process. That enables useful career interventions. For example, a student aspiring to a career in marketing, but with low public speaking scores, can seek life experiences to enhance those scores.

Among the 50 plus dimensions a career counselor might have in a comprehensive tool kit are such diverse assessments as introversion-extraversion, optimism, anxiety, risk taking, academic orientation, teamwork, leadership, creativity, career maturity, career indecision, career decision-making self-efficacy, well-being, construal of possible selves, religiosity, altruism, profit-orientation, mechanical activities, athleticism, teaching, music, artistic creativity, selling, accounting, investing, and information technology. Only the most data-driven counselor will want to integrate so many measures. Test developers must organize this cornucopia in a computer-based system that is user friendly and coherent in highlighting the salient scores for counselor and client. Aided by the Holland classification, many comprehensive inventories, such as the Strong and the Campbell Interest and Skill Survey, go a long way toward doing this. Test developers and other researchers also need to demonstrate the incremental validity of this large number of measures to show that a new measure brings utility not already present in prior measures. This is a large and continuing endeavor.

Top 10 Tools for the Career Counselor’s Toolkit

Here are several kinds of measures that are likely to be useful in career assessment, dependent to some degree on the setting. These are all subjective self-report measures. Some of these inventories have very long histories; others are recently developed or are still being refined and have yet to be widely accepted. Some counselors in some settings may equally need objective measures of cognitive skills, or even behavioral samples.

  • Comprehensive interest inventory with broad and specific measures
  • Comprehensive personality inventory identifying strengths in normal people
  • Comprehensive confidence inventory with broad and specific measures
  • Measure of work and life values
  • Measure of career indecision
  • Life satisfaction or well-being measure
  • Job or college satisfaction measure
  • Measure of career maturity
  • Measure of career decision-making self-efficacy
  • Career goal-setting inventory

CAPA Assessment System

The CAPA Assessment System of Nancy Betz and Fred Borgen exemplifies a comprehensive, computer-based system that incorporates measures of interests, self-efficacy (confidence), and personality strengths. The CAPA Interest Inventory includes 47 broad and specific scales, and the parallel CAPA Confidence Inventory includes 39 broad and specific scales. These inventories also contain Life Engagement Scales, measuring such dimensions as academic achievement, extraversion, leadership, and risk taking. These two inventories have been combined in a computerized, online system that assists college students in exploring majors that best match their interests and confidence. Finally, the Healthy Personality Inventory provides 17 scales measuring strengths such as creative, outgoing, and relaxed.

The Betz and Borgen CAPA Assessment System has college majors scales that are linear composites of specific interests and confidence. These new scales, based on modern multivariate methods, can predict a complex criterion, as can Strong’s venerable occupational scales. They have psychometric properties (namely, heterogeneity and diverse content) that are similar to Strong’s occupational scales of 1927, yet they are created in an entirely different way. They are based on specific content dimensions known to be the ingredients of a particular major. Thus, students can be shown quite transparently how their individuality matches the typical characteristics of a major. A similar approach can be devised for occupations and for clusters of similar occupations. All of this can be implemented in an online system that provides sophisticated interpretation and links instantly to other sources of information or exploration.


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