Internet Career Assessment

Internet Career AssessmentInternet career assessment is an emerging though complex endeavor based on multiple methods; it is under continuous development. This relatively new approach, which has emerged along with the rise of the Internet as an alternative communication tool, is still characterized by limited investigations. Thus, its use, though becoming gradually pervasive, is generally based on users’ experience rather than on validity research. Specific methods employed for Internet career assessment are influenced in part by the purpose of the evaluation, the variety of Internet communication channels and modalities, and the technological tools available. Continuous technical development, as well as initiatory research in the area, implies that current procedures relate to limited possibilities but that future procedures will be quite revolutionary.

The most developed, frequently used Internet application exploited for career assessment is online testing, mostly psychological in nature. Online testing refers to a general procedure by which an individual take tests of various types using a personal computer connected to a Web site that presents a test, provides instructions for filling it out, and usually scores and provides interpretation for it. Although online tests generally reflect the variety of test types and formats available offline, quite a few variations of this general procedure have been used, with differences in questioning sophistication, responding formats, scoring methods, and ways and depth of interpreting the test results. In addition, because publishing on the Internet is easy, generally rewarding, and essentially costless, online tests differ greatly from one another in terms of their levels of professionalism. This means that numerous tests published online and offering assessment to the public in various domains have been created by nonprofessionals for various reasons and do not fulfill accepted standards of test construction. This creates a major problem, as most Internet users cannot distinguish between “good” and “bad” tests and thus might be misguided in their serious attempts to gain help by means of Internet resources and make wise career-related decisions.

Parallel to offline (paper-and-pencil) testing, online tests differ in their focus of measurement, whether intelligence, specific aptitudes, attitudes, personality, or the like. Also parallel to offline testing, there are various formats for online tests: multiple choice, rating scales, and open-ended questions. However, because of the advantage of computerized scoring, online tests employ the first two formats; open-ended tests, which need human involvement, are rare. Usually, too, an online test is designed in such a way that the user can respond easily through mouse clicks and the scoring procedure is automatically conducted. Online tests take advantage not only of computerized scoring (and preplanned interpretation) but also of the convenient capability of integrating multimedia-enhanced components (e.g., use of color and animation, audio, and video), automatic time watching, and more. A special advantage of online tests is the ability to tailor tests to test takers according to preestablished individual characteristics. Likewise, adaptive testing (in which an individual’s success on an earlier test item determines the difficulty of the subsequent item) can easily be integrated into the system.

Research in a variety of assessment areas has typically found much support for the validity and reliability of measurement through online tests; they are, in fact, very similar to their offline counterparts. This has encouraged the use of such tests for a number of career-assessment purposes, including school guidance, career counseling, and employee selection. Online testing in each of these activities can provide specific and partial information for the test taker and/or assessor to be integrated in a broader assessment process. For instance, a client involved in career decision making may go through face-to-face counseling sessions while, in between these sessions, also taking online tests suggested by a counselor. Such integration of different channels of communication and interaction is cost-effective and convenient for many, as tests may be taken individually by clients at optimal timing without exploiting other resources. Other advantages include (a) centrally executed, easy, and quick modification of tests for editing of items and instructions and updating scoring procedures; (b) convenience in time and place of testing; (c) rapid and accurate scoring and interpretation according to preassigned theoretically and empirically grounded algorithms; and (d) the possibility of quick, detailed feedback.

Disadvantages and problems should not be overlooked, however. These include (a) publishing of countless unsupervised, nonprofessional tests that, in many cases, look like professional tests; (b) direct and immediate conversion of an offline test to an online version without the necessary adjustments, which might damage valid measurement; (c) use of test norms based on offline test-taker populations, which is known to be erroneous (online raw scores, in many tests, are elevated relative to the offline scores of the same test); (d) lack of a close human being to support the client’s acceptance of disappointing results; (e) use of online assessment that supports social injustice in providing testing opportunities to wealthier people (related to the “digital divide”); and (f) difficulties in identifying and verifying test takers and surveilling their conduct.

Another vehicle that the Internet makes possible for use in career assessment is online interviewing. Similar to telephone interviews, online communication—synchronically via Instant Messaging (e.g., ICQ, Windows Messenger), chat (e.g., LivePerson), and webcam and asynchronically via e-mail—enables interviewing from a distance. Although this procedure has several obvious advantages (e.g., cost, convenience, storage of written dialogues, augmented interviewee openness caused by the online disinhibition effect), it also has disadvantages (uneasiness for some interviewees owing to the lack of eye contact, loss of important physical and nonverbal communication cues, and difficulties in identifying the interviewee). This approach might therefore be used for initial screening or for career counseling by specifically trained interviewers.

An emerging online assessment approach that has recently been proposed adopts ethnographic and anthropological methods in observing people’s behavior in Internet-enhanced environments (e.g., forums, chat rooms) while interacting in group situations or individually in any number of possible virtual stimulations. Although validity research is still lacking, this approach is promising in light of recent technological developments (e.g., enriched multimedia, sophisticated 3-D virtual reality, integrated video-audio tools) and growing research. This way, observation and appraisal of individual behavior in cyberspace could either complement face-to-face evaluations in an integrated assessment center or serve as preliminary screening of job applicants.

Online career assessment is still in an embryonic stage. Much research and development ought to be put into this area to make it routinely available for use in assessments for career counseling or employee selection.

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