Seven Habits for Effective Career Assessments
In writing about the use of career assessments, Spencer Niles, president of the National Career Development Association in the US, cautions, “[Some] practitioners… conceptualize career counselling as a process of administering tests and providing occupational information. Such views freeze career counselling at the turn of the last century.” (Niles & Harris–Bowlsbey, 2002, p. 123). Thankfully, most of today’s career practitioners have moved far beyond this “test and tell” approach to career decision–making. However, appropriate use of career assessments can certainly assist clients and career practitioners to form a clear picture of skills, interests, values, personal style, barriers and other characteristics that might impact job satisfaction or career success.
Over the years, in training career practitioners and counsellors to use career assessments effectively, I’ve emphasized the importance of knowing what needs to be assessed and why. Reflecting on this, I am reminded of Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (1990) – particularly his second habit: “Begin with the end in mind.” In this article, I’ll use Covey’s seven habits to provide guidelines and strategies for the effective use of career assessments.
1. Be proactive. To use assessments effectively, career practitioners need to be aware of a wide range of tools, their appropriateness for diverse client groups, and the impact of emerging technology on career assessments. Browsing through catalogues and publishers’ websites1, attending workshops, seminars and training opportunities, and seeking supervision to ensure that assessment tools are being administered and interpreted appropriately, are all ways to proactively stay on top of the rapid changes in career assessments. Using out–dated tests, interpreting results based on inappropriate norms, or using assessment tools for which you are not trained, on the other hand, are not the habits of an effective career practitioner.
2. Begin with the end in mind. There is no “one size fits all” approach to effective career assessment. Before selecting assessment tools for a client to complete, it is essential to have a clear understanding of the outcome that you hope to achieve (i.e., who will be using the assessment results, what information will be helpful to them, how quickly do they need the information, how much money is available to purchase assessments, will your client be meeting with you in your office or is online technology more accessible, and why are tests the best option for this client at this time?).
You’ll find that having the end in mind makes selecting assessments much simpler. It also helps you to make choices about ethical uses of assessment information (e.g., if a client anticipates that testing will identify “the right” career option or if a potential funder wants to see a client’s career assessments before paying for a certificate program within a local college, you might want to discuss the limitations of assessment results).
3. Put first things first. Creating an atmosphere of safety and trust – building rapport – is essential when administering career assessments. You can reduce your clients’ anxiety by explaining the purpose and limitations of career assessments. Engaging your clients in the process of choosing assessments can also build a sense of trust and active participation. When clients are expected to complete several assessments in one session, schedule the ones that you hope to gain the most information from first, in case the client is unable to complete the full battery of tools that you’ve selected.
4. Think win–win. Effective use of career assessments won’t create an “us vs. them” relationship. Instead, career assessments can be used as part of a comprehensive program to help clients form clearer pictures of themselves to inform their career decisions and choices.
By focusing on a “win–win” approach, I’ve worked closely with clients to collaboratively interpret assessment results and then with funders to focus on realistic career options that fit well for the client and fall within the funder’s policy or mandate. With a “win–win” attitude, I’ve also had success in helping funders or corporate clients to move from an over–reliance on tests to a more appropriate/ethical use of assessment data.
5. Seek first to understand, then to be understood. Career practitioners know the value of active listening. Yet, when interpreting assessment results, many launch into an explanation of “what the test says” rather than taking the time to listen to valuable insights that the client may offer.
Etched in my memory is the time that I was interpreting results from a battery of career assessments to a client referred to me by a community–based employment program. He was volunteering in a library and said that he found it very frustrating to work in the children’s section because he had to spend all his time putting books back in the proper places on the shelves. The personality assessment that I’d selected showed him to score extremely low on the “methodicalness” scale. This seemed to fit with his distaste for re-shelving books.
Much to my surprise, however, listening to the client revealed quite a different explanation. It turns out that this client was currently being treated for obsessive–compulsive disorder. To understand how the results on the assessment could have been completely opposite to this client’s reality, I revisited the questions on the tool that I’d used, From his obsessive–compulsive perspective, he’d endorsed statements like, “I’m not as tidy as I should be…” with a resounding, “Yes!” His library volunteer work, therefore, was frustrating for quite a different reason than I’d initially assumed from the assessment results. In fact, it was the messiness that bothered him as the children took books off the shelves but never returned them – not re-shelving the books in an orderly way.
6. Synergize. Just as teams of people working together can produce results greater than the sum of their parts, effectively integrating the results from a comprehensive battery of career assessments can provide far more information than a single assessment tool. Integrating themes from several assessments also helps us avoid the all–too–common problem of career assessment clients saying, “The test told me to be a…”
I like to use “The Wheel” (Amundson & Poehnell, 1995) as a framework for interpreting assessment results. It reminds me to assess (formally or informally) skills, interests, values and personal style…as well as to incorporate information about the context of my client’s life (e.g., feedback from significant others, educational background and future plans, work and leisure experience, and relevant labour market trends).
Career assessment synergy may also involve referral to career practitioners with different training or qualifications. Psychometric tests and other career assessments are rated by publishers as A, B, or C–level. A–level assessments are typically self–assessments and do not require specific education or training to purchase or use. Many career interest inventories and card sorts fall into this category.
B–level assessments usually require specific certification (e.g., MBTIR training or Personality DimensionsTM certification) or graduate level courses in psychometric assessment and training/supervision in the administration and interpretation of a variety of tools. C–level tools include assessments more commonly used by psychologists (e.g., a neuro–psychological assessment would fall into this category).
A synergistic approach to career assessment, then, might involve a career practitioner within a community–based career decision–making program administering a self–directed interest inventory and some skills and values card sorts. These assessments might be supplemented by a counsellor or trainer coming in for a day to do an MBTIR or Personality DimensionsTM workshop. Another counsellor, perhaps with a specialty in educational psychology, might facilitate a workshop that includes assessments for aptitude and learning styles. The three facilitators might then case–conference to share insights that will support individual clients to develop viable career action plans.
7. Sharpen the saw. This seventh habit of highly effective people is of no less importance to career practitioners, especially those that choose to incorporate career assessments into their work with clients. There are many effective strategies that career practitioners can use to enhance their skills in this area.
To begin with, I’d encourage you to never ask a client to complete an assessment that you haven’t completed yourself. As previously mentioned, attend workshops and seminars and become familiar with test publishers and suppliers. Seek out supervision when you are working with a new tool or a different client group and read published reviews on assessment instruments (e.g., Kapes, 1995; Kapes & Whitfield, 2001).
If you are interested in becoming qualified to order and administer B–level assessments, check out courses at your local university, usually within graduate programs in the Faculty of Education or the Psychology Department. Although you don’t require any special education to purchase and administer A–level assessments, you might find a course in administering and interpreting career assessments helpful to guide your choices of appropriate assessment tools and to help you more effectively integrate and interpret career assessment results. The Career Management Professional program offers such a course online, making it accessible for career practitioners regardless of their schedules or places of work2.
We certainly don’t want to revert to the “test and tell approach” to career decision–making. However, used ethically by qualified career practitioners, career assessments can offer a rich addition to your toolkits. Incorporating Covey’s seven habits can help you to use career assessments effectively…and ethically.
Amundson, N. & Poehnell, G. (1995). Career pathways. Richmond, BC: Ergon Communications.
Covey, S. (1990). Seven habits of highly effective people. New York: Free Press.
Kapes, J. T. (1995). Locating and evaluating career assessment instruments. ERIC Digest. Available at:http://searcheric.org/digests/ed391989.html
Kapes, J. T. & Whitfield, E. A. (2001). A counselor’s guide to career assessment instruments (4th edition). Columbus, OH: National Career Development Association
Niles, S. G. & and Harris–Bowlsbey, J. (2002). Career development interventions in the 21st century (2nd edition). Upper Saddle River, NJ:Merrill/ Prentice Hall
Dr. Roberta Neault is a counsellor educator and founder of Life Strategies Ltd. She has developed and instructed courses on career assessment for several Canadian colleges and universities and is co–developer and instructor for the online course, Administering and Interpreting Career Assessments. For more information on this topic, contact Roberta at email@example.com.
1There are many distributors for career assessments in Canada. Here is a partial list to get you started: Career/LifeSkills Resources Inc. www.career-lifeskills.com; Ergon Communications www.ergon-communications.com; Psycan www.psycan.com; Psychological Assessment Resources www.parinc.com; Psychometrics Canada Ltd. www.psychometrics.com; Research Psychologists Press, Inc. www.rpp.on.ca
2 Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for information on the CMP course “Administering and Interpreting Career Assessments”