Career Testing and Psychometrics: The good, the bad and the ugly…

When I was in a Senior in high-school, I had some career tests administered to me. I use the word 'tests' loosely as, I use the term 'administered' loosely. My parents were shocked and dismayed, when the results steered me away from college, despite the fact that I was in the first class honor roll! The results also said my best career path matches were a "Bartender" or "Door to Door Knife Salesperson."

Years, later and I still remember, clear as day, what I felt when I heard these results. So, when I studied Counseling Psychology in Graduate School, I still thought that career testing was mumbo jumbo, hocus pocus. What I really learned is that  the wrong test in the wrong/inexperienced hands is dangerous indeed. Read on...

 Being an extrovert, I couldn't relate to the dry, theoretical style, of my Career Counseling professor, in Grad school. If this was Career Counseling, I didn't want any part of it. So, of course, I went in for the most prestigious type of Counseling, Psychiatric Counseling, which I did for years. Prestige and reputation is why many of my MBA students also take up careers in Finance or Consulting.

All through University, classmates asked me to write their resumes and help them find jobs. I didn't think anything of this. I didn't even think it was strange, when my father's friend asked me to get Engineering jobs, for his nephews who were moving to Vancouver (West Coast) from Toronto (East Coast) of Canada. I found them both jobs. Didn't everyone get asked to do this? I never connected this natural ability with a career or with something to earn a living at, until years later... Though in hindsight, I do recall meeting a professional, resume writer at a party in 1997 and being unnaturally fascinated with his career. At the time, I didn't realize, that what I would love the most, I had inadvertently cut myself off from. I still didn't connect the dots....

Lessons I learned the Hard Way!

Career Direction: 101... You will need to clarify your career direction and career goals, before you risk your reputation on a poorly planned, job-search. Whether you are an experienced professional, newly laid off, a college student or currently employed, at some point, you have or will be in need of Career Testing. Often, job seekers would like a new career, but are overwhelmed by the choices. As an MBA Career Counselor, at a University, I often support my students in Career Testing and  Exploration. With 400 different students each semester, helping them "search for the perfect career" can be challenging, but infinitely interesting and fulfilling.

When an Human Resource professional sees that a job-seeker has applied for multiple jobs, and titles, within the same company, this is a red flag. These candidates names are remembered and not in a good way. This indicates CAREER CONFUSION. This is what is clogging up the job-search system and why focused, goal-oriented, job-seekers may get lost in the shuffle.

Career Assessments, often necessary for a successful Career Transition. You may know where you have been, but do you know where you are going? Do you want to go there? Are you qualified for the work you desire? Is there a market for the type of work you enjoy? If you do not have a career direction, and still want to be a GOOD CITIZEN, please, see a professional, certified, Career Counselor.

Why not just do a free, online test, yourself? It’s much easier and cheaper. Sadly, one of the most popular, online career tests is “Which color fruit is your career?” Are you kidding me, this is the Jerry Springer of Career Testing! Would you get your flu vaccine at the supermarket?  I wouldn’t. I would want the shot administered by a registered nurse, in a hygienic, medical setting, with someone watching out for complications. But, to each his/her own...

Still think free tests are a good idea? See this article on “Harmful Career Assessments”

Maybe I am not really confused? In my 10+years in the field, I have never met a client who said, I am confused about my career, but was actually focused and had a specific goal in mind. I trust the client’s gut instinct. Ask yourself, do you have a specific Industry, sector, company, division, work unit and job-title in mind? If not, how can you possibly job-search effectively, market yourself and answer those tough interview questions?

How to choose a Career Counselor to administer, score and interpret my Career Tests? What you should research and ask. What is the experience-level of your counselor? Is it a counselor who normally treats people with addictions, who is now making a side-line out of Career Counseling, because it is hot? Ask how many clients they see in an average month, how many years of experience they have? The more experience, the better. All licensed, Masters’ Degree programs in Counseling, in the USA and Canada, require Psychometric Testing as a core course and competency. However, also inquire about how many times the counselor has used and interpreted a particular test. Ask if they have worked with clients in your industry etc...

Test Validity, what? One test, doesn't fit all. Note: the term Career Test is a misnomer, since there isn't a right or wrong answer, like on a Math test. Each career path, is unique and what suits one person, will not suit another. Which test should be used and by whom? Any test, if well validated, on a specific population, can be useful. Ask, am I a valid subject for this test? Does my demographic, age, race, gender, career, match how the test instrument was devised? A licensed counselor would know the answer. Would you use a Basketball Test for dunking averages, when recruiting Football players? This is a "sport skills test" and these are both sports, after all, right?

This sounds so crazy, but I see this happen regularly. Most of my clients come to me after, failed career testing and unlicensed “career coaching.” Note: the term coaching is not regulated in the USA and anyone can call themselves a coach. One client, had 5 prior experiences working with unlicensed staff and had been subjected to a battery of "tests," prior to coming in!  Initially, he wanted to take short-cuts and save money, but it cost him time and more time unemployed, cost him money. Also, it cost him part of his confidence, for a while.

How is the test being used and why? A given, test must be used on the correct population, and administered in a systemic way, and interpreted by trained professionals. I hear from dozens of people, who had general tests “career tests” administered, either while applying for jobs or by professional outplacement firms. The results are often completely irrelevant to their interests, abilities or career motivators. If you are interested in Business Careers, why would you take a test, which won't test business aptitude and may tell you to be a Zoologist?  

Who is administering your test? These days, I also see tests used for “job-screening,” candidates, by untrained administrative staff. These tests were never devised for this purpose. I shudder when I hear of this.What qualifies them to do this? Well intentioned people, may be using a given test for purposes, other than what it was intended for. They may have the mistaken belief, it will cut down on the pre-screening or candidate selection time. How many times have you been forced to do a “test” before applying for a job?

Security and confidentiality of your test results? A licensed counselor, has vowed to adhere to a code of ethics. See subsection below, which relates to psychometric testing.

"Counselors [shall] carefully consider the validity, reliability, psychometric limitations, and appropriateness of instruments when selecting tests for use in a given situation or with a particular client." -- American Counseling Association's Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice

This includes confidentiality and ethical use of tests, results. etc… If you are required to do job screening test, what will happen to your results? What are the professional licenses, if any of the person administering and interpreting your test? Will your results be posted in an electronic format and if so, for how long and what is the security level? Who, besides HR will have access? What qualifies the person to interpret the test? Is their boss, pressuring them into this? Note: many of my best friends are HR professionals and/or recruiters. They have freely, expressed their concerns about the widespread practice of “testing” candidates. There is a lot of pressure from upper management, to continue doing this.

In summation, learn from my mistakes. Please, do not repeat my mistakes. DO YOUR RESEARCH. Learn about the who, what, where of Career Testing, before you choose an administrator and before you take the test.
Author: © 2009-present All Rights Reserved - Sharon Cohen, MA, Dip.Educ, CPRP. Global MBA Career Counselor and Career Transition Specialist in private practice. You can contact me at

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  1. Thanks! Lots of help!

  2. S. Cohen (author) wrote:

    Career counseling is personal counseling. You can only help someone choose a career direction if you understand who they are as a person.

    Frank - Career Search wrote:

    Great article!

    Sometimes these assessments can be a dangerous thing because it can lead one in the wrong direction. I think the assessments should be taken with a grain of salt and then people can choose what they want to do from there.
    David Baer wrote:

    What I like about small business owners is that they are not afraid to take huge risks and lay it all on the line. But, I agree they do need a lot of help. I think having them go the social media and email route is not only the least expensive but its also the most effective.

    Thanks for the stats!


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