Noting that my 19-year-old daughter seemed frustrated about career choices after changing college majors a few times, I did what any good helicopter parent would do: I bought her a career-testing and counselling session.
Illustration: Jayachandran / Mint
Vendors of career tests, which assess one’s interests and abilities and link them with potential occupations, see rising demand from teenagers, young adults and their parents, representatives say. Some people who take them are wondering whether a specialized high school or college major is a good fit. Others are trying to discover their calling. Depending on how the tests are used, the results range from overwhelming the student with possibilities to teaching lifelong career-management skills.
My daughter says her experience — a 3-hour assessment of her innate aptitudes and abilities, followed by a 2-hour interpretive session with a psychologist — was helpful. It enabled her to put the last nail in the coffin of her waning interest in medicine, by showing that most medical careers don’t suit her introverted problem-solving style. And it helped place on her radar screen two metiers she hadn’t considered — systems design and marketing.
As a parent, however, don’t make the mistake I did: Expecting a “Eureka moment” — when the perfect career path unfolds before your child like the yellow brick road. Too many people believe “you take a test and it tells you what you should do”, says Spencer Niles, a professor of counsellor education at Pennsylvania State. “There is no such test.”
I, and many others, placed too much importance on the assessments, which are really just a starting point for the tough self-exploration and research needed to find or revitalize one’s livelihood.
A good place to begin is a campus career centre. Many offer students and alumni free or low-cost tests, plus the counselling essential to interpret them. Another route is to consult a private career counsellor. Expect to pay roughly $75 to $200 (Rs3,200-8,500) an hour.
One type of test assesses clients’ perceptions of themselves. Among the most popular: the Self-Directed Search, a 35-minute survey also available for $9.95 (about Rs430) online at self-directed-search.com; or publisher CPP Inc.’s Strong Interest Inventory, a 291-question survey offered only through trained administrators.
The inventories are often helpful for young people who say things like, “I don’t know myself, I don’t know what my skills are, or I have so many options, I can’t decide,” says Janet Lenz, a career centre official at Florida State University.
For a deeper look, aptitude tests gauge inborn abilities and skills. The non-profit Johnson O’Connor Foundation administers a $600 (Rs25,700) battery of ability tests in two three-and-a-half-hour sessions, plus an interpretive follow-up session, at its 11 regional centres.
Test-takers perform such tasks as assembling three-dimensional puzzles, replicating patterns or responding to sounds, to assess such innate abilities as design, visual-spatial perception or pitch.
Separately, publisher Highlands Co. offers 3 hours of online tests through 200 trained administrators nationwide, usually for about $450 (Rs19,300) .
My daughter took the Highlands assessment, plus a personality test, with Seattle-area psychologist Paul Marano for $475 (Rs 20,380). From the analytical, technical and other skills she exhibited, he derived more than a dozen career possibilities —from design analyst to astronomer.
The sheer bulk of data was almost overwhelming. But as I listened to Marano encouraging my daughter to vent her self-doubts, unearth her passions and plan follow-up job shadows and informational interviews, I realized he was teaching a set of skills and attitudes inherent to lifelong career management: Trust your own interests. Do your homework. Tune in to the big picture. And be honest with yourself. If you can line up your passions behind your natural talents, even the most daunting obstacles may shrink to surmountable size.
Not a bad takeaway for life.
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