By Linda White
Special to The Toronto Sun
Before sitting down with clients to explore their occupational goals,
career counsellor Peter Rattan always emphasizes one thing: it's important to know who you are, not who you want to be.
Career Counseller Peter Rattan says the best career assessment tools are always simple and they should be used as guides.
This is because many clients tend to base their career test answers on future projections, rather than what is happening in their lives right now, Rattan says.
"Some people receive pressure from their parents to enter certain careers and this influences answers that may seem incongruent with who they really are, and where their skills lie," he says.
This is one of the factors to consider when facing the onslaught of career assessment tools that exist across Canadian schools and employment centres. These instruments, which range from simple, self-scoring online tests that can be completed in 15 minutes, to multi-layered inventories that require hours to complete and interpret, can be confusing, skewed and overwhelming to many. Investing time and energy in completing these exercises can be daunting, but when the proper tests are administered and interpreted in conjunction with career professionals, the results can be extremely rewarding, Rattan says.
The concept of assessment tools started to evolve around the First World War, when recruitment officers needed to assess which area of the military soldiers should be assigned to. Post-war, these concepts began to be applied to the general population to help them make career and education decisions. One of the oldest and most popular of these, The Strong Interest Inventory, has been around since 1927, and was last revised in 1994.
Based on analysis of over 67,000 people, the Strong consists of 317 items measuring a job seeker's interests in a wide variety of careers, recreational activities and education subjects. It is commonly offered to young adults and recently introduced a self-scoring option, although the test can be administered through a computer generated report or debriefed individually or in groups. The end result is a profile based on general occupational themes, basic interests, personal style and occupational scales.
"It's extremely comprehensive and doesn't pigeon-hole people," Rattan says. "It provides categories and themes for people to sort out, and indicates many jobs related to a theme. It is, however, expensive and needs to be sent out and then back. But there's so much information for clients, I'm always impressed by it."
There are many places in Toronto -- and across Canada -- where assessments are offered. Some are geared towards specific audiences such as people with disabilities, women, foreign-trained professionals or financial aid recipients.
However, most secondary and post-secondary institutions offer some kind of career-based testing services. Employment resource centres are also good places to begin your search. Below are some general websites for more information.
Peter Rattan, career counsellor: 416-919-2047 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Career Life Skills Resources is a large distributor of employment-related materials for employment and human resource professionals. http://www.career-lifeskills.com/
Contact Point, a service for career counsellors offers a rich database of information, including some fine articles about career assessment by various employment professionals. www.contactpoint.ca
Accessible Community Counselling and Employment Services: www.accestrain.com
Career Foundation: www.careerfoundation.com
Centre for Education and Training: www.tcet.com
Jobs Vision Success: www.jvstoronto.org
Labour Education Centre: www.laboureducation.org
Ontario March of Dimes: www.dimes.on.ca
A more recent entry into the ranks of assessment tools is the popular Personality Dimensions (PD), which is based on research into temperament theory and used to develop a framework for promoting self esteem, communication styles and self awareness. PD is most often used in a workshop setting where learners select coloured cards with imagery that most relates to them.
"Authentic Blues" tend to be artistic, spiritual and drawn to helping professions like social services.
"Organized Golds" might derive pleasure from management positions and are reliable helpers.
"Enquiring Greens" are logical, methodical problem-solvers who tend to be attracted to law and science, while "Resourceful Oranges" are outgoing, competitive and flourish in sales and public relations careers.
These choices are reinforced through a second card sort that emphasizes work, communication, life values and relationships, depending on the workshop being facilitated. Participants then further explore their traits and preferences based on their card selection.
Another component is determining whether participants are introverts or extroverts, each of which can further understanding of how we relate to the world.
"I like Personality Dimensions," Rattan says. "People get a sense of what questions are being asked. It's easy to score and the cards reflect different cultural groups as well. Out of all the assessments, this one seems to have the most positive impact on clients. Some of the tests can be a little overwhelming for some people."
Another popular assessment tool is the Career Occupational Preference System (COPS) Interest Inventory. Available in multiple versions, and popular in adapted editions everywhere from grade schools to correctional facilities, COPS is actually comprised of three components, including an interest inventory, an abilities measure and a values tool.
COPS measures and interprets a job seeker's interests, values and skills and relates the scores to 14 occupational clusters which organize jobs based on similar activities into groups that reflect comparable education, interests, career paths and values. Each COPS component is administered on its own and results can be interpreted either separately or in an integrated fashion. A fourth component allows users to review occupational data keyed to test results, thereby triggering career research, and assisting test users with identifying training requirements.
"COPS isn't the most user-friendly test. It can be very difficult to fill out, and it's easy to make a mistake, which can throw the whole thing off," Rattan says, "but it is very useful."
These are but three of the more common career assessment instruments used today. Others like the General Aptitude and Test Battery (GAT-B), which measures nine aptitudes across 12 separate tests are sometimes considered antiquated, but still popular. Some, like the Career Values Card Sort, are easy to use and can indicate preferred work environments, while others like the Career Exploration Inventory can be broadly applied across economic and generational sectors, and used in everything from high schools to correctional facilities.
The choice of tests is vast, but not always clear. It's always best to take advantage of a service that offers a range of tests where themes can emerge and be interpreted in conjunction with an employment professional, who can guide and clarify the process.
"The best assessment tools are always simple," Rattan says. "Good tools are also not prescriptive, and not an answer to all your questions. You have to take into consideration other factors, such as your current living situation, disability, economic status, and other things that will influence career decisions as well. Good assessments are guides. You don't live or die by the results."
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