Planning a Career Transition: About Tests

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written by Ellen Freudenheim, MPH

Career success exacts a certain price, a Shakespearean pound of flesh in terms of time, commitment, and focus. There’s an opportunity cost, of course, as well. If you’re running a nonprofit organization, unless you live in an alternate universe where the days are longer than 24 hours, the chances are you’re not an investment banker and a ballerina, too.

At some point even the most professionally accomplished men and women ask themselves: Do I want to do this for another 10 or 20 years? Can I? If not, what else could I do? This process of self-redefinition occurs especially among people who become burned out in their careers, feel tired of doing the same thing, or never loved it that much to begin with. Sometimes it goes along with a life event: a divorce, a death, even the end of mortgage payments. Transitions can involve minor tinkering with one’s job—or a sea change where everything’s up for grabs.
Tests with No Wrong Answers

For an overview of where you fit in the wide world of work, one place to start is by taking a standard test, the kind used by career counselors. Among the most popular are the Strong Interest Inventory and Myers-Briggs Type Indicator.

Standardized career tests, available at career counseling services and through some private life or career coaches, can be especially useful if you’re not sure what you’re good at or what kind of work you’d like to do next. The tests will not spit out a specific career answer, such as “you were born to be a medical technician.” But these independent measures of your skills and talents may yield very useful insights and bring into focus a skill you’ve undervalued, or confirm your aptitude for a new path you may have been thinking about but couldn’t quite visualize or even admit to.

Test results can jump-start a broad reassessment of your future goals and possible directions. At the very least, like that elephant tooth your great-uncle William brought back from a safari a century ago, personality tests make for excellent conversation starters. In this case, however, the elephant in the conversation is … you.

To get the most out of the process, it’s essential to combine testing with one or more interpretative sessions with a trained career counselor who can help you translate your results into concrete career options.

Even if you’ve taken career tests—say, in college, or during an outplacement episode, or compliments of a generous human resources department at your company—it’s still worth repeating them later in life. While your basic personality remains the same, life experience can change people.

To find a qualified counselor and location to take the tests, call your local university, college or library, or contact a reputable career coach.

Bookshelf:

Books that use personality and interest tests, and similar stratagems, as basis for discussion of career changes:

The Pathfinder by Nicholas Lore, Fireside, 1998
Do What You Are by Paul Tieger, Barbara Barron-Tieger, Little, Brown and Company 2007
Career Anchors by Edgar Schein, Pfeiffer, 2006