Career Testing vs. Career Counseling for Twenty-Somethings

Career choice is often made with less deliberation than one would imagine. Certainly that’s true of initial career choice. Twenty somethings’ are very much swayed by the opinions of family, peers, and popular culture, and their career choices often reflect (I would say excessively) those influences.

A vitally important step in narrowing down a career path is to make an effort to filter out the “noise” of these outside influences. The book Roadmap (in my opinion the single best book dealing with career guidance) offers some useful exercises to help you do just that.

But if you want to avoid making the wrong choice, what exactly should you take into account? Strengths (e.g. “I’m a natural when it comes to technology”)? Likes (“I enjoy rap music, animals, travel, Pokemon Go, and gardening”)? Personality (I’m kind of shy and like to spend time by myself”)? Values (“I really want to help women in the third world achieve their potential”)? Passions (“I feel most alive when I’m defending the goal, or when I’m singing”)? Aspiration (“When I watch “Downtown Abby or “Entourage” I dream of being incredibly rich”)? Aptitudes (I always do better on verbal measurements than math”)? Interests “(I love to read about politics)? Expertise (“Friends always ask me for help when there’s something wrong with their computers”)? Heritage (“My grandfather was a doctor, as is my Dad – it’s kind of in my blood I guess”)? Spirituality (“I know I’ve been put on this earth for a reason, and I believe I can find the answer through prayer”)? Hero Worship (“The Jason Bourne movies make me want to work for the CIA”)?

The Process

Then there are more “diffuse” factors: such as being right, winning, or using one’s imagination. The process of “figuring out*” the right career path needs to be informed at least to some degree by ALL of the above.

Most career tests attempt to factor many of these elements into pointing you towards the best career. The problem is that they don’t do a very good job of factoring, and therefore of pointing. I can’t tell you how many people walk into my office with their Myers-Briggs or their StrengthsFinder reports only to acknowledge that the analyses don’t tell them anything they don’t already know, or fail to really ring true.

Good career counseling offers you the opportunity to explore in depth the factors that are most salient for you, something a career test simply cannot do. It also serves the invaluable purpose of eliminating paths that a “one-size-fits-all” career test can’t. A couple of examples: A test may assess you as being an ideal candidate to become a doctor, but suppose you faint at the sight of blood? Or you may appear to have a promising path forward in advertising, but you don’t like to live in big cities (where most advertising jobs are concentrated).

In fact there is room in your career planning for counseling and for testing, but please don’t make the mistake of relying solely on the latter.

* I asterisk the phrase “”figure out” because it’s a term that I feel is generally unhelpful. “Figuring out” is a mental process; career choice certainly involves mental processes but even more importantly it involves exploration and experimentation. Please see my blog post titled “Figuring Out a New Career.