Are you suited for a particular career?

Years ago I spent some time filling out a personality test in a little book with the corny title Please Understand Me. It gave me a reality check about my real strengths and weaknesses, and it made me more accepting of style differences in myself and others. The title didn't seem so corny anymore.

Turns out the book was a popularization of a respected psychological assessment test called the Keirsey Character Sorter, developed by psychologist David Keirsey and based on a theory of personality types by the psychologist Carl Jung. For years, corporations have used the Keirsey sorter and another Jung-based test, called the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) -- as well as more skills-oriented tests -- as tools for career counselors, hiring managers, and human resource administrators to better fit employees to jobs and coworkers. Consulting firms get paid just to administer the tests.

The questionnaires' multiple-choice questions and yes/no answers easily lend themselves to computerization and the forms processing that the Web does so well. So it's not surprising that you can find most of the tests and similar profiling tools, usually for free, on Websites (see the list of links below). The more job-oriented ones take automation a step further by linking your profile to detailed job descriptions, job databases, career counselors, and recruiters.

By trying a few as I did, you'll probably approach the job market -- and make life-altering career decisions -- with a clearer sense of what you really like and what you're good at. Even better, an executive recruiter like Korn/Ferry International might use your profile to match you with a more satisfying job.

Please Understand This

The Keirsey Character Sorter (free, along with the more Myers-Briggs-like Temperament Sorter II at Keirsey.com) asks questions like "When the phone rings, do you hope someone else will answer, or do you hurry to get to it first?" and "At the market, are you likely to waste no time, or to chat with strangers?" The questions are designed to gauge how introverted or extroverted you are, whether you get your perceptions from sensing the outside world or listening to an inner voice, whether you pay more attention to your thoughts than to your feelings, and whether you prefer to come to firm judgments or keep your options open. Coworkers who favor one or the other might clash over deadlines or fail to communicate clearly. With greater awareness of each other's styles, they can essentially step outside themselves and learn to accept, even appreciate, their differences, according to Keirsey.

Myers-Briggs uses a different set of questions but comes up with very similar ratings of personality characteristics and temperament types.

Among the best business uses of such personality-oriented tests are forming work teams and understanding group dynamics. So says James Waldroop, a business psychologist at Harvard Business School who with colleague Timothy Butler developed a career self-assessment tool called CareerLeader.

Deciding on Work and Workers

CareerLeader belongs in the second class of tests, those geared toward vocations, skills, and management styles. The home page of the IT-heavy careers site CruelWorld.com (formerly Career Central) has a link to CareerLeader, which costs $95 and takes a bit more than an hour to complete. The test returns an online report, career advice, and detailed descriptions of suitable careers written by Waldroop and Butler. Waldroop says more than 100 business schools use the test, and about 20 corporations, including a few high-tech ones, purchase it in quantity, often as an employee-retention tool.

Waldroop says CareerLeader is geared toward finding out what you're truly interested in. "The number one reason people leave their jobs is ... they're bored," Waldroop says. "The job's just not interesting anymore, but they're good at it." Waldroop admits CareerLeader isn't strong in IT-specific advice, though generic jobs like sales and finance can be related to it (and there is an IT-management job description).

CareerLeader is a long and dull series of multiple-choice questions and binary choices about the types of jobs you might like to do, your values (family time, money, power, recognition, etc.), and your abilities. I found the resulting analysis of related careers to be interesting and relevant to my situation, but the more specific job descriptions were of limited scope and biased toward the corporate world (in accord with CareerLeader's focus).

Another self-help tool, the Self-Directed Search from Psychological Assessment Resources of Tampa, Fla., is based on a theory of six types of people and work environments developed by psychologist John Holland. For $7.95, the 20-minute test will give you a rating of your type, advice on using the results, and selected links to a huge occupational database, the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Outlook Handbook.

Some tests use the Strong Interest Inventory, another respected assessment system, Waldroop says. It and the MBTI are owned and published by the Consulting Psychologist Press of Palo Alto, Calif., and are distributed in print form or software.

FutureStep, the online service of executive recruiter Korn/Ferry International of Los Angeles, takes its free profiling tool a step beyond self-assessment, using it to match you directly with job opportunities. It's oriented very much toward high-powered executive jobs, asking up, down, and sideways whether you require stock options that mature in three years and if they must be worth $100,000 or half a million. The free service gives you feedback on salary potential, your "career style," and job types that fit it. Behind the scenes, FutureStep headhunters will try to match you with executive job openings with their clients.

Competitor LeadersOnline takes a similar approach, this time using assessment methods developed by parent company Heidrick & Struggles International of Chicago, another executive-search firm. "It's a very unique test tailored for each position," says Sarah Minot, LeadersOnline's director of e-search.

Companies that use the tests should be cautious about two issues: discrimination and privacy. "You have to be careful you're not dealing with psychological material," warns Jim Gyurky, vice president of marketing at Psychological Assessment Resources. It could open you to a lawsuit from a person with a mental illness protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act. And owing to the personal nature of some questions, Websites and corporations processing tests online should take steps to ensure privacy and provide legal cover. Sharing profile results may be risky. Says Waldroop: "Our lawyers tell us it's a real danger zone."

Resources

  • CruelWorld.com (click on the Self-Assessment hyperlink)
  • The Career Key
  • CareerLeader (the site behind CruelWorld's Self-Assessment hyperlink)
  • Consulting Psychologists Press (publisher of Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and Strong Interest Inventory)
  • FutureStep (Korn/Ferry International's online recruiting service; click on the New to FutureStep hyperlink)
  • LeadersOnline (Heidrick & Struggles International's online recruiting service; click on the Personal Wizard hyperlink)
  • Keirsey Character and Temperament Sorter
  • The Self-Directed Search
  • U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Outlook Handbook
  • Insider: How the basic tech behind the Internet works
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