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Do career aptitude tests actually work?

Choosing a career for yourself is rarely a simple decision. For some, the concept of pursuing a specific path is almost unfathomable, and the vast amount of options out there can turn the decision from exciting to overwhelming in a matter of minutes.

A career test promises clarity to those tormented by the decision, but can you actually rely the answer it gives? According to Nina Walsh, a Career Consultant in the Graduate Employment Division at Deakin University, ‘there are a variety of different career assessments, and some are more helpful and accurate than others’.

So, what is a career aptitude test?

Let’s backtrack a little. Gavin Walker, the Manager of the Graduate Employment Division at Deakin University, says ‘career aptitude tests are designed to develop or enhance your awareness of your skills, values, interests and motivators. By asking questions, they aim to challenge your way of thinking, then recommend certain career types based on your responses.’

Walsh elaborates: ‘different career tests take into account different things. Some are focused on a single factor, such as interests or values, while others may take into account several factors. This includes personality, skills, interests, values, motivators and personal preferences.’

But despite a multitude of job quizzes existing, it’s your own input that ultimately determines the accuracy of the answer, Walker explains. ‘It’s the quality of the data that determines the quality of the results. Your responses are used to build your profile and identify particular interest clusters or traits, which are then compared and matched against the careers data,’ he says.

Can you trust the science behind job quizzes?

Walsh explains that it’s important to choose a career aptitude test that is valid and reliable. ‘This usually means it has been developed, tested and researched by professional test developers and psychologists.’ Majority of career tests use Holland codes, developed by American psychologist Dr John L. Holland, to match people with appropriate jobs according to their interests.

The codes are:

  • realistic
  • investigative
  • artistic
  • social
  • enterprising

Each code relates to a general field of work, and Walsh notes this is something to keep in mind when reviewing your answers. ‘Career aptitude tests are usually only able to match to generic careers like teacher, nurse and police officer. They don’t typically include every career option, or even more specific or unusual professions.

‘They also can’t take into account or careers that haven’t been invented yet,’ she says. But none of this is to say you should completely disregard a career test. Walsh explains you don’t have to take the answers too literally: ‘Just because you might get “military” as a recommendation doesn’t necessarily mean you need to rush off and become a soldier. Instead, it might just be an indicator that you would enjoy working in a structured workplace, with clear leadership and directions.

‘That said, the insights offered by a career test are unlikely to be completely new or unexpected. They’re more likely to reaffirm and clarify what you already know about yourself,’ she says. Self-awareness makes up the foundation for effective career decision making, so doing a career quiz can be a helpful tool in realising your skills, values, interests and motivations.

'The insights offered by a career test are unlikely to be completely new or unexpected. They’re more likely to reaffirm and clarify what you already know about yourself.'

Nina Walsh,
Graduate Employment Division, Deakin University

However, Walsh says, ‘you would need to do further self-reflection and research into jobs, sectors, industries and the labour market before choosing a career path.’ Reiterating this, Walker notes, ‘the tests are a great tool for promoting or suggesting some alternative clusters or professions that might open up new ideas, but they should not be the source of truth for making a career decision.’

Should you take a career aptitude test?

Considering the facts, you might be inclined to think a career test is a waste of time.

However, Walsh explains there are times when sitting down and taking a quiz can be extremely helpful. ‘Whenever you need some extra self-awareness, or when you’re feeling a bit stuck and could use some ideas about possible directions. The process of answering questions can be great to get you thinking, and a good place to start when it all feels overwhelming.’

While constant reflection on your skills, values and interests can also prompt some great career thinking, Walker says: ‘It’s a good idea to look beyond the surface of your knowledge.

‘We are often guided by those around us; family, friends, teachers and our own life experiences, and this can limit the breadth and depth of your field of view,’ he explains. Walsh adds, ‘tests can be effective for giving you ideas about careers you might not have heard of or considered before.’

They go beyond what you’ve already been exposed to, and might be able to inspire you to think of pursuing a path you didn’t even know existed.

Don’t worry if you’re still struggling to choose

‘Take your time, be honest with yourself and ask yourself questions. What do you like learning about? What problem do you want to solve? What conversation topic never gets boring? Research how your interests could relate to potential careers,’ Walsh suggests if you’re struggling to choose a career. She also advises taking the pressure off yourself.

‘Career decision making is a process that is ongoing and evolves as your progress through your career.’ The Foundation of Young Australians released a report predicting that future workers will potentially have ‘17 different jobs over five careers in their lifetime’.

‘The world of work is changing and becoming more mobile,’ Walsh says. ‘The career you’re choosing now doesn’t necessarily have to be forever.’

To start thinking about your skills, interests and strengths, take our quiz to find out which job cluster best suits you!

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Nina Walsh
Nina Walsh

Career Consultant, Graduate Employment Division, Deakin University

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Gavin Walker
Gavin Walker

Manager, Graduate Employment Division, Deakin University

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