Views & News

Don’t Box Yourself In: The Limitations of Career Aptitude Tests

It’s very common to not know exactly what you want to do with your life right after you graduate from college or early in your career. In fact, it’s so common that many companies, educational institutions, trade schools, and career coaches have tried to develop tools to try to help you determine your direction. While these tools are almost always built with the best of intentions, many of them can either confuse you or lead you in a direction that may not make sense for you long term. 

Take career aptitude tests. I’m sure you’ve seen many of them – all promising to help you identify your ideal career path based on answers to questions largely focused on what you believe you are “good at.”   


Why Career Aptitude Tests Don't Always Work

Here’s the problem – career aptitude tests are based on the following assumptions:

  • A handful of multiple-choice questions can sum you up
  • There is a finite list of options out there for you to choose from
  • Your career interests won’t ever change

A Set of Multiple Choice Questions Don't Define You

The biggest problem with aptitude tests is the idea that your responses to a series of multiple-choice questions can define you. Don’t get me wrong, at ArcVida, we love assessments such as Myers-Briggs and believe they can be very useful in learning about yourself. But assessments are best seen as a catalyst for further discovery, rather than an end in themselves. We discover far more about ourselves through experience and reflection and conversation than we do through multiple-choice quizzes.

The Career Options Are Finite

Another problem with assessments that purport to tell you what you should do is that they assume the list of career options is finite. To the contrary – the world of work continues to expand, with new industries and sectors popping up all the time and companies creating jobs that no one had heard of a few years ago. Any fixed list of career possibilities is going to be outdated within months.

Focusing on What You're Good at Doesn't Help You Grow

Furthermore, focusing on what you are good at doesn’t give you room to grow. For years I managed external communications for elected officials and nonprofits, and I was very good at it. But after I earned a master’s in Organizational Change Management in my 30s, I realized that I was more interested in the internal workings of organizations, which is when I pivoted to executive coaching and leadership development. I ended up being very good at that too, but if I had taken an aptitude test a few years earlier, those skills wouldn’t have shown up.

Consider Interests Instead

When trying to determine your career path, it is important to consider what you like and what interests you as much, if not more than, what you are good at. This is not as simple as it sounds, but it is a critical step in your journey to finding a career that’s the right fit. 

This involves time spent in honest self-reflection to ensure you have a solid sense of who you are, what makes you tick, AND THEN what you bring to the table – i.e., what you’re “good at” as it relates to who you are and what drives you.

Consider Career Fit

Professional fit is made up of three things:

  1. What makes you happy at work – tasks and projects that make you lose all sense of time
  2. How you like to operate and whom you want to work with
  3. What skills you offer

Starting here helps you better focus your search and also improves how you tell your story to prospective employers. When hiring managers see that you have a solid grasp of your skills and motivations – that you see yourself clearly – they will want to hire you if you’re the right fit. You won’t feel the pressure to “sell” or “market” yourself.

Discover Your Next Career

At ArcVida, self-reflection is the first critical step we guide our clients through. We believe it is so important that we ask our clients to stop applying for jobs until they’ve stepped back and done this work. It not only informs job searches early in your career – done right, it informs the trajectory of your entire professional journey. So it’s important to take it seriously.

Let us help you through this critical process. Start by scheduling a free strategy session. 



Published on 3/3/2019