Do these assessments provide information you can use? “It’s not so much what you learn, but how you use it,” says Marc Miller, author of Repurpose Your Career: A Practical Guide for Baby Boomers and a career coach at Career Pivot. “The biggest challenge of these online assessments is that if all you do is read it, say OK, yep, yep, yep, that’s me, and walk away, why bother? It’s probably a waste of time.”
So while you may take the test on your own, ask either a career coach or a family member to go over the results and see how they relate to your current job and career goals.
Sharon Good, a career coach based in New York City, says you shouldn’t expect any major revelations.
“Many people find that assessments only confirm what they already know or things they’ve already done,” she says.
For job seekers, knowing what you’re good at allows you tell your story in interviews. For career changers, it might open up doors to considering jobs you may never have considered.
One final caveat: Personality assessments are designed to pinpoint your strengths, temperament, values and weaknesses.
Here are six online assessments suggested by career professionals. The costs vary, and you may want to see if any of these are available through your current employer:
You may have taken the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) at some stage — 2 million people take it every year. It’s the gold standard of psychological assessments and many employers use it to evaluate job candidates. The idea is that each of us fits one of 16 personality types.
The core notion is that when you know your personality type, it will help you relate better to your colleagues and identify your strengths. The assessment is often used to help pinpoint potential career fields as well.
If you’re an introvert, you might find constant interaction with other people to be exhausting. The assessment can help you figure out that you need to seek out ways to restore your energy by time alone at the office. Look for projects that involve independent research.
These kinds of assessments can also help you learn how to communicate your style with other people. Maybe you’re a “big picture” type, and you find it boring to go step-by-step. That might be why you’re having so much trouble communicating with a boss who goes step-by-step. By seeing that, you can learn that you’re going to have to compromise.
Most people take the test through a certified administrator, who interprets the results and discusses them with you for an hour or so. Your employer’s human resources department might provide the test, as do many career coaches. You can take the Myers-Briggs assessment online and receive your results and interpretation assistance via your computer.
Time: Typically 30 minutes
The best way to take advantage of this popular online assessment is to buy StrengthsFinder 2.0 by Tom Rath. When you buy the book, included is an ID code needed for the free online assessment. Career coach Miller encourages his clients to look at each strength the test identifies for him or her, and ask: How do I demonstrate that quality in my job, and how can I create a real life story where I did that? “Most people are not natural storytellers, but over time, you can build up a catalog of stories … so that in an interview, you can answer questions with ‘Let me tell you about the time,’ ” he says.
Cost: Free assessment with book purchase: around $15.
Time: About 45 minutes to an hour. Make sure you set aside uninterrupted time because you can only take the assessment once with your code.
See also: 10 tips for career changers
This assessment breaks down four core behavior areas: dominance, influence, steadiness and conscientiousness. The classic report describes your personal tendencies, needs, preferred environment to work and effective work strategies. “One of the key things is it pulls your different personality chunks and gives you phrases and variety of different vocabulary to describe your strengths and weaknesses,” Miller says. “When someone asks you … about yourself, you have a rich vocabulary that you’re comfortable with using, but don’t forget to translate those adjectives into action stories that show how you demonstrated that in your working life.”
Cost: A basic online test starts at $29.95.
Time: Approximately 30 minutes
This assessment, typically offered by career coaches and consultants, has been around for more than 60 years. The Birkman Abilities Inventory has 36 questions and gives 90 seconds per question (timed online), and the results are available immediately after completion. If you buy the book The Birkman Method: Your Personality at Work, you’ll get a free online assessment and custom Birkman report. You’ll learn about your communication style, response to incentives, relationship with authority, dealing with change and triggers for stress.
Cost: $25 per test. Free test with book, which sells for about $21.
Time: About 25 minutes
This is an evaluation that generates your top three “Holland” codes, which are three-letter summary codes that represent the three personality types that best describe your work personality. For example, you might be EAS, which means enterprising, artistic and social, or CEI, which translates to conventional, enterprising and investigative. AIR means artistic, investigative and realistic. There also a list of related careers and fields of study that correspond with your code. “It’s a good starting point for uncovering a career direction, but for some, it may not go deep enough,” career coach Good says.
Time: About 20 minutes
The MAPP career assessment is a free review that has been offered for 20 years. There are 71 online questions, and the assessment generates a list of top career areas for you in the final summary, plus a nice, positive roundup of your temperament, aptitude, how you get along with people, your mathematical and language capacity, and even how you reason.
“It includes a robust narrative, where people can learn more about, or validate, their strengths, weaknesses and preferences,” Good says. “The free version is a teaser, though.” For example, it blanks out the top 10 career picks for you and provides the bottom 10 as an appeal for you to spend more in order to get access to the top selections. “To get anything of substance, you have to purchase at least the Starter package for $89.95 or the Career Seeker package for $119.95,” she adds.
Cost: Free (to start)
Time: 15 minutes
Kerry Hannon, AARP jobs expert, is a career transition expert and an award-winning author. Her most recent book is Love Your Job: The New Rules for Career Happiness. She is also the author of Great Jobs for Everyone 50+: Finding Work That Keeps You Happy and Healthy … and Pays the Bills. Follow her on Twitter @kerryhannon.