This article originally appeared in Forbes Coaches Council.
Three years ago, I got pulled out of retirement. At the time, I was trying to help my grandkids choose careers that would bring them happiness and success. I thought this would be easy: I figured they would take a career assessment, discover which career and related college major was best for them, and then move forward on their path.
But I was wrong.
We quickly discovered that most assessments provide anywhere from 30 to 50 careers that might be good. That’s a lot. Plus, the careers they recommend are highly varied, with no clear theme or commonality. And these tests do not provide guidance regarding how to narrow down the huge list so that you can determine which one career would be best.
Different Test, Different Results
That’s bad enough. But we also discovered that taking different companies’ tests gave us very different results. To say these tests were inconsistent would be an understatement.
Recently, I revisited seven of the most popular existing career assessments and unfortunately found that the results have not gotten better.
I should probably mention that after studying civil engineering in college, I enjoyed a career as an environmental engineering consultant. I loved my work, and I was well suited for it. During my career, I rose from the bottom of the business (working as a drafter) all the way up to CEO of both public and private companies.
I was surprised that five of the assessments I took did not suggest a career that was even related to engineering. While two tests did suggest engineering, they still mostly suggested careers that were not at all appealing to me.
When doing a side-by-side comparison of my top career recommendations from these assessments, it was obvious there was very little overlap in careers recommended by the different tests. How would anyone know which test to take — or which, if any, of these tests might be accurate for them?
Maybe It’s Just Me
I know I’m not exactly like everybody else; we’re all unique. So I asked one of my colleagues to take five of the most popular tests. Her results also showed incredible inconsistency.
Comparing Test A with Test B was particularly interesting: Almost all of Test A’s careers were “clerk” types of jobs. In contrast, all of the Test B jobs required at least a bachelor’s degree.
Bad Data Leads To Bad Decisions
The inconsistencies could almost be amusing if people weren’t trying to make very important decisions based on their results.
What concerns me most is that people make major life decisions based on these tests. No wonder college kids typically change majors a couple of times and, on average, take six years to graduate. And no wonder studies show that about 70% of all U.S. workers are not happy in their jobs.
That’s why I found myself coming out of retirement. I’ve always been a problem-solver, and I became highly motivated to develop a way for people to select careers they would be both good at and passionate about —and determine the best college major.
Engineered With Love
Since I’m an engineer through and through, I began engineering my own process to help people:
- Determine their best career categories (e.g., medicine, education, engineering).
- Discover specific careers within each of those categories.
- Narrow down their results to eventually determine their No. 1 career.
After a number of trials, I found that one of the big problems with those unreliable career assessments is that they only focus on personality or on aptitudes. I discovered that both must be considered, and we also needed to take into account top interests, preferences and natural traits.
It also was necessary to help people evaluate numerous characteristics of each career they were considering. For example:
- Education requirements.
- Achievable salary levels.
- Projected growth rates.
- Daily tasks.
- Needed skills.
- Several of my friends who were in career transition also wanted to try the process, so I added a way for them to evaluate how relevant their current experience and skills would be for each career they were considering.
Pretty soon, a lot of people had completed the process, and I kept hearing how pleased they were with the results. Some found new careers they had never heard of or thought about before. Some gained confidence that they were already on the right track. And all of them said they had learned a lot about different careers’ characteristics that they had never seen or considered before.
By the time I completed developing this process, I realized it could help a lot of other people besides just my grandkids and friends. So I came out of my retirement and turned the process into a business that helps people explore and evaluate careers so they can make good life decisions based on good data.
Whether you take career assessments, speak with your friends and mentors about your aptitudes from their perspectives, work with a career coach, or just do some serious self-reflection in a journal, these decisions have the potential to bring you a lifetime of career happiness and success — and all the positive life experiences that go with it.