Using Interest Inventories

Interest inventories can be a great starting point in your search for a career that you will love. Interest inventories look at a person's likes and dislikes, their favorite activities, and their personality. Then they compare those qualities with the qualities of people who are already working in specific careers.

Your results may show that you have a lot in common with a doctor, a journalist or an early childhood educator. Knowing this information can help you to take the next step in researching different careers. But keep in mind that an interest inventory isn't the final step in your career exploration! Even the best inventories are only making suggestions that you will have to research further.

Interest inventories can be taken with a pencil and paper, or online with the click of a mouse. In most inventories, you will be asked a number of questions. When you are finished, you will be given a report of possible career areas that may be suitable for you based on how you answered.

There are a lot of different interest inventories out there. Some of the more popular ones include the Strong Interest Inventory, the Campbell Interest and Skill Survey, and the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI).

How do you know if an interest inventory is a good tool for you? Shawn Bakker is a psychologist. He says that there are more advantages than disadvantages to taking an interest inventory.

"The advantages of using an interest inventory revolve around helping people make educational and career plans. They are designed to help people match their interests with occupational, educational and leisure pursuits. These assessment tools can point individuals in the direction of areas of study or work that they may find enjoyable and satisfying.

"The only disadvantage of using interest inventories does not come from the instruments themselves, but the interpretation. Sometimes people think that the assessment will tell them what occupation job they should pursue. That is not the case."

Bakker points to the reason why following up with a qualified professional is so important. Someone like a career or guidance counselor can help you look at anything that the inventory may have missed, or anything in the results that you really don't agree with.

When you sit down with a trained professional, they fit the results of the interest inventory into a bigger picture. Just like a puzzle, there are many pieces that need to go together. An interest inventory is just one piece of a large puzzle. Sometimes, people think an interest inventory is solving the puzzle for them by choosing their career. But you have to finish the rest of the puzzle!

Charlie Endicott is the associate director of career services at a university. He uses interest inventories with his students.

"The inventories are great tools because they really do help a student understand how their interests relate to their major and their career. There is no contradicting the inventory -- they answered the questions! The tools also save a lot of time. If students do a two-hour interest inventory, the results of that may have taken me five or six sessions to gather that much information.

"[Inventories] also contribute to their career development because they now understand what their likes and dislikes are and the school major that is associated with that. They can many times see the connection between the class they are taking and the eventual career choice because the inventory clarified the training needed for that career. It also inspires them to do better in their studies because they are taking classes they enjoy and are related to their interests."

And how do students like taking interest inventories?

"It depends on the student," says Endicott. "For the most part, the students do not mind taking the interest inventory and are not nervous about it. What I do see is they want an inventory that is quick and easy to take as well as convenient for them. If the inventory is too long they lose interest and many times do not return."

If you've been asked to take an interest inventory online by a teacher or a counselor, it doesn't really matter where you take it, as long as you're comfortable and don't feel rushed.

"Where you complete an interest inventory is not a significant concern," says Endicott. "People can complete them at home, in school or in some settings at work, and still receive valid results. For those taking an interest inventory, there is no need to be nervous, as they are not tests. They do not have right or wrong answers, and they are measures of what people like to do, not what they are good at doing."

So how do you know if an interest inventory is a "good" one? One thing you can do before you take an interest inventory is to ask the person or organization that is responsible for it whether it is reliable and valid. Those are two important words because if a test is reliable, it means that it gives the same results time and time again. If it is valid it means that the tool is measuring what it is supposed to.

Interest inventories have been around since the 1920's. Because one thing they report on is careers, they need to keep up with the times. Careers change with the times. In the 1920's, "website designer" wasn't a career, for example.

Daniel Robinson is a professor of education. He trains people to use the MBTI. Robinson explains that updating interest inventories is an ongoing process.

"There are more and more women entering the workforce, in addition to persons of color, which will require more revisions to interest inventories."

Every day, more people enter the workforce, and more and more of them are choosing to do work that may not be considered traditional based on their gender -- like women becoming firefighters or men becoming nurses. These changes need to be taken into consideration as time goes on to make sure that interest inventories reflect all the people doing a particular job -- not just the ones that have done it longer or are the majority.

Another change for interest inventories is the impact of technology. "Technology continues to advance at a rapid rate and there will be more use of interest inventories online which do not require a trained professional to interpret the results," says Robinson.

If you've always dreamed of following a particular career path, and know your strengths and what it takes to follow your dream, congratulations! If you're still considering your options, or want to learn more about how your skills, interests and abilities match up with different career areas, think about taking an interest inventory. Just remember, interest inventories are one piece of a much larger puzzle. Once you have that piece in place, go in search of the others to complete your unique career picture.



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