Do Career Aptitude Tests Work?

The summer after I graduated from college, I moved back into my mom's house, where I kept vampire-style hours in my old childhood bedroom, staying up all night watching bad TV and trying to figure out what the hell I was going to do with my life. I had majored in women's studies — not exactly an in-demand skill set — at a college where our career counseling consisted of a dusty binder with some internship listings printed out from the Internet in it. Most of my friends were in the same boat, working bad temp jobs or killing time in their own childhood bedrooms, eating Tostitos into the wee hours and trying to figure how on earth people figured out what job would make them happy.

I had known my whole life that I wanted to be a writer. But at 22, I assumed it would be too difficult a field to break into, so I fell into a lot of different jobs, trying to figure out what would be a good second-best career. After close to a decade of messing around with second-best careers, I realized that nothing was more difficult than spending all day doing work you didn't give a sh*t about, and so I made the jump to writing, which has been the best decision I ever made in my life.

The Experiment

This all recently got me thinking: Were there any shortcuts that could have gotten me here sooner? Did I need to spend eight years getting Devil Wears Prada'd all over town in order to figure out what I really wanted to do with my life? Or was there a resource that could have encouraged me to get here faster?

I know that this is the time of year when many of your recent grads are making the same pilgrimage back to your childhood bedrooms that I once did — so in hopes of helping you avoid my own sad, corn chip–filled post-grad fate, I tested three of the bigger free online career assessment tests out there to see how accurate they were (I had the advantage of knowing the correct answer, of course). Yes, there are a number of expensive ones out there that might be a little more accurate, but hey, you don't have a career yet — so where the hell are you getting $80? Save it for your Tostitos budget, home skillet.

Jung Typology Test

The gold standard of career and personality assessment tests is something called the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, which was developed by the mother-daughter team of Katharine Cook Briggs and Isabel Briggs Myers during World War II. Myers and Briggs distilled pioneering psychiatrist Carl Jung's work on human archetypes into a test that would break people down into one of 16 "types" based on their answers to yes or no questions about how you interact with other human beings, what you value, and how much you hate going to parties (correct answer: a lot).

The official Meyers-Briggs test will run you about fifty smackeroos; but luckily for you, the Internet is full of knock-off tests that, like a fake designer purse, provide you with the same general experience as long as you're willing to cope with some janky design. They're the fake designer purses of self-knowledge! I took the Jung Typology Test, which gives you your Myers-Briggs type, and suggests a few careers that you might enjoy based on that.

Sample Questions: "You think that everything in the world is relative"; "You spend your leisure time actively socializing with a group of people, attending parties, shopping, etc."

Results: I learned that I'm an ENFJ, which stands for Extrovert Intuitive Feeling Judging — meaning basically that I'm kind of a fun people pleaser, but also sometimes want to put my fist through some drywall because I have way too many feelings. (Wikipedia speculates that President Obama might be an ENFJ, and God knows that guy seems like he could use some recreational drywall punching.) So does that mean my ideal career is president? According to the Jung Typology Test, maybe! My suggested career paths were politics (sure), fashion merchandising (makes sense), and computer science (what?), alongside all the classic Careers For People Who Have Too Many Feelings (social worker, counselor).

Would It Have Helped Me In The Past?: Probably not. The one thing that the Jung Typology Test seemed to miss was the creative element in jobs that I need— an element which turned out to be the only thing that could actually make me happy at a job.

Rating: 6/ 10

My Next Move O*Net Interests Profiler

But perhaps you're looking for something a little less touchy-feely, with less of a whiff of "drum circle" about it. You want an actual test that will help you actually figure out an actual job, not insight into your feelings. Fair enough! For folks like you, there's My Next Move, a site (sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor) dedicated to helping people figure out what jobs they would enjoy.

Unlike the Myers-Briggs, which is more about getting a reading on your general personality, My Next Move's O*Net Interests Profiler is about figuring out what specific daily work activities you find enjoyable and what daily work activities will result in you losing your mind and running nude through the streets of your hometown, howling wordlessly and pooping in people's mail boxes. I thought this was a great focus, as the small activities that make up your day really do make or break a job — many times more so than a lot of big-picture stuff.

"Try not to think about whether you have enough education or training to do the work or how much money you'd make doing the work. Just think about if you would like or dislike doing the work," the directions note, making this free online test already more supportive than many of our actual human parents.

Sample Questions: On a scale of "strongly like" to "strongly dislike," would you like to "teach an individual exercise routine," "raise fish in a fish hatchery," "operate a calculator."

Results: The test analyzes your answers to 60 different questions, and then gives you scores in six different categories: Realistic, Investigative, Artistic, Social, Enterprising, and Conventional. I scored highest in the Artistic and Social categories, and had a practically nonexistent score in the Realistic category (tell me something I don't know, right?).

Instead of just giving you a few suggested fields to consider, the Interests Profiler divides careers up into tiers, based on how much training they require: You can browse suggested careers that you can jump into right away, ones you need some training for, and ones you need extensive training for. I had dozens of matches throughout the tiers, from "food server, non restaurant" to actor, stonecutter, makeup artist, film editor, preschool teacher, interior designer, reporter, set designer, and therapist — all jobs that sound kinda cool and interesting to me, honestly. Also, since "blogging about boner jokes" isn't a formal career title, I think "reporter" is about as close as any test will come to telling me that I'd be happy doing my actual job.

Would It Have Helped Me In The Past?: The Interests Profiler was full of interesting job ideas — but there were so many, I'm not sure that, as a recent grad, I would have been able to tell the ones I'd be passionate about from the ones I could merely tolerate. But that's kind of a lot to ask from a free Internet test, right? At least it offered more valuable information than the average Internet quiz (i.e., "Which Harry Potter Character Is Your Dog?")

Rating: 8/10 Career Personality And Aptitude Test

If you ever took a career aptitude test in school, the Career Personality and Aptitude Test might feel familiar. In fact, this 240 question test bears an uncanny resemblance to a career inventory test I took in the eighth grade, which urged me to become a park ranger (which, even at that tender age, I knew I would totally hate). But a lot has changed since 1995 — including, hopefully, career aptitude tests. This one seemed a little more attuned to the nuances of one's personality than my park ranger test 20 years ago.

Sample Questions: "Rate your ability to [ponder] fundamental questions of existence (e.g., Why am I here? What is the meaning of life?)," "Indicate your degree of interest... [in] handling and moving objects of different sizes and weight."

Results: Remember when I said this seemed more nuanced than the test I took in middle school? I was forced to take that statement back when I saw my suggested career: foreign language teacher — an interesting pick, considering that I have literally never been able to master a single foreign language, and spent all of my last trip to Paris asking strangers on the street, "Are you the excellent bathroom?" Ah, well.

Would It Have Helped Me In The Past? No.

Rating: 3/ 10


So it turns out there are no Internet-based hacks you can use in place of life experience and accumulating self-knowledge when it comes to selecting a career. Damn it!

If you're completely lost as to what you want to do with your life, some of these tests can definitely help you figure out if you're more interested in, say, working at an investment bank or in becoming an erotic baker to the stars. But I think that really, deep down, most of us know what career path we'd like to pursue — we often just push it aside because we're afraid we won't be able to do it, or are scared that our family or friends will think we're idiots for pursuing it.

Whether or not it's worth it to chase your career dream is a decision that only you can make, of course. But even if you feel totally lost, you probably know more about what career would make you happy than you think you do — the biggest step is often just figuring out how to admit that to yourself.

Or, failing everything else, you could become an erotic baker to the stars. It's an uncrowded field with unlimited growth potential, I hear.

Images: 20th Century Fox/ Dune Entertainment, Giphy (5)