October 22, 2012

Make the Right Move: Career Assessment Tools

Whether it’s a nagging doubt or a full-blown case of job or career dissatisfaction, there are times in your working life when you may want to contemplate finding a new position, or a new field altogether. In part because of their lengthy educational background, or their demonstrated skills in taking exams, lawyers looking to make a career change often want to know what “test” they can take that will tell them what they should do next. Unfortunately, determining your next best move isn’t that easy. However, there are a number of assessment tools that lawyers can tap into to get pointed in the right direction based on their aptitudes, personalities and individual interests. Here’s a look at some of the top alternatives.

Strengthsfinder 2.0
Now in its second iteration, Strengthsfinder is an assessment tool developed by the organization. To take the actual assessment, you have to buy a copy of the Strengthsfinder 2.0 book (available for about $15 from Amazon or Barnes & Noble). In addition to offering information about the assessment and explanations of its 34 defined strengths, the book comes with a unique computer code that enables you to complete the assessment online. In about 30 minutes you will have the results—including a detailed description of your top five strengths out of the 34 possible options. In addition, the resulting report will give you 10 recommendations for maximizing each of your top strengths.

Note that in this context, a strength is defined as “talent + knowledge + skill.” While this assessment will not point you to a particular job, it can give you valuable details and insights about things in which you excel. In turn, because people often think of a job search with trepidation, it can be a very good tool to start the process, since it will remind you that there are areas in which you shine. It can also provide useful language with which to craft your resume and, at a later date, answer interview questions.

The Highlands Ability
The Highlands Ability Battery consists of a series of different work samples that measure and define an individual’s natural abilities, versus his or her learned skills. It is provided through a network of certified affiliates distributed throughout the English-speaking world, with a listing of affiliates available on The Highlands company website (www.highlandsco.com/battery). The battery is not a “test” in the traditional sense of the word. Instead, the ease with which you complete a given work sample defines how “naturally” the underlying aptitude comes to you. Each work sample is timed to assess how quickly you are able to do a series of similar tasks.

After completing the battery, which takes approximately three hours, you will receive a 30-plus-page report with the affiliate’s analysis of your results. Costs for completing the online assessment and receiving a thorough two-hour debriefing from an affiliate range between $400 to $600. An upcoming version of the assessment is being created strictly for attorneys and should be available by the end of this summer.

Strong Interest Inventory
The Strong Interest Inventory was developed in 1927 by psychologist E.K. Strong, Jr., to help people exiting the military find suitable jobs. The modern version is based on the typology of psychologist John L. Holland. The inventory consists of 291 questions, each of which asks you to choose your preferred answer from among five responses. As its name implies, this tool is designed to assess your interests, and not your personality or aptitudes.

It takes approximately 30 minutes to complete. The resulting report shows how certain of your interests compare with the interests of people successfully employed in specific occupations. You can also get insight into your preferred work style. While there are various providers who administer the process online, access to the comparison database and interpretation of your results usually incurs a fee. Knowing how your interests compare to others in your field of choice is helpful—but not being closely aligned to most people in a given field should not be your only consideration in making a career move.

The Myers-Briggs Type Inventory
Perhaps the most widely known of the assessment tools, the Myers-Briggs Type Inventory is a personality inventory, not an interest or abilities assessment. As with many personality-oriented assessments, it is expressly not to be used to predict job success. Rather it provides the people who take it with information that may be useful regarding their likelihood of enjoying certain work settings or position requirements.

Based on Jungian typology concepts, the results are measured along four different aspects of personality—extraversion or introversion, sensing or intuition, thinking or feeling, and judgment or perception—with the preferences combining to provide the taker with 16 possible outcomes. It can be helpful in understanding the possible impact that your personality preferences have in terms of your comfort in certain work environments. Here again, fees will vary based on the assessment provider (there’s a listing of professionals experienced in administering and interpreting the results at www.mbtireferralnetwork.org), although done online, the assessment process can take about an hour.

What Color Is Your Parachute?
This well-known career book, written and revised annually by Richard N. Bolles, provides a number of exercises for individuals interested in making a career change. (A perennial bestseller, it’s available for about $12 from Amazon or Barnes & Noble.) Thoroughly completing the book’s exercises will result in a detailed picture of the reader’s best skills and preferred work environments. The ultimate usefulness of the content, though, is directly tied to how motivated the reader is to complete the assignments. A cursory reading may be interesting and engaging—but without a commitment to the complete process, you are much less likely to tap into the power of the book.

In addition, on his website www.jobhuntersbible.com, Bolles points to a number of other assessment tools that a career-changer can access online or through other publications.

Knowing What Sparks Your Fire
As indicated, several of the tools described here are accessible only through someone certified to use them. So do you need to make the investment? It depends. Some people are capable of completing a thorough self-analysis and moving to a new career area on their own. But many others are not and would benefit from the structure that can be provided by someone trained to assist in the assessment process. When you think about the costs and time you committed to attending law school and learning how to practice law, investing in generating future options for your next career move could certainly be currency well spent.

Regardless of which tools or career counseling services you use, though, remember that making the right move usually requires reflecting on experiences prior to or outside of your life working in the law—and looking for sparks of interest, enjoyment and success in all facets of life.