Figuring out A Career through Taking Tests

Author: Dick Bolles

No, they're not really "tests."  People like to call them that, but it is a misnomer, because there are no right or wrong answers, as there would be with, say, a math test.  Their real name is "instruments" or "assessments"  (as in "my teacher's assessment of me as lazy proved to be wrong").  So,  call them anything you like.  There are a lot of them, they are on the Internet,  they are fun (sometimes), they are interactive, and many of them are free.  Below is a list of them, and where to find more. 

Introduction:  But first, a few words of introduction (which you can skip, after this, anytime you come back to this page). Interactive tests online divide into two categories: Personality tests, and Career or Vocational tests – though sometimes the line between them gets rather hazy.   

Despite this distinction, many career counselors or coaches, online or off, lump them together and call them all "career tests."  But, actually, the distinction is useful. Most of them are  "Personality tests," not "career tests." They tell you a lot about your personality,  not so much about appropriate careers.   In fact, the idea of trying to choose a career simply on the basis of your personality is very chancy.  It's only one third of the equation.  You have to also have certain skills, including skills with people, and you have to also have certain knowledges.

On the other hand, it is important that your future job or career respect your personality, and ideally fit or be congenial with your personality; so, these personality tests are not without career implications, at the very least. So let us now turn and look at the online tests that are available.  In terms of families, there is The Birkman Method, The Myers-Briggs,  The Five Factor Model (FFM), The Enneagram, and John Holland's Self-Directed Search (SDS).

The Birkman Method

The Princeton Review Career QuizTM

This is a forced-choice test, asking you for the most part to choose between two categories, even if you don't particularly like either one. If you don't like forced choice comparisons, you probably won't like this test. 

But for myself I like this test a lot. A shortened version of "The Birkman Method®" this little gem has three sterling virtues, in my view: It is fast, with only 24 questions to answer; the format is attractive, with a great use of color in both the display and the printout of its results (assuming you have a color monitor and color printer, of course); and thirdly, it often presents you with some interesting career suggestions.

After you've answered the 24 questions, you will get a general description of your interests, skills, and preferred style (described in terms of the "Birkman Colors"), as well as a list of careers that all of this points to, chosen from a list in the Princeton Review's Guide to Your Career. Also, there's a detailed description of each career online, a starting point for any subsequent face-to-face exploration. 

Like any test, this can lead you seriously astray, if you aren't scrupulously honest about your actual behavior. e.g., Do you really feel so patient, when you're kept waiting?  Lie, and you'll deserve what you get. 

In any case, you should regard its findings as "possibilities" rather than "the gospel truth" about who you are. But if you're puzzled about what career to chose next, this may give you some good ideas to explore further, matched to your skills and interests. 

And speaking of ideas to explore, on the same site is a terrific list which you should also check out.

The Myers-Briggs  ($$) 

In it's official title,  the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), the word "type" refers to the idea that there are certain "types" of personality.  The Myers-Briggs is based on your preferences among four dichotomies specified or implicit in the theory of C. G. Jung:  favorite world, information, decisions, and structure.  In its questions, you are forced to say you prefer one, over the other,  in each of the four pairs, and then it gives you a four-letter "code"as your "type."  There are a total of 16 possible types.
The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator can be taken online. The cost is $49.95 if you don't need a certified professional to help you interpret it. That's at   
If you do want a session with a certified professional after taking the test (it lasts for an hour) the price rises to $150. in either the U.S. or Canada. ($175 anywhere else).  That's at

You, of course, would prefer to get the benefits of finding out your Myers-Briggs Type,  without having to pay anything for it.  Fortunately for you, there are websites which approximate the MBTI.

The Keirsey Temperament Sorter (Free)

Keirsey has a more extensive, but also more complicated, site. It has explanations of Personality Type, and lengthy descriptions of the various temperaments. It has two interactive tests/sorters: the Keirsey Character Sorter (which is newer and more complete), and the Keirsey Temperament Sorter (which is online in several languages – English, Spanish, Portuguese and German, currently). The site is interactive, and once you've answered its questions, it gives its results to you in Myers-Briggs Personality Type language ("you are an ENFP") – with colored graphs. All to the good. The bad news is: You have to go to several places within the site, before you can find out what it all means, for you.  (Free) 

This website belongs to author Paul D.  Tieger.  His website is basically a teaser to get you to buy his product ($27).  But prior to that, Paul gives you a free approximate reading of your Myers-Briggs code. Great site!

Resource Materials Concerning Personality Types

If you want to learn more about Personality Types than is available online, the Resource Materials site has a very extensive bibliography of printed materials that you can go look for in your local library, or any bookstore (such as or the one down on Main Street). 

There is much criticism regarding Personality Types.  Here is a typical one, from a widely-respected research psychologist:

"MBTI was developed based on Jungian ideas about personality.  As most people know there are four dimensions of personality in the MBTI, each with two opposite preferences. Everyone falls into one of 16 types formed by these dimensions, this type is purported to predict one's behavior in all situations.  It is like your blood type, immutable and distinct from all other types. That is unless you take the MBTI on more than one occasion.  Then you see, even in well-designed peer reviewed studies, that as many as 50% of people come out as a different type than their original.  In the language of psychometric theory this is called piss poor test-retest reliability.  The MBTI cannot be trusted to give you the same results from time to time. So either we have a cr** test that poorly measures these four dimensions that are in fact reliable, or we have unreliable dimensions, dimensions that in fact are changeable over time in opposition to the test developers claims.  Whatever it is we have a serious inconsistency with the description provided by the MBTI folks.

"One more beef I will detail that most psychometrists have with the MBTI. If this test is worth its salt, it should also show evidence of validity, that being that there is empirical evidence that the items used to measure the MBTI are associated with each other in ways that are predicted by the theory underlying the MBTI.  Theory #1--there are four dimensions to personality. Wrong--while a few studies here and there find four factors many factor analytic studies find five, or six or even seven factors.  Theory #2--the dimensions are unrelated. Again, we do not find consistent evidence for this. Sensing-intuition often correlates with judging-perception.

"The list goes on.  The MBTI is a piece of trash when evaluated from a psychometric perspective.  But it has benefitted by getting ahead of the curve in marketing, being accepted by groups of psychologists and job professionals that do not historically place a lot of emphasis on psychometrics, and by having the feedback written in universally positive language that most anyone will accept as an accurate statement about one's self.  Otherwise okay.

"A better option--how about an empirical approach?  Say one hypothesizes personality traits, not immutable personality types, and then gets lots and lots of people to answer numerous questions judged by professionals to reflect these personalty traits.  Do this over and over, as the brilliant personality researchers such as Tupes and Cristal, Goldberg and Costa and McCrae have done and presto. The Big Five personality traits have emerged.  Every day there seems to be new research that validates these traits.  They may not measure all of the personality traits we have, but they are surely valid traits. "  Galen Buckwalter,  Famous research psychologist, on Quora.

Another criticism of the MBTI is the Personal Style Indicator of Terry Anderson, Everett T. Robinson, and Ken Keis. These men have invented an alternative instrument, a commercial product, that they believe corrects the defects of the Myers-Briggs.  ($$)

The Five Factor Model (FFM)

The five broad dimensions of personality are openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism.  This is the most well-validated theory among all personality "tests."

A test based on the FFM can be found at either of the urls, above.    My only quarrel with the five factors is with the one called "neuroticism."   In modern thought that term has a negative connotation, even though this is not identical with the Freudian term "neurotic",  whereas the other four factors have a  positive connotation.  Therefore this fifth factor is alternatively called "emotional stability."

Summing up,  in my view, the fundamental defect of Personality Type instruments is that they are great at illuminating the style with which you do any job, but are often misguided at predicting what career(s) that implies. I can tell you from decades of experience: Dream jobs or careers are defined by much more than just 'Type' or "style." I would therefore take all Personality Type career suggestions with a huge grain of salt. But they may stimulate your own ideas, which is a very good thing. For that reason, they're usually well worth taking.

The Enneagram

This is another highly popular test or instrument, these days, though how much it has to say about career-choice is also subject to wide debate. We can say this much confidently: Career choice is always a search for the self, and for work more fitting to that self. In that sense, the Enneagram at the very least has career implications, and is useful for stimulating self-awareness, self-observation and growth.

Site dealing with it exist in a number of places on the Web. The two that I think are the best, are: 

Enneagram Personality Dynamics

Rebecca (Becca) Xiong of the MIT Laboratory for Computer Science, maintains another impressive site dealing with the Enneagram. For those who want to delve more deeply into the instrument and its philosophy, this is the answer to their prayers. Becca is very thorough. She offers an FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions), descriptions, diagrams, another version of the test that you can take interactively, an Enneagram chat room, a message board, and a list of other sites on the Web that have to do with the Enneagram.

The Enneagram: An Adventure in Self Discovery

A site called "The Enneagram: An Adventure in Self Discovery," maintained by Jack High, a certified Helen Palmer teacher who resides in the northwestern United States, has a most complete list of Enneagram resources, seminars, history, etc. This is for those who want to do further research into the whole idea of the Enneagram.

John Holland's SDS (Self-Directed Search)

My favorite career system for three decades has been John Holland's RIASEC system, and its stepchild, your three-letter 'Holland Code,' which you determine by taking John Holland's Self Directed Search instrument. (The online version of the SDS is at, which you can take, resulting in a personalized report online, that you can print out (the cost for all is $9.95).

The Career Interest(s) Game

John Holland and I were friends for 25 years (he died in 2008), and many years ago in a playful moment I invented a brief, quick hazy overview of his RIASEC system, based on my idea of someone walking into a room where a party was going on, and different groups (the RIASEC groups) were gathered in six separate corners of the room. It's called the 'Party Exercise' and it's in the 2015 What Color Is Your Parachute? (pages 125 - 130)  and in The What Color Is Your Parachute Workbook, and in another book of mine called The Three Boxes of Life, but it's not (officially) on the Internet.

However there is a version of it online, sans title, sans diagram, but with my original wording, at the University of Missouri site, above. They call it the Career Interest(s) Game, and while it lacks my central graphic, they've otherwise done a great job of presenting the exercise in color with career links, etc. It gives you a good "first guess" at your three-letter 'Holland Code,' but recommends that you also take the paper version of John Holland's Self Directed Search test. 

The Career Key

The Career Key, Lawrence Jones's interactive instrument, is a longer test, also designed to tell you your "Holland Code." It's relatively brief to take – though longer than the Career Interest(s) Game – and does well at giving you your three-letter 'Holland Code.' But, when it then offers you some possible occupations to consider, that match your Code, it is nowhere near as helpful as the Birkman. The reason is that occupations are organized here by 'single-letter Holland codes' rather than by 'three-letter Holland Codes' – to my mind, a serious defect. You are left to flounder around among all the "A" occupations or all the "R" occupations, rather than their using the second and third letters of your 'Holland Code' to focus things down a bit for you.

On the positive side however, which is why I recommend it, The Career Key nicely links its list of occupations directly to the renowned Occupational Outlook Handbook in its current edition, and by clicking on any occupation in Career Key's list, you are taken to a detailed description of that occupation. A nice touch.

It is a common experience when people are trying to choose or change careers.   They find out there is a test they can take,  and it sounds like fun,  They pin their hopes on the test giving them a definitive answer, as to what career they should choose,  next.   So they take it, and then....................


They don't like any of the suggestions the test (or tests) arrive at.      Why?   What went wrong?

Well, what went wrong is that tests are limited.  So, if you haven't taken a test yet (or even if you have), here are:

The Seven Rules To Keep in Mind About Taking Career Tests

  1. There is no one test that everyone loves.

    To begin with, some people hate all tests. Period. End of story. Forcing these tests on your best friend (if they feel this way) could lead to your premature demise.

    Other people like tests, but hate particular kinds of questions. For example, some people dislike "forced-choice questions," where they must pick between two choices that are equally bad, in their view. Other people dislike "ranking yourself against others" questions, because, with their low self-esteem, they rank themselves poorly in comparison with "others" in almost everything. Other people don't like "pick occupations you like" questions, because they've learned by experience that all occupations, as commonly practiced, are a mixture of good and bad, and they keep thinking of the bad stuff, when each occupation is mentioned. Other people don't like questions about how they would behave in certain situations, because they tend to pick how they wish they would behave, rather than how in fact they actually do. 

  2. Tests tend to put you into "families", and thus describe the family you are in, but not You

    A personality assessment,  or so-called Career Test, puts you into a category, group, or family,  who answered the "test" the same way you did.   Because they deal in categories, they don't really tell you what's unique about you, but rather they end up describing your "family":  "you are an ENFP," or "you are an AES," or you are a "Blue." It's 'a family they're talking about– you are lumped with a lot of other people – and sometimes it is even the wrong family. 

    A test can't tell you anything about you, specifically.  It can only describe that family, but you may be a maverick in that family.  For example, my real-life family—father, mother, brother, sister—were all left-brained.  You would naturally then expect me to be left-brained.  But I wasn't.  I was predominantly right-brained, through and through.   And so with your test.  Most of the people who answered all the questions the same way you did,  may be attracted toward being, say, an accountant.  So, that's what the test will suggest for you. But you may be a maverick in that family,  better fitted to be a graphic designer.     The test doesn't know you are a maverick.  And never will.   It can't see You; it can only see the family your answers put you in. 

    Job expert Clara Horvath puts it well: Career counseling at its best – person to person, face to face – treats you not as a member of some category or 'tribe' but as a unique job seeker, seeking to conduct a unique job hunt, by identifying a unique career and then connecting with a unique company or organization, that you can uniquely help or serve.
  3. Tests can give you a wrong answer based on just one or two questions,

    We turn to tests with the hope that someone can definitely tell us who we are and what we should do; and we think a test will do that. No, no, no. You can't say, "Well this must be who I am; the test says so." Test results are sometimes way off the mark. On many online (and offline) tests, if you answer even two questions inaccurately, you will get completely wrong results and recommendations. I know countless sad stories about people whose lives were sent down a completely wrong path by test 'results' that they believed when they shouldn't have. You should take all test results with not just a grain of salt, but with a barrel. 

    Tests have one great mission and purpose: To give you ideas you hadn't thought of, and suggestions worth following up. But if you ask them to do more than that, you're asking too much. 

  4. You should take several tests, rather than just one.

    You will get a much better picture of your preferences, profile, and good career suggestions from three or more tests, rather than just one. It's the old idea, since at least the time of the Second World War of 'triangulating' the source of a transmission. You need to 'triangulate' your test "profiles," in order to find your true self.

  5. Always let your intuition be your guide.

    You know more about yourself than any test does. Treat no test outcome as 'gospel'; reject the summary the test gives you, if it just seems dead wrong to you. Trust your intuition. On the other hand, if you really like the suggestions a test gives you, don't agonize about whether those suggestions are worth tracking down – just investigate it. Always listen to your heart.

  6. Don't let tests make you forget that you vary greatly from time to time.

    A career or personality test ought to measure things about you that are pretty constant.  Here is where the Myers-Briggs and other tests fail. '[I]f you retake the MBTI after only a five-week gap, there's around a 50% chance that you will fall into a different personality category.' "   ("Say Goodbye to MBTI, the Fad That Won't Die," by Adam Grant.  Posted on Linkedin.)   Career suggestions resting on dubious categories are like a house built on shifting sands. 

    Dichotomies, "either/ or" choices, on which so many tests depend, are just not realistic.  Most of us would choose "both/ and".  C.G. Jung, on whose theories the Myers-Briggs rests, said,  "There is no such thing as a pure extravert or a pure introvert. Such a man would be in the lunatic asylum."

    Moreover,  our uniqueness varies from year to year.  Make someone, for example, choose between living at the North Pole or living on the Equator,  and most people will not only answer "Neither" but they won't even choose something in-between, like "at the latitude of New York City."  Rather, they are more likely to say, "I prefer Phoenix in the winter,  and  Atlantic City in the summer."  In other words,  their answer will vary, depending upon conditions. 

  7. You are never finished with a test until you've done some good hard thinking about yourself.

    Tests are fun, but just reading the results isn't enough. You're not done until you've thought hard about what distinguishes you from every other member of the human race, and makes you (like your fingerprints) unique. With that knowledge, you can then set out to find the work you were uniquely put here on earth to do, i.e., your unique mission in life. Without that hard thinking, tests become just "a flytrap for the lazy."