No New News about Career Assessment is Bad News!
by Peter Manzi
With an increasing emphasis on technology in counseling and career development, the need to stay abreast of changes in tools and strategies used by career counselors is always apparent. In particular, the role of career assessment is ever evolving. A recent survey by the National Career Development Association's Professional Development Committee of all 4,000 NCDA members, headed by Sally Gelardin, Chair, found that the career development activity of greatest interest was "What's New in Career Assessment", followed by "Using Technology in Career Development and Job Search." (Full survey results will be available to NCDA members shortly.) To the first item, the Journal of Career Assessment (SAGE Publications) offers reviews of new and current career assessment measures. These include counselor applications of interest inventories, multicultural counseling constructs, personality measures, as well as research and practitioner based research studies of assessment tools and strategies in relationship to career counseling interventions. A compendium of reviews of a wide range of mostly formal career assessment instruments is offered in the excellent A Counselor's Guide to Career Assessment Instruments (2002) from the National Career Development Association. These include discussions of computer assisted career assessments that use the Internet.
With so many different tools and strategies at a counselor's disposal, how does one select and use these tools in helping clients with their career concerns? Assessment strategies can be organized into two broad categories, informal and formal tools. An excellent discussion of the pros and cons of each approach is offered in the excellent book, Career Development Interventions in the 21st Century, (Niles & Bowlsbey) and a few important points from this source are briefly discussed here. Formal tools, such as interest inventories (SDS, Strong Interest Inventory, Harrington-O'Shea Career Decision Making System) and personality measures (MBTI , 16PF, NEO) often have a long and venerable history with research to support their merits, along with booklets and pamphlets (as well as computer generated narrative reports) to foster interpretation. These tools have manuals which contain technical but useful data on reliability, validity, norm groups, applications and use in research. The results can be used to compare the client's scores with other groups or individuals, and to make decisions about education, training opportunities, job application and placement activities. Formal assessment generally costs more because of the research done to establish reliability and validity, and sometimes as a part of the inventory structure ( e.g., Strong, Kuder) where scale norms are used.
Informal assessment tools include card sorts, checklists, and interviews (structured or unstructured). These can be used for decision making and expanding self-awareness, such as a values or skills checklist. Informal measures or techniques can also include clients telling their career life story, reflecting on successes and failures, asking them to draw a life line dotted with important career decisions and concentric life-roles, and projective-type activities, such as open- stem descriptive statements like:
I am most effective at work when I am __________________.
I am most frustrated or stymied in my job when __________________________.
What I would really like to do in my next career is _____________ ("What stops me from pursuing this?" And "What would help me achieve my career dream?")
The advantage to informal tools is that clients may view them as less technical and more accessible, and helpful in exploring rather than focusing on career options and areas of interest. The counselor can use her or his creativity to develop activities in simpatico with clients' needs and goals. Some clients have had adverse experiences or perceptions of standardized tests, especially those with right or wrong answers. The disadvantage of informal assessment techniques is the lack of standardization, technical rigor (reliability and validity data- they may have face validity at best), and the inability to compare the client's responses to those of a norm or reference group. In two recent sections of a graduate career development course taught at Buffalo State College, students wholeheartedly endorsed informal career assessment procedures for clients by about a 2 to 1 margin, indicating the popularity of a less formal approach with new career counselors. Several graduate students of color indicated that clients of color may be more comfortable with an informal approach, based on past negative experiences with standardized testing and on the cultural and contextual authenticity of clients' responses.
Role of Career Information
Almost as important to the assessment process is the meshing of assessment results with knowledge about the world of work. Career information delivery systems are available in most states, and the organization, Association of Computer-Based Systems for Career Information (ACSCI) (www.acsci.org) offers available state listings and guidelines for using CIDS, as well as a member's listserv (one of the best org listservs ever, in my view) of updates on computer based assessment practices and related materials, including a code of ethics for their use.
Counselors can access many helpful tools and techniques on the Internet, but caveats are in order regarding the quality and applicability of free or self-help types of measures. An excellent resource for counselors to evaluate Internet resources is the publication, NCDA Guidelines for the Use of the Internet for Provision of Career Information and Planning Services (2nd Ed.). This book also provides lists of useful web sites that may be more current than the career information and literature found in formal career assessment inventories and their support materials. Also, career counselors can read about how other career development professionals actually use career assessment techniques and counseling strategies in the web magazine of NCDA, Career Convergence freely accessed at www.ncda.org. Another method counselors can use is networking at conferences. Talking to other counselors about what assessments they use and how it works for them can be a great resource! Past national/international NCDA conferences included career assessment as a conference strand, and many programs and PDIs on assessment applications are offered, facilitating networking. I wrap up with a paraphrase of an old French axiom-"The more things change in the world of work, the more they will change again."
Peter Manzi, Ed. D, NCC, NCCC, MCC, CDFI is a part-time faculty member in counseling and education and a full-time vocational consultant and counselor, who resides in Rochester NY. His interests include technology in counseling and career development and education, working with diverse populations, people with disabilities, and the relationship between mental health and career development. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org