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Test vs. Assessment or What Kind of Sandwich are You?

After I got out of high school, I took a year off to figure out what I was going to do for college. I worked for a year at Digital Equipment Corporation, and one of the things I did was I took a “test” to help me figure out what to do next. I don’t really remember what it was that I took (I think it might have been the Strong Interest Inventory), but the only thing that I remember was that it said that I should be a Hair Stylist or a Flight Attendant.  As I didn’t want to be either of those things, I didn’t put much faith in it.

Fast forward to now, and I’ve been working with assessments in my career development for years, and I understand them a lot more, but I’ve also found that I’m constantly having to teach people about what they are, how they work, and most importantly, what they don’t do.  Whether it’s at a friendly gathering, having a Facebook discussion, or on the subway, I’ve find a lot of people have a lot of misconceptions about them, and how they can help.  Many people come to me and want to take “the test” to tell them what to do with their lives.  I’m here to tell you, that there is no test, but many assessments can help you figure things out.

First off, there’s the difference between test and assessment (from the Oxford Dictionaries Online):

  • Test (n): a procedure intended to establish the quality, performance, or reliability of something, especially before it is taken into widespread use
  • Assessment (n): the evaluation or estimation of the nature, quality, or ability of someone or something

While there are similarities between the two words, they really are used in a very different way.  I like to say that a test measures whether something is correct or not correct.  An assessment measures where out of many different options is the best fit.  A test is binary: right or wrong.  No matter how options you might have as far as career, nothing is right or wrong.  Some things are just a better fit.  The assessments that I use can never say whether something is right for you, but it just measures how likely something is to be good for you.

This also gets to the issue of what an assessment measures.  Recently, I was sent around the Harry Potter MBTI chart (aka, Which Harry Potter Character are You?).  If you search the web, you’ll see that there is more than one (here and here), and they don’t agree on which type many of the characters are (Is Harry an ISFP or and ISTP?) This of course brought out a number of comments with people saying that “I’m right down the middle, evenly both an extrovert and an introvert” or “I used to be an ESFJ, but I’ve changed and I’m now an ENTP.”  As the MBTI measures not how much of anything you are, but only how sure you are of what type you are, both of these statements are not true.  In the first case, it doesn’t mean this person is equally of both types, but is completely unclear of which type is dominant (think handedness as a guideline). For the second statement, you really don’t change, but your understanding of yourself changes.  I think that we all know ourselves better as we mature, and we tend to get a more accurate picture of ourselves.  When I first took the MBTI, I scored as an ISTJ. I’m an ENFJ through and through.  Does it mean I’ve changed?  No, I just know myself better.

Lastly, you can take any assessment, but then you’ve got to figure out what it means. After a little Google search, I found the following assessments online:

While these types of online quizzes can be fun, what do they really say?  If I’m a ham sandwich vs. a hummus sandwich, how will that help me? Some assessments can tell you some aspect of your personality, but not everything. And most importantly here, you have to get it interpreted by someone who actually understands what it means.  So, you’re an ESTP on the MBTI, an EIC on the Strong Interest Inventory, a Seven with an Eight wing in the Eneagram, etc.  Assessments are only helpful if they give you insight in how to move forward.

Furthermore, no matter what, you are more than the result of any assessment.

And remember that assessment I took when I was 19?  If I look at it through an interpretive eye, I can see that like a hair stylist and flight attendant, I like to work directly with people to help them with problems, get them moving toward a goal, and have something tangible at the end that they feel good about. Overall, that’s my job.  I think that describes this MBTI ENFJ, Strong SAE, and Eneagram Two with a Three Wing pretty well.

So, How do you find out more about yourself?




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