Psychological career assessment and vocational guidance are often a last resort for many individuals at a critical career cross-roads in their lives. Often the choice of a particular career path is considered an innate or “given” factor for many people and, consequently, something which they shouldn’t have to think about especially hard. This assumed attitude of “I should already know” can stand to cause a great deal of anxiety for an individual, especially if they are uncertain of their career path, their aptitudes or their personal employment preferences. The importance of career assessment and vocational guidance cannot be overstated and, considering recent data, it seems that although assessment and guidance are not the norm, they really should be.
A survey from the University of the Western Cape (UWC), conducted across the 1990’s revealed that there is a direct correlation between career guidance services and job satisfaction. Of the individuals surveyed, the study found that approximately two thirds of the students surveyed were dissatisfied with career guidance services they received. The study also indicated that a very similar number of students experienced problems with their career choices after their time at tertiary education. It seems then that, once an individual works through a career assessment and guidance process, they tend to find a career which is satisfying to them. Given the prohibitive expense of a university degree, coupled with the amount of time it takes to complete, one might suggest that the choice of educational field, institution and career path might be better served by a thorough and rigorous assessment of the individual followed by supportive, pro-active guidance rather than taking a shot in the dark and simply hoping for the best. This strategy, it seems only works in around 40% of cases.
But when should one engage in the process of vocational assessment and guidance and, what should one expect from this process?
A vocational assessment battery can be performed at almost any time, from early adulthood through to late career. With this said, the Sandton Psychology Centre works with school-aged learners choosing subject fields for the first time (approx. 16 years and typically in grade 10), through matriculants choosing a field of study at a tertiary institution and finally to working adults experiencing a career-crossroads or need to re-examine their career choices in later life.
In any career assessment one should expect a range of assessments which test an individual’s ability or interest in a certain area. For example, an interest evaluation such as the Self-Directed Search (SDS) helps an individual to isolate specific areas or fields of interest which have a special significance for them. It also allows for the ranking of these interests so that the individual can see which are the most important and which are least important to them. The simple exercise of noting these preferences can serve to greatly reduce the anxiety of career choice. Although the career assessment process should not, strictly speaking, be prescriptive, a great deal can be gained from the confirmation that individual “X” has a strong preference for art, social affairs and writing. It is highly likely that X, was already aware of this preference but the psychometric confirmation of this can go a long way to helping them recognize their dominant traits and preferences.
This, in turn, raises the question of what should a career evaluation consist of? Although many methods exist and many more are currently being developed, a general rule of thumb specifies interest surveys such as the SDS, Jackson Vocational Interest Survey, or Values Scales; as well as some personality assessment tool such as the 16 Personality Factor Questionnaire or Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. When combined these results can paint a very useful picture of preference and personality type. This is incredibly useful in ascertaining the degree of “fit” an individual may have for a particular occupation. For example, “John” shows a clear preference for outdoors work and a love of animals. His personality traits indicate that his is an extrovert who prefers giving instructions to receiving them. From this it is clear that John’s career path does not lie in a highly structured, hierarchical office environment; working as a game ranger might be a closer fit for this particular individual.
Each career assessment case is unique in this regard and it is only through a systematic process such as this that a skilled psychologist can assist an individual to recognize that their specific set of abilities, knowledge and personality traits may work well in one area or another. Career assessments are not prescriptive either, that is, one should not expect to take an assessment and to be told, “Go and work in accounting.” Again, with each individual being so unique and specialized by their abilities and experiences, the assessment only serves to point a useful, general direction forward, eliminating potentially poor career options and preferencing “best fit” choices for the individual. However, it remains up to the individual to chose their own path.
With an ongoing, therapeutic understanding of this process and its development, working closely with a psychologist can greatly enhance an individual’s ability to mount the typical obstacles of working life as well as to assist the individual in creating a meaningful understanding of their career and the path it is on. Ongoing vocational guidance is essential to this process and is especially useful in the creation of enduring and thoroughgoing life and work choices.