Career Aptitude Tests, Job Quizzes, and Online Assessments, Oh My!: Which Ones to Use and When to Use Them


Let me start by saying that I don’t love career aptitude tests.

By all means, take my opinion with a grain of salt. I’m no expert in career aptitude tests and am not familiar with all the hundreds of different ones out there. Everything I know about job quizzes and online assessments comes from working with coaching clients to help them find work they love, asking colleagues for recommendations, and doing some light investigating of my own.

I don’t love career aptitude tests for a few reasons:

  1. For a lot of them, you have to know what you prefer before you even take them. While that seems like it should be obvious, it really isn’t for most of us. I’ve spent years studying my own career preferences, but I would still have a hard time telling you if I’d rather be a nautical engineer or a lawyer.
  2. Most of them will give you lots of answers and suggestions to choose from; ie, you still have to know which one to choose.
  3. They do nothing to help you with what’s most important to finding fulfilling work: discovering more about yourself and learning how to recognize what your inner wisdom is pointing you towards. In some ways, they’re just something/someone else telling you what you “should” do, and that’s hardly ever helpful in my opinion.

Okay, now that I’ve gotten my timid opinions out of the way, I do have something more useful to offer. Because there are a few career aptitude tests that I think can possibly be useful. For some people. At times. (There, did I qualify that enough?)

Here are the most useful assessments I’ve found, along with when to use them:

Clifton StrengthsFinder

It’s hard to see your own greatest strengths clearly, so an online test can be a great tool to help out. StrengthsFinder is a short, relatively inexpensive assessment that can help you pinpoint your superpowers. If you’re not sure what you’re best at, or you don’t like using the skills you’ve developed thus far, consider taking this assessment. I’ve had several clients who have gotten valuable new insights from their results.

Highlands Ability Battery 

To be fully transparent, I’ve never done this test. One of its downsides is that it can only be administered by a certified consultant, and as such, it’s quite expensive. I include it here for three reasons:

  1. It comes highly recommended to me by people I respect;
  2. It’s an alternative way to find out what you’re really good at; and
  3. It’s the only test I’m aware of that actually asks you to perform certain tasks as a way of assessing your strengths.

If you’re truly at a loss for what you’re good at and most assessments confuse you and/or you have an unusually difficult time knowing which answer fits you, then this might be a great alternative for you.

Imperative’s Individual Purpose Diagnostic

[UPDATE: Unfortunately, Imperative removed this diagnostic tool from their website indefinitely. I’ll keep this up in hopes that they bring it back someday.]

Getting clear on your purpose at work can also be tricky. This assessment, which has a free and a paid version, aims to help you get clear on what motivates and is meaningful to you. All in all, it does a good job. Since it’s free, there’s no harm in taking it, and some of my clients have found the results helpful. The downside is that it’s a short test and, in my experience, not wholly accurate. While generally not enough on its own to fully clarify your purpose in the world, it can be a good tool that can get you closer.


Open Source Psychometrics Project (free)
Career Key ($12.95)
Strong Profile ($10)

When to use it: John Holland, an American psychologist, came up with 6 different personality types that he then tied to certain types of occupations. There are a lot of tests out there that use his RIASEC system to suggest careers based on your personality and preferences (see the very partial list above). I find the primary value in these tests to be the list of career ideas they give you at the end. When you’re already clear about what’s important to you to have in your next job, these tests can help you think of occupations you may have forgotten about or perhaps didn’t even know existed. (Did you know for example, that there are medical transcriptionists? I did not.)

I would not, however, look to one of these assessments to determine what type of occupation I would be happy in. There are much more effective tools out there for that.


When to use it: The Career Management Report is good for identifying ideal work environments, easy ways to talk about your strengths, and possible job categories to look into based on your preferences and interests. It can also give you insights into your needs and behavior patterns at work and the strengths and limitations of each. This is another test that has to be conducted by a “Birkman expert,” so it’s a little pricey. If you’re eager to get to know your work style better and don’t mind paying for it, this might be the assessment for you.

The Enneagram

When to use it: Okay, so this isn’t technically a career aptitude test. It’s more of a personality typing test, but it’s actually my favorite assessment of all. I can say with 100% conviction that I believe that everyone can benefit from this test at any time in their career transition. Yes, I feel that strongly about it.

The Enneagram is made up of 9 different personality types, each with its strengths and limitations. What I love about this assessment is it points out not just what we do, but why we do it. It also recognizes that we are amazing, incredible, brilliant people who happen to choose some strategies along the way in life that sometimes get in our way. It also takes into account our inherent complexity and doesn’t pigeon-hole us as much as some other assessments do.

On the practical side, the Enneagram doesn’t so much suggest careers for us (but as you know, I’m not a fan of that anyway). What it does do is gently help us see our patterns and the ways we get in our own way. And in my experience, the reason that so many of us are feeling stuck in work we don’t like is that we’re getting in our own way. The Enneagram points out our strategies, helps us see where they’re serving us well and where they might be limiting us, and offers alternative ways of approaching things that can help us find what we’re looking for.

As you can see, I like the Enneagram a lot and have found it to be an incredibly powerful tool in helping people find their calling and move into work they love. But the best part of all may be that the short test is free  and the long test is only $12.  (And just so you know, I won’t receive any money if you decide to buy the test; this isn’t that kind of recommendation.)

So that’s what I’ve got. But I’m curious: did I miss one? Is there a career aptitude test or assessment that’s helped you that you think should be on the list? If so, I’d love to hear about it, so please get in touch and let me know.

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