How to Use Personality Assessments to Find a Career You Love
There are three kinds of people in this world:
Those that love personality assessments,
Those that hate personality assessments, and
Those that refuse to choose because they don’t want to be labeled
Personality assessments sometimes get a bad rap, but when used correctly, they provide valuable insight into your preferences, strengths, and interests.
That’s why they’re often the first stop on the Career Change Express. And the Career Leadership Express. And the Career Advancement Express. And, basically, any Personal Development train you're on.
They’re effective tools because they shift your brain from what you have been doing to what you like to do and want to do in the future.
But, as with all tools, they have their limitations.
I often hear objections like, “The assessment was spot on, but how do I use it to find a j-o-b?”
It's critical to understand how assessments can help and hinder you when it comes to your next career move.
Here are my three favorite assessments and how to best use them in your career exploration—whether you’re trying to find a better job or do your job better.
Use Assessments To Get Clues, Not the Ultimate Answer
Before we dive into the assessments themselves, here are some ideas to keep in mind.
A. Understand the context
With all assessments, context is key.
Your environment can skew the results because it predisposes you to work a certain way or rewards specific behaviors. Likewise, your own biases can come into play—either because you think a certain answer is more desirable or because you’re looking for a complete departure from what you have.
The best advice I ever received about taking assessments was to complete them outside of work with a glass of wine. Whether you decide to imbibe or not, the point is to remove yourself from unconscious workplace influences. You want to understand how you operate ideally, so you find the right fit.
I once did Myers-Briggs with a team of 15 people. They all came up as having the "Judging" trait, which is loosely about clarity, control, closure, and planning. This makes sense, as we were a team of Project Managers, where those traits were critical to their success.
The problem? It was clear that many on the team were "Perceivers," which is all about options, possibilities, and flexibility. In this case, their roles overrode their actual preferences—whether they thought the "Judging" answers would have been better received or unconsciously picked the answers more closely aligned with the requirements of the role.
B. Don’t get caught up in the labels
Use your assessment results as a springboard to understand how you can apply them to your career. They are simply a starting point for you to use in a way that works for you.
Don't get caught up in the labels. Or how you wish you could be. Or what is "right." Or what you think is most marketable or valuable.
Give me any strength or personality type, and we can figure out multiple ways to market it and find a career that honors it.
Assessments hold critical clues to what will make you happy in your career. Yet many people ask me to validate that they chose the "right" answers or that organizations will see their strengths as desirable. The only wrong answer is ignoring the clues the assessment is handing to you.
Once you get the results, get curious! The assessments play back the answers you gave. Rather than dismissing an answer you don’t like or accepting it at face-value, go deeper. What might be going on that brought that answer to the fore?
C. You are not your assessment
Just because you show up with a certain type or strength or disposition, doesn’t mean you can’t operate any differently. These assessments show your interests, tendencies, and preferences. They are not the sum total of your abilities nor are they a measure of what you can achieve.
Now, let's explore the assessments!
1. 16 Personalities
Although the name of this test could be used to describe the variation in mood swings I experience on any given day as an entrepreneur, 16 Personalities is actually a personality test based on Myers-Briggs, which is based on Carl Jung’s theories of personality.
You can take the free test here.
The test uses 5 different spectrums:
Mind – How you interact with your surroundings (Introvert vs Extravert)
Energy – How you see the world & process info (Observant vs Intuitive)
Nature– How you make decisions & cope with emotions (Thinking vs Feeling)
Tactics – How you approach work & decision-making (Judging vs Prospecting)
Identity – How confident you are in your abilities (Assertive vs Turbulent)
Great. Now what do you do with this information once you have it?
Many people make the mistake of trying to use it to directly divine their profession. While this might work for some, it can also be too constrictive or too plain nebulous to draw a straight line from the assessment results to a job title.
I’m an INTJ, and according to 16 personalities, I’d make a great engineer, lawyer, or freelance consultant. Blech. I hate all of those!
Plus, reading the descriptions at face value kind of sounds like INTJ’s should be locked away in a room, isolated from other humans, as they scheme and plot their way to world domination.
There are a lot of elements in that description that totally resonate. But, there are nuances and other clues I've gathered elsewhere that help me understand how I want to apply those tendencies.
If I hadn’t dug deeper, I never would have found my way to becoming a Coach.
I used the assessment initially to find clues about HOW I like to work:
Maximizing creativity and focus without repeated interruptions from questioning colleagues and meetings-happy supervisors (Yup)
Low-profile but influential role (Absolutely)
Complex strategy, progress & evolution, new challenges & theories (Uh huh)
Rejecting authority of those who hold me back (Eek, but sounds about right)
My current role as a business-owner ticks all these boxes, but so did various roles in management consulting and corporate COO. The key was to focus first on HOW I like to work, then look for roles where the WHAT was also appealing.
For most of my corporate roles, WHAT I worked on was much less important than HOW I did it. I didn’t mind being plugged in anywhere as long as I could work HOW I wanted to work. That being said, running a coaching business is my dream job because it combines the WHAT and HOW I love.
Your turn. Take the 16 Personalities Assessment and mine your own descriptors for clues as to your HOW.
Think in terms of what you'd like the following to look like:
Interactions with your boss and co-workers (…if you even want them)
Interactions with your clients/customers
Flow of work, and where you fit into the process
Your place in the organization (in terms of influence, not org chart)
How you spend your time
Once you have a clear sense of HOW you want to work, before you look at another job description, get super clear on a few potential WHAT’s to support your HOW.
Your WHAT can be:
The impact you want to make
The people you want to serve
A cause you want to further
A goal you want to reach or help others reach
What you spend your time on
2. CliftonStrengths Assessment
The CliftonStrengths Assessment helps you tap into the best version of yourself. It uses 34 strengths across 4 domains: Strategic Thinking, Executing, Relationship Building, and Influencing.
(No, you don’t need to lay out extra cash for all 34 strengths. This will muddy the waters and dilute the power of your top 5.)
The CliftonStrengths assessment focuses on understanding what you’re uniquely good at. It’s a great way to help you find a career that capitalizes on what you—and only you—bring to the table.
If your organization still gives semi-annual performance evaluations, you might have noticed that there are some things you're not particularly good at that tend to show up year after year regardless of how hard you work to address them.
Many organizations focus on the gap à la, “If only you could do x, we’d be happy to promote you,” or “Focus on fixing y if you want leadership to take you seriously.”
While I’m an absolute believer in identifying and addressing the blind spots that keep you from getting what you want, it’s far easier to become great at something you’re already good at rather than trying to be good at something you’re not.
Enter CliftonStrengths. It helps you target the ways of working that you’re best at (and likely that come most naturally to you). By starting with your strengths, you can zero in on the roles, organizations, and people that put a premium on what you already do best and screen out the ones that don't.
Here are the specific areas of focus to zero in on the type of work that plays to your strengths.
Identify strengths that you also enjoy
As I mentioned earlier, assessment results can be skewed based on the context of your environment: the culture, the role, the people, and other circumstances.
High-achievers are often recognized for strengths we don’t actually enjoy. Because you’re so good at so many things, you can quickly become associated with a particular type of work because you do it well. That doesn’t mean you enjoy it. Yet the more you do it well, the more you develop a reputation for work you may be really good at but doesn't serve you.
For each strength, go as deep as possible to find specific examples where the strength was honored and where you enjoyed working in it.
Sometimes it’s just about focusing your strength on the right type of work, but sometimes it’s that you really don’t like working in that strength.
Early in my career, I happened to be good at program delivery, but I found the details anxiety-inducing and the inexorable march to the due date mind-numbing. I realized I prefer to work with the bigger picture, design the solution, then hand off to someone who revels in thinking through the details and shepherding projects across the finish line. Once I knew this, I could draw the dividing line between work I loved and work that drained me.
It’s the difference between finding work you CAN do as opposed to work you LOVE to do. It’s the latter we want, so if the only time a strength shows up is in work that you don’t enjoy, drop it.
Put strengths in terms that are meaningful to you…and communicate your value
Another mistake people make is not moving beyond the label to understand how that strength is unique to them. For example, “strategic” might show up as a top 5 strength for many people. But how you’re strategic versus how I’m strategic can look very different. It’s that difference that sets you apart. And that difference can lead to career unhappiness if you’re not clear on how you apply this strategic skill.
Put your skills into your own terms by asking, in what ways do I enjoy being strategic? What do I like about it? What are the examples where I felt the most free to be strategic?
Part of the reason people struggle with these labels is that they don’t know how to translate them into descriptive language that is meaningful to them and helps others understand.
For example, Person A walks into to an interview and explains that they’re “an innovative, strategic thinker.” Person B walks into an interview and explains, “I can’t help but save companies money and make their processes much more efficient.”
As a hiring manager, I would get a very clear snapshot of what Person B does and the value she brings. This pithy description is far richer than buzzwords we typically see on CVs or use to describe our strengths in interviews.
Note: those things you “can’t help but do” are often strengths you enjoy and can be clues as elements you want to bring into your new role.
Understand how your strengths work together
Don’t just look at your strengths individually; examine how they work together to form a way of working that is completely unique to you.
A person who is great at spotting relevant paths and issues by inspiring others with a vision for the future (“strategic" and “futuristic” strengths) will likely want different career attributes than someone who is great at spotting relevant paths and issues by understanding the present through researching its history (“strategic” and “context” strengths).
3. Energy Leadership Index Assessment
This is my favorite assessment, and the only one I require as part of my coaching. Why?
The Energy Leadership Index (ELI) measures leadership potential. While 16 Personalities and CliftonStrengths give you great clues as to what strengths and preferences you can leverage as a leader, they don’t really give you a path to how to lead better.
Energy Leadership helps you understand what energizes you and depletes you in the context of your career. I use it to help clients manage the career transition process and succeed as leaders once they make their move.
The ELI is an attitudinal assessment, so it gives you a snapshot of how you typically lead, and provides a framework to choose how you consciously lead in any situation. It’s about recognizing how much power you truly have to create the career, life, and day-to-day circumstances you want.
I use the Energy Leadership approach because I want my clients to be great leaders of themselves and others—even once they land their dream roles.
It highlights your strengths, but also illuminates how those strengths can show up as blind spots...and actually work against you in the wrong context.
I first took this assessment almost five years ago, and I still use it every day because it’s given me a framework (INTJ’s love a good framework) to choose what perspective I want to bring to any situation.
If you’re interested in understanding more about taking the ELI assessment and designing an action plan to take control of your career, sign up here.
What's Your Favorite Assessment?
While I've just shared my favorite assessments, there's no single assessment that will give you all the answers and lead you directly to the perfect career.
The key is to use assessments as a starting point, then do the work to dig deeper into understanding yourself and what you want to bring to your role, organization, and people you serve.
I'd love to hear about your favorite assessment or any other tool you've used to help guide you with your career decisions.
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