Career Assessments: An Overview

Is there an organization today that isn’t thinking about how to become more effective, efficient, economical, and equitable? Whether large or small, private, public, or not-for-profit, unionized or not, employers’ goals in this competitive global marketplace are all similar: to engage individual employees, to inspire teams to attract and retain satisfied clients, and to be profitable and sustainable.

Employers may be challenged by business needs changing faster than employees’ skills, clients looking for more innovation, managers who aren’t engaging their teams, or employees who are denying or resisting change. While many employers showcase employees, their human capital, as the competitive advantage in strategic plans and annual reports, not all offer the comprehensive training and development or succession planning programs needed to support such claims.

Employees may be challenged by evaluating the pros and cons of a job versus a career, failing to recognize what they’d be interested in doing let alone good at, wanting more purpose in the work they do, or lacking any kind of formal career plan.

I contend that career assessments are viable tools that can help to match employee goals with organizational goals and add measurable value to both employers and employees throughout their relationship. Effective recruitment needs process; unfortunately, career assessments and background checks are the two elements given short shrift in the recruitment process. I think assessments are an upfront investment that ensures the best candidate is hired, placed in the right role, and supported to do the right things well. If recruitment isn’t done well, the impact of every subsequent HR dollar (i.e., on-boarding, training and development, succession planning, and retention) is reduced. In this article, I outline some of the types of career assessment tools that exist, their criteria, who benefits from them, and why, when, where, and how they should be conducted.

Types of Career Assessments

Regardless if you’re an employer or an employee, it is important to know what you need or want the assessment or test to provide as an outcome before you invest in and commit to it. A plethora of assessment tools exist. Below are a few examples.


  • Observes and measures a person’s actual behaviour.

Cognitive Ability

  • Assesses a person’s aptitude or potential to learn quickly, think logically, solve problems, use verbal or mathematical reasoning, and perceptual abilities, such as speed in recognizing patterns.


  • Assesses attitudes and experiences related a person’s honesty, dependability, trustworthiness, reliability, and pro-social behaviour.


  • Measures general intelligence.

Job Knowledge

  • Uses multiple choice and/or essay questions to evaluate technical or professional expertise and knowledge required for specific professions. When one qualifies for a professional designation (e.g., Accounting, Engineering, Human Resources, etc.) this is generally the approach that is used.


  • Measures personality traits like extraversion, conscientiousness, openness to new experiences, optimism, service orientation, stress tolerance, emotional stability, and initiative. These traits are particularly important in team-based workplaces. Personality tends to be a complex combination of genetic, environmental, and social factors.

Physical Ability

  • Requires candidates to actually demonstrate strength, balance, speed, etc. Emergency Medical Services, Fire Fighters, and Police employ such tools.

Work Samples and Simulations

  • Measures specific job knowledge and skills, as well as more general skills, such as analysis, interpersonal, and organization. The simulations involve performing an actual task like creating a document in Word.

Individual Psychological Assessment

  • Consists of professionally developed and validated measures of cognitive abilities, leadership style, and personality, among other things. Typically they have been validated for current positions in accordance with legal and professional guidelines.

Career Assessment Criteria

It is imperative to ensure that the career assessment tool is valid, reliable, bias free, administratively fair, and linked to a bona fide occupational requirement (BFOR). These concepts are outlined below.


  • The assessment measures what it claims to; otherwise, it’s difficult to accurately interpret and apply the results.


  • The results are consistent when the person is retested over time (e.g., every three to five years).

Bias Free

  • The assessment does not adversely impact a certain demographic (i.e., age, gender, race, etc.) or present barriers or prejudices that restrict access to employment or subsequent movement within the organization once hired.

Administratively Fair

  • The assessment or test should be based on the principles of administrative fairness. For example, it needs to be:
    • Clearly defined as to scope, autonomy and accountability
    • Easily accessible and understood
    • Inclusive rather than exclusive
    • Non-discriminatory
    • Consistently interpreted and applied
    • Flexible enough to accommodate individual differences
    • Explained in context
    • Subject to appeal


According to the Canadian Human Rights Commission (, a BFOR is “a standard or rule that is integral to carrying out the functions of a specific position. For a standard to be considered a BFOR, an employer has to establish that any accommodation or changes to the standard would create an undue hardship.”

Who Benefits From a Career Assessment?

There’s no question that both the employer and the employee benefit from a career assessment.


  • Streamline the recruitment, training and development, and/or succession planning processes.
  • Hone in on key abilities, behaviours, characteristics, skills and/or traits that are known to lead to success in the role (e.g., some assessments will benchmark individuals to average and high performers in a specific role).
  • Present information that may otherwise be hard to find.
  • Treat all candidates consistently in a fair, competitive-comparative model.
  • Minimize the actual and opportunity costs of on-boarding, training, development, succession planning, and retention initiatives by investing in the most qualified people.
  • Increase the likelihood of making the right hiring decision.
  • Increase employee engagement and productivity, which, in turn, leads to increased client satisfaction and loyalty as well as organizational sustainability or profitability.
  • Save money over the long term through higher productivity, focused training and development, lower absenteeism and turnover, fewer severance packages, and lower re-recruitment costs.


  • Become more confident of who they are, what they’re interested in, and where they’re most likely to be successful.
  • Take charge of their own careers, rather than depend on the employer’s career development program (if offered).
  • Make more informed decisions whether they pursue a job or a career.
  • Establish a strategic path with clear goals.
  • Clarify what work-life balance means to them.
  • Become more self-actualized.
  • Save money over the long term by pursuing the right certificate, diploma, or degree, and maximizing return on related costs (i.e., tuition, books, living expenses).

The two prime reasons for employers and employees not opting for a career assessment are the actual expenses and opportunity (i.e., time) costs. When you consider the benefits outlined above, the return on investment of choosing an assessment far outweighs any initial objections. Assessments really can and do often lead to win-win solutions.

Why Conduct a Career Assessment?

Assessments provide an objective approach to supplementing information from other sources to help the employers make the best hiring decision and the employee make the best career decision. The better the decision, the more likely the employee is to be positioned for success both in the shorter and longer terms and the greater an employer’s return on investment.

When Should a Career Assessment be used?

Assessments can be introduced at a number of milestones in the employment process, including initial recruitment, training and development, or succession planning. During the recruitment process, assessments are recommended following the identification of the top two candidates. If #1 declines the job offer, then the #2 candidate is at the ready. For training, development, and succession planning, assessment results provide excellent background for coaching, mentoring, and personal growth.

Where Are Career Assessments Conducted?

Assessments can be conducted on-site (either at the employer’s or facilitator’s venue) or self-administered on-line. Interpretation of results is usually best when discussed face-to-face, but Skype, phone, and e-mail can also be considered, if more practical.

How Does One Choose the Most Appropriate Career Assessment?

Each person you consult is likely to champion a particular tool. Some assessments combine a number of the factors cited above. Over the past seven years, I’ve tracked the career assessments people have tried before they come to me. Currently my list is at 55 examples and growing. Reflect on the assessments you’ve offered or taken. You’ve likely tried at least one of Campbell Interest and Skill Survey, DISC, Kolbe Concept, Myers Briggs Type Indicator, Predictive Index, Strong Interest Inventory, or True Colours.

I’d recommend that you clarify what behaviours and traits have led to success in a particular role in the past and research possible assessments and tools that will help you confirm them in prospective candidates.

  • Do you need a cheap and cheerful model to filter out high numbers of candidates for more junior roles? Check out the free, on-line, and self-administered tools through government programs and independent suppliers.
  • Do you want a more comprehensive model for a lower number of candidates for more senior roles? An individual psychological assessment may be more appropriate. This typically involves a fee, is “live,” and is interpreted by a certified practitioner.

Fortunately, the days of “test batteries” that took days to administer and interpret are no longer necessary. New tools can be quite effective, efficient, and economical.


As discussed in this article, there are a number of career assessment types, criteria, and factors to consider when conducting a career assessment. Selecting the assessment that will best meet your needs is critical. While career assessments are an investment, I believe that they can be effective, efficient, and economical resources for both employers and employees.



Canadian Human Rights Commission, “Bona Fide Occupational Requirement,” last updated August 18, 2011,


About the Author

Lee Anderson

Lee Anderson has been the Principal of Lee Anderson & Associates since 2000. Her practice focuses on Career Assessment and Coaching, Organizational Effectiveness, and Strategic Human Resources Management. She cruised through her corporate career having taken a number of assessments but never quite got around to consolidating the data into a strategic career plan. She wishes she’d been more proactive sooner. She is a certified practitioner of the Pathfinder Career System to which she was introduced in 2005. It has had a profound effect on why she became certified, how she facilitates Pathfinder, and what impact Pathfinder has on clients.

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