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(CareerBuilder.com) -- As a child, you were sure you were going to grow up to be a cowboy, but somewhere between waking up for Saturday morning cartoons and staying up for Conan, however, you traded in your cowboy hat for a briefcase.
While it's fine that you never became a cowboy, you can't say that you've ever pursued anything with the same passion you once had for life on the open range.
For whatever reason, you sort of just "fell" into the job you have today, and honestly, you're less than thrilled. So why stay?
If you've ever considered changing jobs or careers, you're not alone.
Results from a recent CareerBuilder.com survey indicate that three quarters of American workers have changed career paths at least once, and one third of American workers are interested in changing careers right now.
With one in five workers having utilized them, career assessment tests ranked among the most popular methods respondents used to research a new job (in addition to exploring web sites and consulting with friends and family, former co-workers and others in the industry).
Despite their popularity, however, how effective are career assessment tests in helping people find jobs that they're not only good at, but passionate about as well?
"An assessment can be very useful in conjunction with other activities to help a person find or create the best path," says Gayle Lantz, an organizational development consultant who specializes in leadership and career development.
She says there are a variety of career assessments in the marketplace, some more helpful than others; however, the majority of the problem people encounter with career assessments is not the tests themselves, but how people use them.
Andrea Kay, career consultant and author of Life's a Bitch and Then You Change Careers: 9 Steps to Get Out of Your Funk and on to Your Future, agrees.
"Most people are looking for short-cuts to find just the right career and are hoping that a test will be their answer," she says.
Approaching a test in this manner, however, will only lead to disappointment. In her experience, tests don't give people the necessary information needed to make a wise career decision.
But while they might not be a magic bullet, Kay admits that tests can be effective in giving people ideas of possible careers that might match their skills and interests, get them thinking about how well-suited they might be for a particular career, and measure their interests, skills or values.
Steve Boller, the director and head career coach of the career guidance program The Oxford Program, offers the following tips to help people make the best use of career assessment tests.
Don't expect a career assessment to point you to your dream job. Most career tests measure one aspect of a person, such as interests, personality or aptitude, and the results are merely suggestions based on that one area of assessment.
Just because a person has an interest in marine biology doesn't mean he or she has the natural abilities for the work.
Do make sure the test meets the two primary criteria: valid and reliable.
Validity indicates how well the test measures what it says it measures, and if a test is reliable, the results of the test will be consistent if taken multiple times.
Do give honest answers. If an individual consciously or subconsciously answers questions to fit an outcome he or she has in mind, the results will not be very useful.
While realizing your dream job may be more than just a filled-out Scantron sheet away, career assessment tests can be extremely valuable in giving people a jump start in choosing career paths that fit their interests, best utilize their skills or match their personalities.
According to Lantz, "What is most important is making sure you understand the purpose of the assessment and work with a professional who is skilled in helping interpret results." E-mail to a friend
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