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The Theories Behind Career Tests

What Does It Mean?

If you do a search online for career tests you will find terms like; career test, career aptitude test, career assessment test, self-assessment test, career personality test, and pre-employment test. But what do all these words mean and what are the theories behind them.


Let’s start with the easiest one, delf-assessment versus pre-employment. Self-assessment means a test you take on your own to try and figure out what direction would best suit you when it comes to career choices, while pre-employment is a test you take as part of the job application process. Both of these test types can be aptitude, assessment, or personality tests. So let’s look at the definition of the three words.

Aptitude means your natural ability to do something, your suitability, or fitness.
the evaluation or estimation of the nature, or quality, of someone or something ability
the combination of characteristics, or qualities, that form an individual’s distinctive character.

So both the aptitude and assessment tests measure your capability now and in the future for doing things. For example are you a number’s or a word person? Are you analytic? Maybe you are technically inclined?
The personality tests aim to find out your strengths, weaknesses, and interests.

The Four Theories

So let’s take a look at the four theories that are the most common to build these tests on. I will look at Myer Brigg’s Type Indicator (MBTI), the Big Five, the Holland Code, and DISC.
Ich the surface of them, but I am planning on doing a series of articles about MBTI, where I go more into depth what it means.
So let’s start by taking a quick look at MBTI

Myer-Briggs Type Indicator

The original theory was created by Katherine Cook Briggs and her daughter Isabel Briggs Myer and is based on psychiatrist Carl Jung’s work.
It is built on four different scales, where you lean more to one side or the other. from this you build 16 different personality types as a combination of the four scales.
The scales are;

  • Extraversion (E) —– (I) Introversion
  • Sensing (S) —– (N) Intuition
  • Thinking (T) —– (F) Feeling
  • Judging (J) —– (P) Percieving

I will, later on, do a series about Myer Briggs Type Indicator where I go into detail about the four scales, the 16 personality types, as well as the pros and cons of the theory.

The Big Five

The Big Five, also called the Five-Factor, propose that the human personality can be measured by five major dimensions;

  • Openness; your openness towards new ideas and experiences
  • Conscientiousness; your level of goal orientation and persistence
  • Extraversion; your inclination to seek stimulation from the outside world, and from other people
  • Agreeableness; to what extension a person prioritize the needs of others over their own
  • Neuroticism; the tendency to respond to stressors with negative emissions, fear, sadness, anxiety, guilt, and shame

The Holland Code

This is a set of personality types developed by psychologist John L. Holland in the 1970s. His thought was that people and work environments could be matched together for the best fit. He described six interest areas, where most people are a combination of two or three of them. These two or three is what constitutes your Holland Code.
the interest areas are;

  • (R) Realistic – practical and hands-on
  • (I) Investigative – analytical, thinker
  • (A) Artistic – creative, independent
  • (S) Social – cooperative, helping
  • (E) Enterprising – competitive, leadership
  • (C) Conventional – detail-oriented, organizing

from these sic interest areas you could build 720 different combinations, but usually, a person is represented by two or three of these.


The DISC system is built upon Psychologist William Moulton’s definition of four basic personality types, which he described in his book Emotions of Normal People in 1928.
He did not create the theory but many test publisher has used the concept as a ground for their tests. The four basic personality types are;

  • Dominance – a blunt, see the big picture personality that accepts challenges
  • Inducement – an enthusiastic, optimistic, and collaborative personality type
  • Submission – a calm, no rush, and supportive personality type
  • Compliance – this personality type is independent, objective and detailed

We all have parts of all four personality types within us but usually one or two of them are more dominant.

Should You Take The Test?

Only you can answer that question, but none of these tests will tell you what kind of work you should do for the rest of your life and be happy. And that is not the intention of the tests. But I think there are points in our life where a test like this can be inspirational and somewhat helpful.
If you are very early in your career, maybe still in school, and have absolutely no idea what direction you want to take for your career choice, you might learn something useful about yourself from these tests.
If you feel that you are stuck in an industry you don’t belong in, or just tired of the work you are at at the moment, this can be inspirational as well.
But I suggest that you maybe take a couple of different tests built on different theories.

Should You Give The Test?

When it comes to the pre-employment test there are both advantages and disadvantages, and you as an employer have to weigh those against each other.

The advantages of using a pre-employment test as part of the hiring process are; it can assess if a candidate fits into your company’s culture, it can help you understand what will keep your employees motivated, it can be seen as fair, and it can prevent you from putting the wrong person in the wrong position.
The negative aspects are; it can be costly to use, it can also be very time consuming, and the reliability of the test itself can be questionable, as well as the accuracy of the candidates’ answers, do they answer truthfully or do they answer what they think your company wants to hear?

My Final Thoughts

As I said I think these tests can help us learn things about our selves. There are plenty of different tests of this kind on the market, both free and paid, and I hope that with this short explanation of the theories behind them that you will be able to make a more informed decision whether this is for you. If you do take the tests I would suggest taking a couple of them built on different theories to get a more differentiated picture.
As always, if you are interested in watching my video on the topic it will be listed below.