Many mid-life professionals who see a career change begin with assessments. I believe our culture encourages testing. We like to look at numbers; after all, we measure cholesterol and lung capacity so why not measure career aptitude?

Experienced scientists and statisticians will be skeptical of any tests because:

(a) Some things can't be measured directly. For instance, it is really hard to assess "happiness." Therefore we use what scientists call surrogate measures.

A career test can't measure things like "energy," especially if you're just using pencil and paper.

How do I know? Many years ago I took a test that included questions about sports, especially football and baseball. At the time I didn't even follow sports. The test interpretation suggested I wasn't a very active person, although I was taking aerobics three times a week and walking everywhere.

(b) All tests - even the most sophisticated medical tests - have false negatives and false positives. Unfortunately it's difficult to tell if a career test is accurate, let alone the percentage of errors.

(c) As you spend time in a career, your beliefs, values and attitudes will come to resemble those of your colleagues. As a result, when you take a test, you will most likely find you are extremely well-suited to the career you have now!

(d) Personality and personal qualities are rarely correlated with specific careers, although they may be associated with a corporate culture. Additionally, many experts believe personality is more of a state than a trait. You may be an introvert in some situations and an extravert in others.

(e) Choosing a career field is just the beginning. Let's say you like numbers and you want to become an accountant. But you hold back. You say, "I am really an outgoing person. Maybe I should be in sales instead."

The truth is that accountants market themselves - not as aggressively as used car sales reps, but they do have client presentations and meetings. They often are expected to socialize with clients. Additionally, once you get your degree, you may become an accounting professor, consultant or seminar leader.

Alternatively you may decide to be a doctor because you are fascinated by the human body, your manual dexterity is high and you love science. In today's world, you also need people skills. An anesthesiologist told me, "People are nervous when they go into surgery. Most of us learn to be comedians so we can help them relax and feel comfortable."

So what can you do instead of assessments?

When I work with clients, nearly always we uncover some things they *really* want to do. Often we need a few sessions to bring these ideas out into the open.

If you're generally stymied, you can begin a pattern of broad exploration. In my experience, you are most likely to find a new career through a combination of serendipity, luck and lots of attention to the environment.

Author's Bio: 

Cathy Goodwin, Ph.D., consults with mid-life professionals who want a realistic, "get it done" approach to career change and career "career expert" on national media, she has unique expertise in combining career change with relocation and education. Cathy combines stellar credentials with experience, research and a uniquely irreverent sense of humor.