Consultants in the college and career planning industry often use assessment instruments to help the students choose a career direction, or sometimes even a specific career. The most common types of assessments used are ones that measure interests. The problem with using this type of tool is that they don’t work very well for this purpose.

Let me explain.

There are at least three big reasons why using interest assessments for the purpose of choosing a career is a dangerous proposition:

  1. Interests can (and often do) change over time. If you choose a major or college or career based on your highest interests, and then your interests change – what do you do then? Not only can interests change, but they tend to change more often for people who have very limited work experience (think young adults). I use two separate assessment tools when working with students, mainly because the two tool sets measure skills and abilities differently, and because I think more information is better than less when you are making life-changing decisions like what to do for your career. It turns out that both of the tools that I use also measure interests, and they group interests into the same six key categories (the same six that O*Net uses). I have often seen the interests results for the same person come out quite differently on the two assessments, and I conducted a feedback session recently where they were almost in the inverse order!
  2. Interest is not the same thing as skills (or aptitudes). A person’s interests usually have very low predictability when it comes to actual job performance. Think about how many high school athletes you know who want to become professional athletes. Now think of how many of them actually make it to the pros. If you assume that interests are a reliable measure (which 1. above proves they are NOT) for choosing a career, then why don’t more high school athletes become professional athletes? It’s pretty simple – they don’t have the required skill sets, or in many cases the required body type. If a person is doing work that they are interested in they may stay at it longer, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they will be good at it.
  3. Interests can be overrated. When consultants use assessment tools that include multiple categories (which is highly recommended), and interest is one of the categories, it often carries too much weight in the overall career match algorithms (or you can’t tell how much weight they give it). I personally believe that putting more than 20% of the overall weighting on interests is a dangerous approach – especially if you are the one who will be paying for college.

Notice I never said that interests aren’t important. They should always be considered when planning college and career. But don’t fall into the trap that most people do by putting all of your eggs in this basket.