Vocational Interest Inventories: Definition, Pros & Cons

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Finding that perfect job is never easy. In this lesson, we'll talk about vocational interest inventories and see how these tests are designed to help students plan for their futures.

Vocational Interest Inventories

What is your dream?
What do you want to be when you grow up?
What's your ideal career? Why?

These are questions that some people spend their entire lives trying to answer. They ask themselves, ''What do I want to do?'' We all need to work, but we also want to enjoy our lives. It can be a tough balance if you're not in the right field.

Well, in an effort to help people find the careers that will make them the happiest, many high schools now administer some form of vocational interest inventory. A vocational interest inventory is a test used to help people identify their interests and the fields that match them. In some cases, they can also help outline a path to getting there, including desirable college majors or required work experience.

The goal is to help everyone answer that one question we've asked ourselves longer than nearly any other: What do I want to be?

How It Works

There are many types of vocational interest inventories out there and not all of them are reliable. Some just ask participants to list their interests, but don't have a consistent rubric for analyzing them.

The best vocational interest inventories are those that are rooted in psychological research, particularly the work of John Holland. Holland was a psychologist who researched personalities. He developed a theory that people in our culture fall into one of six vocational personalities, which is your personality as it applies to work habits.

The six personalities are:

  • Realistic
  • Investigative
  • Artistic
  • Social
  • Enterprising
  • Conventional

When people of similar vocational personalities work together, they create a work environment to meet their needs. Holland therefore described six workplace environments of the same names.

The best vocational interest inventories are designed to match people's vocational personalities with professions that occur in matching or complimentary workplace environments. Most of these tests have been designed by psychologists or statisticians and use a wide range of formulas to apply Holland's theories. Tests that are widely accepted as credibly applying Holland's personalities include the Self-Directed Search (designed by Holland himself), the Career Key, the Vocational Preference Inventory, the Strong Interest Inventory, the Campbell Interest and Skills Survey, and the UNIACT.

Pros and Cons

Like all forms of assessment, vocational interest inventories have their pros and cons. Let's start with the pros.

Many people find value in these tests because they can help students focus on their interests and prepare a plan for their future. Someone who takes a vocational interest test is never obligated to obey the results; it's not like you forfeit your ability to choose your own career path by taking the test. All that it is meant to do is to help people understand their interests and provide a framework for finding a career that is statistically likely to match their personalities. For many people, these tests do just that.

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