Rich Feller, Ph.D, Colorado State University
August 9, 2018 | U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation
What Do You Love To Do?
It’s a question that drives career planning nationwide. That seemingly harmless probe is the assumption behind interest-only assessments, which have historically dominated career guidance efforts. However, these assessments are failing employers and students.
Interest-Only Assessments Lead You Astray
Too often, interest assessments make people believe, “If I do what I love, the money will follow” – a message that actually can make people less successful, since it narrows one’s focus and suggests an easy path.
Interest assessment and “following your passion” can lead to tunnel vision and limit exploration. Asking what people do and don’t like involves subjective interpretations influenced by societal norms and exposure. For example, kids might mistakenly believe computer jobs are for nerds or think construction jobs are for men because of stereotypes on TV or in the movies.
These biases or uninformed beliefs can be reinforced by interest assessments, leading young people to ignore entire swaths of career fields and pursue jobs that may not align with their natural abilities or the demands of the workforce. This can lead to misguided education planning and higher college debt.
Following Your Passion is Half Right.
The other half requires identifying performance-measured aptitudes to build the talent pipeline and stronger communities.
The truth is, we are not always good at the things we’re interested in. This may be why Gallup data from 2017 shows half of adults who pursued or completed a postsecondary degree ended up changing their major or degree type or switching institutions altogether.
At a time when student debt continues to rise and 30 percent of undergraduates change majors at least once within three years of enrolling, it’s clear we need to reassess traditional thinking about college and career planning.
If students believe computer jobs are for nerds or construction jobs are dirty, they may avoid classes and work-based learning opportunities based on these subjective interpretations, which can mean they ultimately miss out on a chance to learn about and leverage their natural talents. A 2018 report from Stanford University found that a single-passion focus creates a “close-mindedness” to new areas of interests, and the notion of “fixed interests” can easily discount and underutilize natural talents.
Meaningful Career Opportunities
As co-author of an interest-based assessment used by over 20 million students, I know many schools rely solely on interest-only tools as the foundation for career guidance. And I’ve seen firsthand that those interest-only assessments not only guide students away from in-demand career opportunities, but they also fail to provide meaningful insights to inform curriculum and generate talent data needed by area employers.
Fortunately, comprehensive, technology-rich aptitude-based tools, such as the YouScience program currently employed in several states and throughout the Georgia public school system, can help set young people on a more direct path to successfully pursue meaningful career opportunities.
Aptitudes Align with In-Demand Jobs
A 2016 statewide Georgia YouScience pilot compared 11,478 students’ aptitudes with their interest-based career recommendations. The results underscore the fact that interest-only assessments steer students away from the modern economy.
When students’ interests were the basis for career guidance, 86 percent of the recommended jobs were in fields like arts and entertainment, education, social work, and life sciences. None of the top interest-based career recommendations directed students toward high-demand fields, such as manufacturing, construction, computer programming, and engineering. Yet the YouScience aptitude assessment confirmed over 56 percent of the students had the natural talent for jobs in those high-demand fields.
Unlike interest-only assessments, aptitude measures can expand students’ awareness of career opportunities and better understand how their natural abilities align with modern careers in previously unexplored fields. In turn, this can increase students’ confidence and encourage exploration, which solidifies the connection between passion, potential, and future career satisfaction and prosperity.
Follow Your Passion?
Mark Cuban says one of the great lies of life is “Follow your passion.” Focusing on a limited number of careers based on interest-only assessments makes people less likely to consider new areas, which is detrimental to employers seeking the best from all of those within local communities.
When aptitude performance is measured and connected to self-reported interests, employers will find a larger worker pool capable of and interested in filling the talent pipeline.