What is an Interest Inventory?

How to Choose a Career Based on Your Likes and Dislikes

Woman with surfing board on rocky beach
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When you go to the beach, do you prefer to spend your day reading or surfing? Would you rather build a bookshelf or balance a checkbook? Which sounds better to you: completing a project independently or doing it as part of a team?

There are no right or wrong answers to any of these questions. Your responses merely indicate your likes and dislikes, for example, which activities you enjoy or don't, what type of work you like to do or prefer not to, and how you want to work.

These preferences are called interests.

Many years ago, psychologists realized that people working in the same occupation share similar interests. With that in mind, they deduced that discovering an individual's interests could help him or her find a suitable career. Psychologists now had a goal: find a way to learn about people's interests.

Interest Inventories to the Rescue

In 1927, E.K. Strong, a psychologist, developed the first interest inventory, a tool used to measure individuals' interests and compare them to those of people working in various occupations. It was called the Strong Vocational Interest Blank.

This tool has seen many revisions and name changes over the years. It is now called the Strong Interest Inventory (SII), and it remains one of the most popular self assessment tools that career development professionals use today. There are other interest inventories on the market as well, including the Kuder Occupational Interest Survey, Self-Directed Search, and the Campbell Interest and Skill Survey.

How to Take an Interest Inventory

A career counselor or other career development professional can administer an interest inventory as part of a complete self assessment which should also look at things such as your personality type, aptitudes, and work values. You will have to fill out a questionnaire containing a series of items about your likes and dislikes.

These items may measure, for example, your interests regarding leisure activities, work-related activities, people with whom you prefer to work, and school subjects. To get the most accurate results, it is important that you respond to each item as honestly as possible. There are no right or wrong answers, and the counselor won't judge you based on your choices.

When responding to items related to work-related activities, do not worry about whether or not you have training or a particular skill. For the purposes of completing an interest inventory, that doesn't matter. All you are being asked at this point is whether that activity is of interest to you. There will be plenty of time later on, as you begin to explore your options, to decide whether or not you want to become skilled in a particular area.

Getting and Understanding Your Results

After completing an interest inventory, you will receive a report containing your results. The professional who administered the inventory should go over it with you and help you make sense of it. Your report should include a list of occupations that may be suitable for someone with your interests.

Some of those occupations will appeal to you while others won't.

It is important to remember that just because an occupation shows up in the results of an interest inventory or other self assessment tool, that doesn't necessarily mean it's the best choice for you. Before you choose a career, you must carefully explore your options. An occupation may not be suitable for you for a variety of reasons regardless of the fact that you share interests with other people who work in it.

How to Discover Your Interests on the Cheap

If you want to try using an interest inventory on your own, there are some free or low coast ones available. The Self-Directed Search (SDS), published by PAR (Psychological Assessment Resources, Inc.), can be accessed online for a small fee. After completing the assessment, you will receive a printable report containing a list of occupations that most closely match your interests.

The O*Net Interest Profiler is a free assessment that is one of the several tools that are part of O*Net Online, a project sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor/Employment and Training Administration. There are a few versions of the Interest Profiler including a short-form web-based one, a mobile one, and a pen and pencil version that you can print out at home.

Career Cruising is an assessment tool that many public libraries make available to their patrons. It generates a list of occupations after a user answers questions about his or her interests. One can then explore those careers from within the Career Cruising database. Check with the reference staff at your local library to see if they subscribe to this resource.

Sources:
Donnay, David A. C. "E. K. Strong's Legacy and Beyond: 70 Years of the Strong Interest Inventory." Career Development Quarterly. September 1997.
Zunker, Vernon G. and Norris, Debra S. Using Assessment Results for Career Development. Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole Publishing Company. 1997.

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