The Role of Career Assessment Inventories in Career Counselling/Education


by Denise Hughes

One of the primary components that many career counsellors and practitioners rely upon is the administration of career assessment inventories. Often this takes place early in the process to assist students, clients, or job seekers in focussing their job search strategies and/or educational planning pathways to areas that will be in line with their preferences, education level and career goals. As part of the process of developing Career Portfolios, students may be asked to document personal and career-related experiences, and include the results of a career assessment inventory, to help plan and achieve educational goals, relate these goals to occupations, and prepare for entry into the workforce once their educational goals are complete.

Interest inventories should provide one or both of two primary functions in career counselling. The first is to provide people with information about themselves and their relationship to the working world which will help them make better decisions for their lives. Second, interest inventories should provide those who help others make decisions about their lives (e.g.: counsellors, teachers, administrators, human resources managers, supervisors) with comparable information as well as strategies for interpreting it, so the decisions that are made are those that consider the unique qualities of each individual.

Over the years we have observed some interesting changes in both the types of assessments used and the ways that they are administered. The key factors that have consistently been used in determining which instrument to use include:

  • the appropriateness of the instrument to the age group and experience level of the client or student,
  • the time available to administer, score and interpret the results, and,
  • the price, remain consistent.

For the purposes of this article we will examine our top three selling career assessments in Canada: the Strong Interest Inventory® (the Strong), the Career Exploration Inventory (CEI) and the COPSystem. The idea of measuring people’s interests has been around since the first World War, prompted by the need to determine the area of the military into which each recruit should be assigned. After WW1 these same concepts were applied to the general population to help people make educational and career plans and to develop descriptions for various occupations. The Strong Interest Inventory® grew out of these roots. Originally created in 1927 by E.K. Strong, Jr., a military psychologist, the Strong Vocational Interest Blanks® was one of the first interest inventories to be developed. The 1994 revision of the Strong is the latest in the ongoing revision of this instrument – which is the most widely used interest inventory in the history of career measurement – the result of the commitment to continual improvement, refinement and updating that has been made by the developers and the publisher, is based on an analysis of data from over 67,000 people. The Strong’s 317 items measure your clients’ or students’ interest in a broad range of occupations, work activities, leisure activities and school subjects. Although it is written at an eight-grade reading level, in schools the Strong is usually offered to 16 to 18 year olds. A remarkable level of interest stability have been found among people tested over a twelve-year period, first as college/university freshmen and later as working adults. High school seniors are close to the age of college/university freshmen and it has been demonstrated that while the median test-retest correlations for high school students were lower than for adults, the correlations were nonetheless high enough to warrant use of the Strong with young adults.

The publisher reports that the validity and reliability of the Strong exceed those of any other interest inventory, with a sample size that is 13 times larger than that of other career or interest inventories and a sample base which represents a wide range of educational and socioeconomic levels. There are several reporting options available, including a self-scorable form, the Strong Interest Explorer, which was introduced two years ago. However the most widely used reports are too complex for handscoring and the instrument can either be administered through a computer-based scoring service or on-line, or the combined test booklet/answer sheet (consumable) that must be scanned and the reports generated by computer. The standard Strong profile report includes: a four-colour report with “Snapshot” of results based on six General Occupational Themes (RIASEC), 25 Basic Interest Scales, 211 Occupational Scales (109 occupations), four Personal Style Scales, and Administrative Indexes. The Strong takes about an hour to administer and the results, after scoring and interpretation, can be discussed in both group sessions or individually.

This tool is used in many university career counselling centres, in high school career programs for senior students, and by psychologists, human resource professionals and organizational change consultants. The Career Exploration Inventory: A Guide for Exploring Work, Leisure, and Learning, second edition, by John J. Liptak, Ed.D., is a much more recent addition to the field of career assessment. Published in 2001, The Career Exploration Inventory, second edition (CEI) is a self-scoring and self-interpreting interest instrument that assesses three major interest areas – work, leisure, and learning – in one device.

A distinct advantage of the CEI is its easy-to-understand, self-scorable format enabling ease of administration, scoring and interpretation, making it particularly useful in a variety of individual and group counselling situations.

There are 120 items, and scoring relates to 15 major clusters of interest, which, while based on the US job classification system, can easily lead to further research using Canadian resources and the NOC. The CEI was normed on employed and unemployed adults, aged 18 to 73. The publishers indicate that it can be used with working and unemployed adults, students, and youth across the economic strata, as well as special populations such as people in correctional facilities and those in substance abuse programs. The instrument is a combined question-answer format (consumable), is self-administered and takes approximately 20-30 minutes. It includes world of work, college and university occupations (not streamed) as well as a chart of related occupations and typical leisure activities, which becomes the starting point for further research.

The CEI “speaks” well to the user and does not talk down to them, nor use language that is not clearly understood; it is very user friendly. Used wherever a quick, effective and inexpensive assessment is required, e.g.: job search programs, youth employment programs, transition centres, youth internship programs, as well as some school career and co-op offices.

The most popular of these three instruments in Canadian schools is the Career Occupational Preference System Interest Inventory, or COPSystem. It has been reported that the COPSystem is the most often used career assessment inventory in US high schools as well. The COPSystem is based on occupational clusters that were established and refined through an extensive series of theoretical and factor analysis studies well over three decades ago. The components of the COPSystem, which includes an interest inventory – Career Occupational Preference Survey (COPS, R.R. Knapp, 1967); an abilities measure – Career Ability Placement Survey (CAPS, L. Knapp and R.R. Knapp, 1976); and a values measure – Career Orientation and Placement Survey (COPES, R.R. Knapp and L. Knapp, 1978), undergo continuous revision and development. As an example, The Comprehensive Career Guides and the Self-Interpretation Profile and Guides were completely updated and revised as of Spring, 2004, based on new normative data gathered from 1998-2002. The sample for this revision included 18,991 seventh through twelfth grade students (high school edition) and 1,898 college and university students (college edition).

The COPSystem measures an individual’s abilities, interests and values and relates the scores to fourteen occupational groupings or “clusters.” These clusters organize occupations based on similar activities into groups that reflect comparable courses of training, most typical job changes and greatest similarity of interests, abilities and values. The assessment inventories used in theCOPSystem fall under three major categories: Interests, Abilities and Values. Each test is administered separately and the results can then be interpreted for each, or integrated for a comprehensive approach. A fourth component of the COPSystem provides occupational information keyed to the results of the tests. This stimulates individual career investigation and research and assists with high-school curriculum planning and selecting college or university majors.

One of the most unique features of this series of assessment tools is the broad age range that it covers. The COPS interest inventory is available in several versions: a High School edition and a College/University edition, as well as specific applications areas: COPS II: Intermediate Interest Inventory (Grades 4 through 12); COPS-R: Interest Inventory Form R (simplified – Grades 6 through adult); COPS-PIC: Picture (Non-verbal interest inventory; all levels); COPS-P (Professional Level Interest Inventory – College/University students, adult professionals).

The CAPS abilities assessment measures each of the following 8 areas:

– Mechanical Reasoning
– Verbal Reasoning
– Mathematical Abilities
– Perceptual Speed and Accuracy
– Spatial Relations
– Language Usage
– Word Knowledge
– Manual Speed and Dexterity


The COPES work values component compares the following preferences:

– Investigative vs. Accepting
– Independence vs. Conformity
– Orderliness vs. Flexibility
– Aesthetic vs. Realistic
– Practical vs. Care Free
– Leadership vs. Supportive
– Recognition vs. Privacy
– Social vs. Reserved


The range for this instrument is sixth grade through high school, college and adult. Administration times for the COPS (interest inventory) component varies depending on the version being used, but the average is 20 minutes; administration time for the CAPS (abilities) component is 50 minutes (timed administration) and for the COPES (work values) component is 20-30 minutes. In Canada, the COPSystem is a hand-scored instrument, but be sure to leave enough time. Scoring for the complete system takes approximately an hour. On-site scoring and/or on-line scoring options may become available in the near future.

As indicated earlier in this article, this system of assessment is used extensively in schools across Canada (high and middle/junior high schools). Additionally, it is very popular with college career centres, correctional services institutions, youth internship programs and employment centres. The specialized nature of some of the components lend themselves well for use with special needs student or client groups.

Strong Interest Inventory and Strong Vocational Interest Blanks are registered trademarks of Stanford University Press

Denise Hughes is the Director of Career/LifeSkills Resources Inc., Canada’s most comprehensive source of career, personal and organizational development tools and publications. Visit www.clsr.caor for detailed information on these and many other career assessment inventories and resources selected to support the work of Canadian career counsellors and practitioners.


Leave a Reply

Skip to toolbar