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Revisiting the Role of Career Assessment Inventories in Career Counselling

As 2017 marks ContactPoint’s 20th anniversary, we wanted to take a look at the most popular sections of our website as well as the most-read articles through a series of blog posts, and reflect on what they say about how the field has evolved over the past two decades.

By Denise Hughes

A bedrock of many career or work search programs has long been using career assessments to match the individual’s interests with possible jobs or career paths that they may not have considered and/or weren’t aware of. We are now seeing a trend toward using a suite of instruments to assist students, clients or jobseekers focus their job search into areas that are not only of interest to them but appropriate for their values, strengths, education levels/goals and career goals and to identify areas where there may be barriers to that search.

An array of instruments have been developed in the last decade to address very specific aspects of the job search process – a process that has now evolved to look at definitive aspects of the individual. Specific instruments addressing such areas as self-discovery (often accomplished through working with temperament-based instruments, like Personality Dimensions®) then exploring any barriers to employment, examining transferable skills and abilities and specific life skills, such as communication, stress management, anger management, money management, time management that the individual may have now play important roles in the process. Developing this sense of self provides valuable information that can be factored into the overall job search. A note of caution – it is important to remember that negatives tend to stick in the mind more than positives. Just ask anyone who has had a job performance review where 95% was glowing and 5% suggested an area that needed improvement. They won’t remember all of the 95% but they sure will remember that 5%.This means that part of your role may involve reinforcing the positives that have come out of this self-exploration phase.

In my previous article (The Role of Career Assessment Inventories in Career Counselling/Education, ContactPoint, 2004) I discussed the history of career assessment evaluation and applications and the basic concepts and structures of the three top selling career assessments at that time. The purpose of this article is to build on that introduction and update our list of the top-selling assessments. Two of the instruments that were previously discussed, the COPSystem (Career Occupational Preference System), published by EdITS (now online in addition to pencil/paper) and the Career Exploration Inventory (CEI), now in its 5th edition (2015), remain at the top of our list. The other three places in the current top-five list are held by Barriers to Employment Success (BESI), now in it’s 4th edition (2011), the Transferable Skills Scale (TSS), 2nd edition (2011), and, new to the field and the list, the Re-Employment Success Inventory (RESI), 2016, which identifies skills and strategies for workforce re-entry.

The COPSystem is unique among what are generally labelled as interest inventories in that it not only measures an individual’s interests (COPS Interest Inventory), but also their values (COPES – Career Orientation Placement & Evaluation Survey) and abilities (CAPS – Career Ability Placement Survey). CAPS is a quantifiable abilities test, not just a survey, with timed administration for each of the eight areas that it measures – Mechanical Reasoning, Spatial Relations, Verbal Reasoning, Numerical Ability, Language Usage, Word Knowledge, Perceptual Speed and Accuracy and Manual Speed and Dexterity.

While the COPSystem is from the US, references for further action are to the NOC. Each of the three components of the COPSystem can be administered as stand-alone measures, however, most often they are administered as a whole to give a comprehensive overview. Initially, the COPSystem was used primarily in schools. Now it is very popular with employment counsellors, vocational rehabilitation specialists as well as those who provide employment counselling to former military personnel; it is also used in youth internship programs, in college/university career centres and in the reintegration of offenders into the world of work. The CAPS assessment is also frequently used stand-alone by vocational rehabilitation specialists.

The other three assessments in our top-five ranking (based on actual sales in Canada) are recent additions to the field and cover areas that have not, typically, been addressed in traditional career assessments.The BESI, TSS and the RESI, like the CEI, are easy to understand, have clear directions, are self-scoring and self-interpreting. Each speak well to the user and are very user-friendly making them ideal for programs that are time limited. Each has been thoroughly tested and validated. They are used in employment centres, youth employment programs, transition centres, youth internship programs as well as some school career and co-op programs. This US-based publisher has also introduced several other specific area assessments just recently, and they are gaining a strong following, but are too new to appear in this article.

Following is a very brief introduction to each of these popular instruments. While taking the CEI (Career Exploration Inventory) (also discussed in my earlier article),  individuals reflect on 128 activities and consider their past, present and future interest in three major areas: work, leisure activities and learning. Scores connect to 16 career interest areas with related jobs, education and training options plus leisure activities for each interest area. Additional information helps focus the individual on their top interest areas as they ponder their future plans.

The BESI (Barriers to Employment Success Inventory) gives individuals a quick and easy way to identify the hurdles and obstacles that may stand in the way of their job success. Individuals explore five categories: Personal and Financial, Emotional and Physical, Career Decision-Making and Planning, Job-Seeking Knowledge, and Training and Education to discover any barriers they may have. The assessment includes suggestions on ways to overcome these barriers and helps individuals develop an action plan.

The TSS (Transferrable Skills Scale) assists individuals in identifying their strongest transferable skills – like the ability to manage a group, plan events or analyse information. Based on the data, people, things and ideas model, it asks individuals to rate their skill levels on 96 tasks. The resulting score helps define their skill levels in eight categories: analytical, numerical, interpersonal, organizational, physical, informational, communicative and creative skills. Each skill set is also specifically linked to job titles, and an Occupational Exploration worksheet helps individuals further research the jobs that match their transferable skills.

The RESI (Re-Employment Success Inventory) helps individuals identify how effectively they are coping with unemployment and assists them in developing skills and strategies for quickly re-entering the workforce. The RESI explores five major stress-related areas of unemployment: stress management, money management, social support, job search and career plan, enabling you to identify the unique needs of each of your clients and tailor your services accordingly.

In sixth place is Career Dimensions™ (available both online, with an extended list of suggested occupations for each preference and in print), which provides a holistic view of the individuals work preferences. This Canadian tool, part of the Personality Dimensions® system, helps individuals explore the actual work environment in which they are most comfortable, exploring a variety of areas, including their natural talents, values, major job stressors, work philosophy as well as their definition of success and provides a list of suggested occupational areas for exploration.

Rounding out our list of most used assessments is the easy read edition of the CEI, the Career Exploration Inventory-EZ, (CEI-EZ) 2nd edition (2011). Like the best-selling Career Exploration Inventory, the CEI-EZ guides individuals through exploring and planning three major areas of life-work, leisure activities and learning, but with fewer items and only five steps, making it more accessible.

A distinct advantage of these instruments is their accessible formats which makes them flexible enough to be completed in a workshop or done at the individuals leisure, leaving valuable workshop time to process their results and/or for personal coaching or counselling. Their ease of administration, and the short time that it takes to go through them (averaging 15-30 minutes) make them particularly useful in a variety of individual and group counselling situations.

This is true, as well, of the online COPSystem as it guides the individual through the process, allowing it to be completed independently; however the paper version of the COPSystem includes some timed administration components (CAPS) so must be completed in the context of a program. However, the depth of the assessment and constant updating that the publisher undertakes places it consistently as one of the top assessments used in Canada.

Does going through a barrage of assessments replace the role of the career development practitioner? Absolutely not; it only enhances it. You are the professional and having the results of these instruments available allows you to more quickly and effectively tailor your approach to address the specific needs of your clients.

It would be very rare for a career development practitioner to use all of these assessments with clients. Rather, select the area(s) that you feel would best serve your clients. Most of the practitioners that we work with use one or two of the specific area assessments plus an interest inventory.

Regardless of the assessment approach that you take with your students or clients, they are always concerned about getting the “right” answer. The right answer, the one that will garner them the most job satisfaction in the long run, is the one that is a true reflection of who they are – the “when their shoes are off and they are relaxing in a comfy chair” person.



Denise Hughes is the Director of Career/LifeSkills Resources Inc., Canada’s most comprehensive source of career, personal and organizational development tools and publications.You can reach Denise at or visit for detailed information on these and many other career assessment inventories and resources selected to support the work of Canadian career counsellors and practitioners. Follow us on Twitter @clsresources.

Lucie Morillon
Lucie Morillon is the Bilingual Content & Communications Co-ordinator for CERIC. With a passion for quality content, she connects with her online communities and provides strong resources to engage members – and always encourages new ones to get involved. She identifies, creates and curates the content destined for the ContactPoint website, the weekly CareerWise newsletter and Careering magazine.

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