Advantages and Disadvantages of the Different Inventoried Approaches to Assessing Career Interests

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This Careers Forum reflects on the history of interest assessment in Australia in the last 45 years. In it I would like to review some aspects of the history of interest assessment in Australia from my personal perspective as a user and researcher. Probably my first exposure to interest measurement was when I participated in a vocational guidance interview around 1964. I cannot recall what interest assessment was used at that time. This was the era of 'test and tell' and it was conducted by a government agency, the Vocational Guidance Bureau. I had a short 40-minute preliminary interview, undertook a half-day battery of aptitude and other tests that were scored, and this was followed up by a summary interview and a report. At that time my major preferences were reported officially as:

   Your own choice of a degree in Arts, leading to
   secondary teaching, a position as a psychologist, or
   social work, is recommended.

A position as an executive trainee with a large commercial organisation would also be suitable and could follow a degree in Arts or in Economics or Commerce. (Department of Labour and Industry New South Wales, Division of Vocational Guidance Services, copy, 3 January 1968) Basically I took heed of their professional advice and, with hindsight, I must say it has not been too bad at all.

By the time I joined the research section of the Vocational Services Branch in 1976, the main methods of interest assessment were based on interview questions about subject preferences (most and least liked subject), hobbies or interests and the use of an interest questionnaire such as the locally developed in-house Vocational Interest Analysis of Warren Whyte for students up to Year 10 or the Kuder Preference Record for older students (all references, available from the author on request). This was part of a large-scale testing program and I hasten to add that at one time this service was available freely to every Year 9 student throughout New South Wales.

From memory the only other career interest inventory that was in wide use throughout Australia was the Rothwell--Miller Interest Blank and my enquiries to the Australian Council for Educational Research indicated that some 26 000 copies were sold each year. Other questionnaires were gaining prominence; amongst these, the most worthy of mention was the Vocational Preference Inventory to be followed quickly by its successor, the Self-directed Search. The latter became popular through the support of academic occupational psychologists and researchers in Australia because they were linked directly to a theory. Some commercially available pictorial card sorts and home-made occupational card sorts based on the Tyler Vocational Card Sort were starting to appear and to make inroads in the mid-1970s but they were not adopted for mainstream use. There were some experimental measures such as the now defunct but highly imaginative Brook Reaction Test of Interest and Temperament that was based on word associations. One reason for its demise was that the author died in a plane crash in Spain.

Some 34 years later I ventured again into the domain of interest assessment and completed the Kuder Occupational Interest Survey amongst a range of other questionnaires for the Society for Vocational Psychology meeting at Lehigh University.

My vocational interest estimates in percentiles were now: Literary, 93%; Clerical, 77%; Outdoor, 56%; Scientific, 49%; Musical, 33%; Computational, 29%; Social service, 28%; Artistic, 23%; Persuasive, 13%; Mechanical, 1%. The following occupational groups were said to have interests similar to me: Librarian, 0.51; Minister (of religion), 0.50; Bookstore manager, 0.47; Statistician, 0.46; and Mathematician, 0.45. I thought it was too late to take their advice; so I kept my day job as a university lecturer.

Undeterred I soldiered on and when teaching a course 'Work and People' around 2000, I arranged for my class to undertake the Kuder Career Search[TM] now part of the Internet-based Kuder Career Planning System (KCPS). …