1. Careers
Send to a Friend via Email
You can opt-out at any time. Please refer to our privacy policy for contact information.

Interest Inventories

How to Choose a Career Based on Your Likes and Dislikes


Woman with surfing board on rocky beach
Stanislaw Pytel / The Image Bank / Getty Images
Do you prefer to spend a day at the beach reading or surfing? Would you rather build a bookshelf or balance a checkbook? Which sounds better to you: completing a project independently or being part of a team? There are no right or wrong answers to any of these questions. How you respond merely indicates your preferences, for example which activities you enjoy, what type of work you like to do and how you prefer to work. These preferences are called interests. Many years ago psychologists realized that people working in the same occupation shared similar interests. These interests may have little to do with the work one does, yet those who do that work have them in common. If determining one's interests could help him or her choose a career, a way to do so had to be found.

Interest Inventories to the Rescue

In 1927 EK Strong, a psychologist, developed the first interest inventory, a tool used to measure individuals' interests and compare them to the interests of those working in various occupations. It was called the Strong Vocational Interest Blank. This tool has seen many revisions, and name changes, over the years. Now called the Strong Interest Inventory (SII), it remains one of the most popular self assessment tools in use today. There are others 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, skills and work values. You will be asked to complete 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. In order to get the most accurate results, it is important to respond to each item with as much honesty as possible. There are no right or wrong answers and no one will judge you.

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 is not important. 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 the occupations on the list may appeal to you while others will not. 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. It is imperative that you carefully explore any occupation you are considering regardless of what list it turns up on. Your interests may indicate that a particular occupation may be suitable for someone who shares your interests, but it may not be suitable for you for a variety of other reasons.

How to Discover Your Interests on the Cheap

If you want to try using an interest inventory on your own, you can take the Self-Directed Search (SDS). There is an online version published by PAR (Psychological Assessment Resources, Inc.) available 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. You can also try the O*Net Interest Profiler, a free online tool that can help you discover your interests.

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.

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.