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College & Workforce Readiness

Country’s Oldest Career-Matching Test Gets an Update

By Sarah D. Sparks — May 24, 2017 2 min read
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The makers of the country’s oldest career tests are taking a fresh look at how to help students find careers in which they can feel successful.

The Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, or ASVAB, now includes a 12-minute survey designed to match students to occupations based on their interests, not their personality traits. While now used only for those enlisted in the U.S. Navy and U.S. Air Force, the interest survey is a model for a more concrete way to predict students’ success in different fields. Stephen Watson, the director of Navy Selection and Classification, who helped develop the interest assessment, said its format could be used more broadly for students and civilian jobs.

“It’s a matchmaking service, but instead of matching people to people, we match people to jobs,” Watson said.

Most career-interest assessments, such as the Campbell Interest and Skill Survey or the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, rate students on an array of personality traits—for example, how gregarious or conscientious they are—and help students compare that with the characteristics considered typical in a given occupation. The inventories for particular occupations must be regularly revised as more diverse people come into the workforce.

“We talk a lot about whether kids have the skills they need in college and careers. Wonderful, ... but we don’t talk about how students’ interests affect how they succeed in college and careers,” said Wayne Camara, the senior vice president of research at ACT. Though not affiliated with the ASVAB, he previously served on a technical committee for the test.

The ASVAB has long tested several general academic areas, such as reading, mathematics, and science as well as more technical skills like assembling objects and mechanical understanding. For the new career-interest survey accompanying the test, the Navy created profiles of 80 active jobs in the service, by interviewing service members who had been in each of the jobs for several years—and who had been both successful and happy in those jobs.

When someone takes the survey, they are asked to rate their interest in photos of people doing specific tasks on each job. For example, instead of asking a participant if he likes working outside, the assessment might give specific photos of someone taking field samples, operating underwater equipment, or setting up a campsite.

“They just have to look at something and say, ‘Can I identify myself in that? Is that something I can see myself doing?’ ” Watson said.

Rather than getting a single score, each participant gets a profile based on his or her qualifications, physical capabilities, and security screening, plus a 40-point interest assessment.

In an evaluation following nearly 4,800 new sailors who took both the ASVAB and the interest survey, those who were matched to jobs based on the Job Opportunities in the Navy (JOIN) survey were more likely than those who had not been matched based on their scores to have been promoted to a higher pay grade by the end of their term of service and also more likely to express satisfaction in their job and re-enlist in the military when their time was up.

A version of this article appeared in the May 24, 2017 edition of Education Week as Hey, Sailor, What Career Matches Your Interests?

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