Interest Inventory

What Are Your Likes and Dislikes?

Woman with surfing board on rocky beach
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When you go to the beach, do you prefer to spend your day reading or would you rather be surfing? In your spare time, would you choose to build a bookshelf or balance a checkbook? Which sounds better to you: completing a project independently or doing it as part of a team?

There are no right or wrong answers to any of these questions. Your responses merely indicate your likes and dislikes, for example, which leisure activities you enjoy and which ones you don't; what tasks you like to do and which tasks you avoid; and how you want to perform your job. These preferences are called interests.

Many years ago, psychologists realized that people who worked in the same occupation shared similar interests. With that in mind, they deduced that discovering an individual's interests could help him or her find a suitable career. Psychologists now had a goal: they needed to find a way to learn about people's interests.

Interest Inventories to the Rescue

In 1927, E.K. Strong, a psychologist, developed the first interest inventory. This tool measured individuals' interests and compared them to those of people working in various occupations. It was called the Strong Vocational Interest Blank.

This tool has undergone many revisions and name changes over the years. It is now called the Strong Interest Inventory (SII), and it remains one of the most popular self assessment tools that career development professionals use today. There are other interest inventories on the market 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 should administer an interest inventory as part of a complete self assessment. The assessment should also look at your personality type, aptitudes, and work values

When you take an interest inventory, you will complete a questionnaire that asks a series of questions 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. To get the most accurate results, you must answer each question as honestly as possible. There are no right or wrong answers. The counselor won't judge you based on your choices.

When responding to items related to work-related activities, do not worry about whether or not you have the skills needed to complete the tasks in question. It doesn't matter at this point in the career planning process. You only need to indicate whether you are interested in the activity. 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 with your results. The professional who administered the inventory should go over it with you and help you make sense of it. Your report should also include a list of occupations that may be suitable for someone who shares your interests.

Some of those occupations may appeal to you. Others won't. Just because an occupation shows up in the results of an interest inventory or any other self assessment tool, that doesn't necessarily mean it's the best choice for you. Before you choose a career, you must learn about it. An occupation may not be suitable for you for a variety of reasons, in spite of the fact that you share interests with other people who work in it.

How to Discover Your Interests on the Cheap

If you want to try using an interest inventory on your own, there are some free or low-cost ones available. The Self-Directed Search (SDS), published by PAR (Psychological Assessment Resources, Inc.), can be used online 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.

The O*Net Interest Profiler is a free assessment that is one of several tools that are part of O*Net Online, a project sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor/Employment and Training Administration. There are a few versions of the Interest Profiler including a short-form web-based version, a mobile one, and a pen and pencil form that you can print out at home.

Career Cruising is an assessment tool that many public libraries make available to their patrons for free. It generates a list of occupations after a user answers questions about his or her interests. One can then explore those careers from within the Career Cruising database. Check with the reference staff at your local library to see if they subscribe to this resource.

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.