Monday, March 20, 2006

CareerLeader: Almost worth the money, but not for the reasons you might expect

When the GMAC mailed me my GMAT score report, the envelope contained not just my scores but also an advertisement for a service called CareerLeader. CareerLeader is a multi-part online test put together by a pair of Harvard psychologists that attempts to match your self-reported interests, skills, and values with a list of potential MBA-related careers.

First, let's talk about the cost involved. CareerLeader is $50 for five years of access and a maximum of two full tests (i.e., two tests each comprising a multipart test) if you buy it through MBA.com, or $75 for as many tests as you want to take during a 60-day period. This is a little confusing though, because CareerLeader also says that "We will grant free extensions to your 60-day subscription if you request one."

Once you purchase access to the service (I decided to buy through MBA.com), you need to take three different tests: the Business Career Interest Inventory, the Management and Professional Rewards Profile, and the the Management and Professional Abilities Profile. Each one attempts to assess you in a different way.

The Career Interest test is similar to the kind of career test that might have taken in high school or college. It asks you to rate how much you would like different careers or activities, assuming that you didn't have to worry about pay, job security, etc. These include activities like "designing a magazine cover" and jobs like "Athletic Coach" as well as more MBA-related positions like "Chief Financial Officer."

The Rewards profile tries to measure what kinds of career-related values you have by asking you to make choices between different kinds of positive job attibutes. For instance, you're asked if you would rather have a job that has the potential for excellent financial compensation, or one that allows you more time to spend with your family and friends. Would you prefer one that allows a great deal of personal autonomy, or one that positions you well for your next career jump? Obviously we want our jobs to offer all of these to some degree, but being forced to make a choice between them attempts to clarify what we really value when push comes to shove.

Finally, the Professional Abilities Profile attempts to assess your skill level in general areas like "Political skill," "creativity," and "Quantitative Analysis." This test is by far the weakest of the three, since it's based primarily on your self-reported assessment of your skill levels. In terms of quantitative thinking, are you in the top 5%, top 20%, about average, etc. I think that just as 80% of people believe that they're above-average drivers, individuals are going to tend to overrate themselves in each of these categories. To balance this out, CareerLeader also offer an anonymous 360-feedback which allows you to send a URL to people who are familiar with your abilities so that they can rate you on the same scale. I haven't tried this yet, primarily because the URL includes "mba1.html" and I haven't yet fully discussed my graduate school plans with my coworkers.

Once you've completed the test, you're offered a variety of reports based on the results. I won't go too deeply into the reports themselves, since you can see samples here. Honestly, I wasn't too impressed with the reports. Since everything is self-reported, I didn't learn much about myself that I didn't already know.

I was much more interested in the detailed industry sketches and career overviews that CareerLeader offered. They provide overviews of 27 different career areas, from Accounting to Venture Capital, with about a page of information on each. The info includes the typical background of the kind of person who enters each career area ("Product managers often have a background in marketing or identify themselves with the marketing function") as well as the kind of day-to-day duties you might expect in this career. If you know that you're getting your MBA specifically so that you can (for example) move ahead in you management consulting career, this probably isn't for you. On the other hand, if like me you're trying to decide between entrepreneurship and the dozen different kinds of financial specialties, CareerLeader might give you some additional insight.

Finally, CareerLeader also provides a summary of the different "Achilles' Heel" weaknesses that the CareerLeader developers summarize in their book The 12 Bad Habits That Hold Good People Back. In addition, they provide the kinds of results that indicate that you might have a particular weakness (e.g., 'The Rebel' "Usually [has] Low or Very Low interests in Managing People and Relationships and Influence Through Language and Ideas"). If you had any interest in the book, this is probably more useful since it helps you identify your potential weaknesses more accurately.

Although the test wasn't as insightful as I had hoped, and it didn't give me any stunning new insights into my inner self, it was interesting to see what I might expect of the different career options that I could have coming out of business school. The Achilles' Heel information was also useful, and I'm glad that I got it with the test score indicators via CareerLeader rather than from the book.

Total actual cost: $50
What I should have been willing to pay in retrospect: $30

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