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The write career for you

June 6, 2010

If you attended a British school in the late 1980s or 1990s, then chances are you’ll remember CASCAiD, the computerised career aptitude test responsible for confusing thousands of schoolchildren, and crushing the dreams of thousands more every year.

The CASCAiD tests, in theory, were a good idea. Take your aptitudes, likes and dislikes, and match them up to different careers to see what best suits the particular candidate. It could even open up your eyes to career paths you had never even considered before.

In reality, CASCAiD seemed to only offer a limited selection of bizarre or irrelevant careers. It seemed everyone received either “gardener” or “undertaker” as one of their career suggestions. And at the truly specialised and bizarre end of the spectrum, I’ve heard tales of people being advised to become “blacksmiths”, “leather technologists” and “scientific glass blowers”.

Similar tests are administered in the US, with similarly bizarre results, as exemplified in the Simpsons episode Separate Vocations.

My wife works in further education, and has access to the new generation of these tests. Since I’m looking for a new job, we thought it would be fun to run the tests on me to find out what kind of jobs I ought to be looking for, given my interests, qualifications and experience. Making a living as an author is still the longterm goal/dream, but the reality is very few of us make it there, and in the meantime I need to work. And I’d like it to be something I enjoy.

At any rate, the suggestions would have to be better than the jobs I’ve had in the past, which were based on “what I could get given qualifications in a career I don’t want to be in”.

Someone must have worked hard on these tests, as the accuracy seems to have improved over time. I was impressed that not only did it recognise that I had an aptitude for writing, but it actually recommended jobs that make use of that aptitude.

Ignoring the suggestion of “paralegal” (gah!) amongst the suggestions from the first test were: Editor (newspaper/magazine); writer; literary agent; TV/film creative; and bookseller.

If it weren’t for the fact that I know independent bookshops tend to get pushed out of business by the chain stores, supermarkets and Amazon, I would love to run my own bookshop. Alas, I also like to have enough money to eat…

The second test provided some more concrete job titles to flesh out the generic “writer” above, including technical writer and screenwriter, and adding proofreader and several advertising positions (both creative and copywriting) into the mix. And once again literary agent was close to the top.

Of course, being told you would suit a job, and actually breaking into that career are completely different things, as the recent “thanks but no thanks” letters I’ve received indicate.

But at least I’ve got some focus now on career areas rather than just “writer”, something that you can’t just turn up to and get a salary and a pension. And a better idea about what kind of work I would actually like to do than I think I’ve ever had in my life.

For those interested, when I was at school the test recommended I become either a surgeon, or a landscape gardener. Given I hate the sight of blood, and kill plants by looking at them, these seem like extraordinarily bad suggestions…
  1. June 7, 2010 1:38 am

    I got writer when I was in High School. Second was journalist which I gave up on after learning you couldn’t just write what you wanted in mainstream papers because they had agendas.

  2. June 7, 2010 4:28 am

    So how about writing a thriller featuring a landscape gardner who sells what he thinks are helpful herbal remedies to the local hospital only to find that he’s responsible for the death of the head surgeon’s wife who promptly kills off all his plants in an, as yet, failed bid to get his revenge.

    Consider yourself lucky however. When I went for a 12 week aptitude test, I was asked the first week to state what I was currently doing and what I enjoyed doing. My answer to both was teaching; my problem being it was not bringing me enough work as I couldn’t work in French state schools. I was then told I had to come for two hours every week for the next twelve weeks at the end of which I could see which avenues were open to me. Unfortunately, they only found one: teaching.

  3. June 7, 2010 6:29 am

    So publisher wasn’t in there among the choices?

    I can’t say I’ve ever taken one of those tests – though while I was away we were talking about them. My step Mum is a career counsellor at a university and also runs her own business assisting people to transit careers midlife. I said I would naturally be crap at taking a test like that – because I’m always stumped for the correct answer… well the correct answer for me, given you can normally only give one answer.

    I’m glad you’ve been given an opportunity to widen your scope as far as professional writing goes.

    It is a shame the same tests don’t also give you a probability matrix of actually suceeding at cracking into certain careers.

  4. June 7, 2010 6:40 am

    I got parole officer when I did that test at school – didn’t really appeal to me. However my mum did a similar one at the job centre and she got Dental Nurse which she’s been doing for about 20 years and loves.

    I’d quite like to take one again now – especially as I’m also looking for a job. Although I’ll be happy with anything that pays slightly more than my current one, and gives me time to write.

    Good luck with your search.

  5. June 7, 2010 6:48 am

    Why do I have a reoccuring image of you Paul in the seat behind the counter of Black Books? owning your own book store might just be the ticket… ha ha ha

  6. June 7, 2010 7:18 am

    It’s always interesting to hear about people’s experiences of the resources that they use as part of their careers education, but there are quite a few misconceptions about the results that they provide.

    I work for CASCAiD so you may not consider my view entirely impartial, but I thought it worth explaining our approach and why many careers and guidance professionals use our programs.

    CASCAiD programs have never claimed that they will tell you what career you should do. They exist to generate ideas and help to move people forward with their career planning.

    The idea that “it told me to be a ….” comes from the fact that some schools do not provide a full careers education programme where use of a computerised program is integrated within classroom activity, plus crucially, advice about the results and next steps from a qualified guidance adviser.
    I can understand why some people do go away with the idea that they are being told to pursue the careers that the program suggests if use of the program is the entirety of their careers education, but it is wrong because schools should be providing much more and many are.

    In terms of the ‘bizarre’ careers that programs like ours suggest, is it really a bad thing for people, particularly young people, to be encouraged to explore careers that they may not have heard of before? There’s a need for someone to do all of those jobs and the only way for people to find out about them and judge whether it could be the career for them is through being introduced to them as part of their careers education. Even if they are exposed to careers that they do not end up doing, it’s useful for them to discover them as part of learning about life in general.

    That’s not to say that our programs set out to suggest the unusual careers. Today, they include in the region of 1,800 career titles, covering familiar careers and those that many young people will not be familiar with.

    To explain why people get the results that they do from our programs, I think it’s worth illustrating how our matching system works. We take a job and dissect it into the aspects of work that make up that job i.e. all of the elements that you would do as part of that job. We research this in conjunction with the professional bodies for each career.

    We then ask the person using our program to rate their level of interest about each of these aspects in relation to work so, “How would you like a career that includes providing a service to members of the public?”, etc. We ask a number of these questions. The results are based on the responses to these questions. It works on the very basic principle that if you say that you like the elements that make up the career then you are probably going to enjoy doing the career, so it appears as one of your suggestions. The results that a person gets are very relevant because they are entirely based on the information that they input about themselves.

    CASCAiD is one of a number of companies which produces online careers guidance programs. The main difference between our programs and others is that ours is based on an interest inventory (the process outlined above) rather than on psychometrics. The reason that a lot of careers and guidance professionals like our tools is that they are completely transparent, i.e. a young person can see exactly why each career is suggested because it shows them the aspects that make up each career and their answers to the questions about those aspects. This isn’t possible with psychometric-based tools.

    Regardless of the results that an individual gets, in our programs they can explore virtually any career including how well it matches their answers.

    Basically, the role of programs like ours in careers education is to generate ideas. The reason that many careers professionals find them so useful in helping their students/clients is that many young people come to them with no idea of the opportunities out there. Guidance tools such as CASCAiD’s help them get past that and, at the very least, offer a starting point for discussion. It’s also impossible for teachers and advisers to have an up-to-date knowledge of virtually every career, so guidance resources have a vital part to play in ensuring that young people have access to the widest possible sources of information.

    I don’t want this to come across as a ranting defence of our programs, but the general perception of resources like ours can become distorted because we rely on others (teachers and advisers) to implement them with the proper level of additional guidance or reference to the support that we offer for this. We have refined our programs over the last forty years and they are used successfully throughout the UK and beyond, with adapted versions available throughout the world. We are very proud of the fact that we have helped millions of people worldwide with their career planning, with the emphasis on the ‘helped’.

  7. June 9, 2010 9:42 am

    Huh? Did her results yield “humorless CASCAiD defender”? Good grief.

    Anyway, I feel you Paul. I’ve gone from television camera man to news director, to direct care worker for adults with disabilities to working with children, to an electrician, now back to working with kids. I just really want to write.
    Now you got me thinking bookseller might be a fun career path.

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