I’m a self-assessment junkie. Growing up, I lived for those quizzes that would tell you the perfect hairdo for your personality, or what to wear to prom based on your favorite band. I still sometimes spend an entire lunch break taking BuzzFeed quizzes that will tell me which version of Taylor Swift I am or which TV show I should live in. Even though I am aware that these are not “scientific” tests, there’s something appealing to me about this kind of self-discovery. When I learned, however, that there were assessments that could provide real value and help me find my perfect career path, I was thrilled.

These questionnaires come in many shapes and sizes. Some look at your personality, others your aptitudes, still others your behaviors; some tests look at all of these things combined. There are free versions of many and others available for purchase. You’ve probably heard of some of them, such as the MBTI or the Strengths Finder. Maybe you’ve even taken one or more of these popular analyses and don’t know what to make of the results; can knowing your personality or how you think actually have any bearing on your career?

I graduated armed with the knowledge that I was an INFJ based on the Myers-Briggs, my biggest strengths, Activator and Strategist, a Type 8 on the Enneagram scale, and my parachute was…maybe grey? But despite all of these tests, I had no idea what I wanted to do. I’d been expecting the results to magically unveil the one career that would make me happy, and because of that, I’d failed to use the assessments as the tools that they actually are.

It took my college career counselor several conversations to help me understand that personality-type tests can’t replace hard work or self-reflection; rather, they’re merely a tool to better understand ourselves and how we operate in our environment. With that new outlook, I was able to narrow down a sea of job titles in a way that reflected my skills and temperament.

Before you jump into all the tests looking for the key to your career path, take a moment to ask yourself some preliminary questions about your personality. If you first think about the basics of your personality, you’ll be able to find the best choice in a vast number of tests out there.

First things first:

1. How Well Do You Know Yourself?

Are you the type of person that likes to sit and think about your own personality, how you’d react to different situations, or daydream about your place in the world? Then self-assessments are probably inherently attractive to you. If you haven’t already taken an MBTI—or if you took it so long ago that you’ve forgotten your results—it’s a great place to start.

This one asks you to make an instinctive choice between two options, and from there, it helps you understand broadly the way you view the world. Do you find crowds energizing or draining? Do you prefer to explore the world or your inner thoughts? Are you driven by feelings or by facts? While the results can help you get a sense of your worldview, they won’t lead you down any one path. That’s for you to decide. Next question to ask:

2. Do You Often Feel Lost or Anxious?

If you tend to get overwhelmed by too many choices, a self-assessment might help you narrow down your career options and start to feel better about your strengths and where they might take you. If you don’t know yourself that well, the MBTI is still a good starting place. I also like 16personalities.com because of its design and its section on careers.

Another good beginner choice, particularly if you want to connect the results immediately to potential careers is the Strong’s Interest Inventory, which helps organize your interests around specific career blocks. The test is grouped into six occupational areas rather than job titles (creative, realistic, social), and then provides examples of jobs in each area.

You aren’t tied to any one path, but the Myers-Briggs plus the SII, taken together, can help you curate your choices and get you started. It’s important to know how you fare with the following question, too.

3. Are You Goal-Oriented?

Maybe you have a career and want to advance into a leadership position. Or, perhaps your job requires a lot of verbal presentations and you need to find a way to improve or maximize your communication skills. If you’re goal-driven, and want to figure out a way to play to your strengths to advance your career, consider the Strengths Finder. This one was developed to identify your key strengths, thereby giving you strategies to use them effectively. More specific than the Myers-Briggs or the Interest Inventory, the Strengths Finder works best for people who already have a path in mind. It’s also important to know…

4. Are You a Test-Taker?

While all assessments are designed to be tools to help you, it doesn’t mean that you need to take all of them together. Taking all of the tests can produce contradictory results, and if you take enough, you might even start to recognize the difference between the answers that are authentic, and ones that produce the result you want.

While that’s impressive in its own way, gaming self-assessments to prove to yourself that you’re the extraverted go-getter you want people to think you are isn’t going to help you find career bliss. You can still take an assessment if you want to, but make sure that you are being honest in your answers, and try a test based in interests rather than psychoanalysis. How you answer the following question may help you determine which—if any—test to take:

5. Are You a Skeptic?

Not everyone needs to take a self-assessment to find his or her path, or to understand how his or her values and aptitudes contribute to her working life. Trying to force yourself to use tests if you truly don’t want to will only hinder you. While understanding yourself is critical to choosing a career path, self-assessments aren’t the only way to do that.

Keeping a journal, practicing meditation, talking to friends and family, and simply being aware of what you like, value, and prioritize are all ways to mentally check in with yourself and see if you’re on the path that’s right for you right now (remembering that things may change down the line).

If you want to try one, great! Go into it with an open mind, and remember that no analysis can tell you what to do with your life. Use the tools as a way to better understand yourself and how your interests and skills might lead to a fulfilling career. Just don’t let yourself get locked into something you might not want—because a test told you to. You are the best interpreter of yourself, and only you can decide what path to take.

Photo of man reading courtesy of PeopleImages.com/Getty Images.

Updated 6/19/2020