Some people know exactly what they're going to do in an encore career. But what if all you know is that you need out of your current occupation? How do you figure out your next act?
One answer: Take a career assessment test to determine what career you might be good at -- and also enjoy.
Assessments are a series of questions used to determine how your skills and the way you think could affect your success and happiness in different work environments. It's possible to take some assessments on your own -- many are available online. Career counselors, coaches and outplacement specialists also include them in the services they offer job seekers.
A career assessment isn't a crystal ball. It won't tell you what you should do. But champions of the tests say the assessments provide insights into characteristics and personality traits that help a person understand what type of work suits them.
"They show general patterns you fit into, not your deepest self, so I recommend them only as a part of the self-evaluative phase of career transition," says Phyllis Mufson, a Philadelphia career coach and consultant.
Here are some common career assessments:
Arguably the most widely used personality assessment around, the Myers-Briggs test separates people into 16 distinct types according to how they interact with the world, get energy, notice information and make decisions. The test and results are so common, some people include the shorthand descriptions of their personality types, such as "ISTJ" (Introverted Sensing Thinking Judging) and "ENPF" (Extroverted Intuitive Perceiving Feeling), in their Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn profiles. Test takers' results are matched against research on people in a variety of occupations so job seekers can see what traits and characteristics they have in common.
It's worth noting that Myers-Briggs gives slightly different meanings to certain words used in personality tests, Mufson says. Don't take offense if, based on your results, Myers-Briggs says you're "introverted." That doesn't mean "shy," but rather someone who processes their thoughts and feelings internally rather than sharing them with others, she says.
To get the most accurate results, Mufson recommends answering as you are -- not as you wish you were -- and skipping questions you feel you can't answer. "Remember that there are no right answers," she says.
Like the Myers-Briggs assessment, the Holland Code-RIASEC test classifies people into specific personality types: Realistic (doer), Investigative (thinker), Artistic (creative), Social (helper), Enterprising (persuader) and Conventional (organizer) -- hence the acronym RIASEC.
The test is available numerous places online, including on this page of the Oregon-based Rogue Community College website. Job hunters can plug their personality types into the Occupational Information Network (O*NET) jobs database developed by the U.S. Labor Department and the North Carolina Employment Security Commission. O*NET contains comprehensive details about the education, skills and technical abilities that specific jobs require, as well as the demand and salaries for positions and other information.
Counselors use information gathered from questions in the DISC Assessment to understand a career changer's personality and behavior, including a person's learning style and how he interacts in groups. The test categorizes an individual's strengths and weaknesses in four areas: Dominance (control, power and assertiveness), Influence (social situations and communication), Steadiness (patience, persistence and thoughtfulness), and Caution (structure and organization).
People can use the results for career direction and also to improve communications, better their sales skills and do better at resolving conflicts, according to DISC creator Inscape Publishing Inc.
Some career coaches create their own tests. Kathy Caprino, a career coach with Ellia Communications Inc. in Wilton, Conn., isn't a fan of standard assessments, based on her own personal experience. "They didn't move me forward at all when I was looking to make a career change," she says.
Instead, she developed a custom survey to help clients determine how to use work they've done in the past to get where they want to be in the future. Caprino says her survey examines values, passions, talents, skills, needs and "standards of integrity."
Read more: How to Find Your Career Bliss