Penelope wrote recently about finding your fit with the company rather than with the job, and referenced back to a Positive Psychology News Daily article that I had written on using your strengths in the job search.

Stephanie then wrote that using strengths at work makes sense, but only if you’re measuring your strengths objectively.

When should a person should take a self-report assessment and when a person should take a more objective assessment? (BTW, for examples of self-report assessment, please go to, and click on any of the assessments there – you’ll need to login to take these because they save your results for future visits. For examples of objective tests, you may want to try the two recommended by Stephanie here. Other suggestions for objective tests? Please leave a note in the comments). Some guidelines for when to use a self-report and when not to:

Self-report assessments are useful when:

1) You want to save costs. If you want a quick-and-dirty summary of how you’re doing on certain measures – strengths, optimistic explanatory style, pathways to happiness – you can just hop online and take those respective assessments.

2) You want to be quick. Self-reports are useful for giving you results right away – as soon as you’re done, the results are available. Sometimes, “objective” assessments can give results right away also.

3) You believe that you know yourself pretty well. Every person has a degree of self-awareness. Some people have it stronger than others, and each person has it stronger some times over other times. If you are in a mood that you feel confused about your direction and your state of being, then maybe a self-asssessment would only make you more confused as you might not answering the questions from a steady state of mind.

4) You don’t believe that these assessments are gospel. To be a good candidate for self-assessments, you’d usually believe that the way you answered today is not going to be 100% the way that you’ll answer tomorrow, and you’re likely ok with that. If you want to know whether you answered the math test correctly (or whether you know all the latest regulatons in your field), then you’d better get an objective measure of that.

5) You believe that your results can change over time. Some people do not believe this about self-assessments. You may hear people say that if you’ve shown some strengths on the VIA Signature Strengths assessment, then you will likely show them again next time you take the assessment. I don’t believe this. I’ve seen many people have “love of learning” pop up into their top five or top ten strengths when they start taking some professional or personal-interest coursework. Assessments are a reflection of where you are at that time – in that moment.

6) You are a good practitioner of “the gut test.” Once you get your self-assessment results, the first question you can ask yourself is “Do I believe this? Does this accurately reflect me?” and if the immediate gut answer is “no,” then perhaps this self-assessment didn’t work for you – it might be the day, it might be the assessment, it might be anything. You could then try taking it again on a different day, or you may just say that doesn’t work for you.

Objective assessments are useful when:

1) You want to be more exact. As Stephanie writes here, self-reports do want people to divide into specific categories, no doubt. The questions are often ipsative or on a Likert scale, both of which simplify a person into a stilted few-dimensional form instead of the complex being that the person is. (I would also argue that the point of both self-reports and objective assessments are to simplify a person – to see a specific theme about a person culled down to its simple, describable form.)

2) You want to be more thorough. This is the most effective argument for me for an objective measure. This is the reason that I like to dig into psychology articles – to learn what questions were actually asked. I absolutely believe and agree with Stephanie that questions can be phrased in a way that favors a certain answer, and can be ordered in such a way as to influence the person answering the questionnaire. I wrote here about different ways to study positive psychology (including questionnaires and assessments), and I believe that having a study participant DO something (such as a cause-and-effect experiment) as opposed to SAY something about his/her thoughts (such as an assessment) is often more telling.

3) You are measuring something that can be objectively measured. Some things are not as great at being objectively measured, such as preferences and beliefs. For example, I believe a person is the best judge of whether he or she is happy. If you ask, “How happy are you (1-10) where 1 is very not happy and 10 is very happy?” I would give much more credence to Sarah saying “6” than to Sarah’s husband saying “4” about her because the point is how happy does Sarah believe she is? That’s a subjective response – subjective to Sarah – so self-report is a great method for this.

4) You have the money and/or time. For learning more about an individual manager’s workstyle, it can be helpful to have a 360-degree assessment (i.e. questionnaires filled out by the person’s colleagues, bosses, and direct reports), but these 360-degree assessments come with more cost in money and in time, so there needs to be an appropriate weighting to the importance of these relative to the project. Especially in the case of coaching the leadership and management capabilities of a person, having much more than just a self-report is usually found to be crucial.

Note: There is no particular reason that there are more items for the self-report than for the objective assessment. Please add more thoughts in the comments.


  1. Posted Tuesday August 7, 2007 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

    Hi, Senia. Thanks for the above. A topic that I think is so important!

    I think to compare the self-report and objective may be talking about apples and oranges. You cannot measure those hard-wired aptitudes with a self-report test. And if one could be created, it would not have any degree of accuracy.

    Did you read the article I linked to in my post by Lazar and Tom? I ask because the authors explain very well that the self-report tests are not measuring the same things as the objective tests. The objective aptitude test is only measuring those strengths that become hard-wired in mid-adolescence and do not change over the person’s life. The reliabllity and validity have been proven for decades in the JOC labs.

    To further explain the differences, I highly recommend the book DON’T WASTE YOUR TALENTS.

  2. Posted Wednesday August 8, 2007 at 1:29 am | Permalink

    Thanks, Stephanie, for both the book recommendation and the call to read in more detail the Lazar and Tom article.

    I, too, think this topic is very important. Especially when doing research studies.

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  1. By Find the right job, use your strengths on Wednesday August 8, 2007 at 11:26 am

    […] A couple of articles already this week talking about strengths and work. Penelope Trunk from Brazen Careerist put out a post this week titled To find your best next job, focus on the company not the job. In it she talks about evaluating a position based on the company culture and how your strengths fit into it. She emphasizes the point that in order to do this effectively, you have to perform some self analysis. [Edit: Senia from Positive Psychology breaks this down even further in a follo-up post titled When to Use Self-Report and When Not To] […]