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Stacey Cornelius
I'm a writer, jargon translator, idea junkie & creative entrepreneur with a Fine Art degree. I have years of professional experience in retail, theatre, fine craft and information technology.  Read More

Celebrating square pegs: what personality tests really tell you

April 3, 2012

square peg round hole
Image by MamaPyjama

Playing with career choices
Back when I was in art school, a friend who was working on a Theatre degree discovered student services offered a career planning test. This one was based on interests rather than skills, so we decided we’d both give it a spin.

The results were well worth ticking all the little boxes.

Before I tell you what happened next, I need to explain something about my friend: she’s the type that cringes at movies. If particularly well-crafted carnage were about to occur, she would, on occasion, shrink into her seat, knees heading for her chin, with at least one hand clamped over her mouth.

Her top career recommendation? Naval officer. As you might imagine, hilarity ensued.

Then I began to read my assessment aloud.

In which she is revealed to be anti-social
“You do not enjoy working with people and do not like helping them with their problems.”

The actual wording may have been more diplomatic; I’m working from long-term memory which may be slightly coloured by my sense of humour.

My friend managed, “ ‘I’m OK, You’re Annoying’ ” before we both dissolved into snort-worthy gales of laughter. It’s an understatement to say she knew me pretty well. And as much as I’ve wanted to write a response to that iconic book over the years, it was pretty obvious what was really going on: whoever designed the database used phrases like, “You enjoy…” or “You do not enjoy…” and combined those with various descriptions.

Apparently the implications were missed during the test phase of the software. But to be honest, it wouldn’t have been nearly as fun if they’d finessed the thing.

Or perhaps she is simply an introverted creative
It’s not that I don’t like people. The survey showed, in a roundabout way, that I’m more interested in making things (if you’re curious, my top score was architect, followed by photographer). It wasn’t anything I didn’t know already, but the bluntness was kind of refreshing. It was still a little way into left field, but I suspect there weren’t textiles artists in the mix of people questioned for the data collection.

When presented with a monkey wrench, use it
We gravitate to structure and systems. They help us orient ourselves, and give us starting points and guideposts. Sometimes they give us something to push against. “I don’t like that assessment, but what really works for me is…” And sometimes they allow us to indulge our curiosity in ways that help us push our idea of what’s possible.

Those systems are always flawed. They have to be. They depend on the amount and quality of information available to the people who design them. They can never be completely without bias or ever be, well, complete. We have to adapt, process and even reject the notion of a “right way” to do something, or be something. That can be difficult when you’re trying to find where you fit.

Celebrate the square pegs
You can’t always find that place by filling in the blanks or marking x’s next to a list of available choices. Sometimes you have to create it for yourself.

A little side note: my friend decided that since the test was based on interests, the professionals described might be the people we should be dating. Which, of course, didn’t happen. And, just to keep things interesting, there are a few changes happening at The Studio Source. Stay tuned.

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Comments (5)

This is great! I love those tests and advice from, often well-meaning, guidance counselors who miss by a country mile! Celebrate your diversity and what only you can bring to something. If we all fit into nice neat boxes, life would be very boring. Keep up the great writing.

Stacey Cornelius Reply:

Thanks, Michael. Because of my skills, an employment counsellor once suggested I be a manager at an art gallery. I’d be trying out for the Olympic Wall-climbing team inside of a week.

Tests said I’d be the perfect office manager, which I tried for the longest 18 months of my life.

I still dream about the hands of that office clock never quite getting to 5 o’clock.

Stacey Cornelius Reply:

Heh. I spent some time as a secretary, which sometimes happens when you graduate from art school in the middle of a recession. For some peculiar reason, I’m not nearly as organized as I once was. Clock dreams. Oh, yes.

According to one of those tests I took eons ago, I was supposed to be a lawyer or librarian. It’s easy to see the thinking behind the thinking: detail oriented, perfectionist, love of learning, curiosity, and books, books, books, yes!

But I’m happier being a photographer. –Sally