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Written Career Interest Assessments

Federal special education law requires postsecondary goals be based on age-appropriate transition assessments as a means for students, parents, and educators to better understand students’ unique needs, strengths, and interests to facilitate development of meaningful postsecondary goals (Neubert & Leconte, 2013). The Council for Exceptional Children’s Division on Career Development and Transition’s policy on transition assessment defines transition assessment as

. . . an ongoing process of collecting information on the youth’s needs, strengths, preferences, and interests as they relate to measurable postsecondary goals and the annual goals that will help facilitate attainment of postsecondary goals. This process includes a careful match between the characteristics of the youth and the requirements of secondary environments and postsecondary environments along with recommendations . . . to ensure the match. Youth and families are taught how to use the results of transition assessment to drive the transition requirements in the IEP process. (Neubert & Leconte, 2013, p. 72)


What are Written Career Interest Assessments?

According to the Career One Stop website sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor, an interest assessment enables individuals to identify careers matching one’s interest. These tools typically ask users to identify if they like or do not like certain job-related tasks or activities by presenting a series of written questions, offering possible answers, and prompting users to mark the answer that matches their preferences. The assessment matches the results to various careers that align with the user’s responses. Numerous written interest assessments exist. Interest assessments are also often called interest inventories.

What the Research Says

Written interest assessments provide a useful tool to increase students’ awareness of the world of work (Flexer et al., 2013). By using written questions, these assessments promote choice making by asking students their preference (Pulos & Martin, 2019). Written interest assessments also allow students a means to explore different areas of work and hone-in on career interest areas they may like to examine in more depth. When used across time, written interest assessments provide a record of the career(s) the student would like to have at a given point in time. This is important because interest inventory results often change across time (Pulos & Martin, 2019). 

Many students with disabilities need extended, structured experiences to develop and refine their career interests (Szymanski & Hershenson, 2005). Thus, career education for many students with disabilities needs to begin in grade school and continue through high school (Brolin, 1996). On-going career assessment using interest inventories and other methods serve as the foundation for transition planning.  The on-going assessment results provide information needed for the student, parents, and educators to enable students with disabilities to progress through the different career development stages (Sitlington et al., 1985). Brolin (1983) identified four career development stages that overlap across school years that students need to progress through. These stages are:

  • Career Awareness (grades K-12)
  • Career Exploration (grades 6-12)
  • Career Preparation (grades 9-12)
  • Career Assimilation (postsecondary to lifelong learning)

Note the first three stages typically begin at different points in time but all continue through high school. Some students with disabilities who are 17 may still be in the career awareness stage learning what is possible while other may already be engaged in career preparation. Critical to each stage are the results of career interest inventories as they provide a record of students’ changing preferences as they become more aware and begin exploring different career options (Madaus et al., 2013).

Guidelines for Practice

Hundreds of written interest inventories exist, so educators need to carefully select assessments that are a good match with each of their students. Factors to consider include:

  • Student’s reading level
  • Student’s preference for paper-pencil or on-line interest assessments
  • Length of time needed to complete assessment
  • Types of careers the results identify

Educators need to also consider the manner in which the assessments provide results. For instance, some assessments will provide results across 16 career cluster categories, such as health science, manufacturing, education and training, or architecture and construction.  Other assessments may organize the results by a career development theory, such as that described by Holland, using terms such as realistic, investigative, artistic, social, enterprising, and conventional (Luft, 2013). Educators need to select the assessment they believe will provide the most useful results for each student.

To engage students in the process provide them a choice in the assessment they complete as well as the method (i.e., paper-pencil or an on-line) they use to complete the assessment. When completed, review the results with students, and provide students an opportunity to summarize the results of their interest assessment at their next IEP meeting. 

Additional Resources
  • CEC’s Division on Career Development and Transition
    To learn more about career development and transition assessment visit CEC’s Division on Career Development and Transition website When at the website pay particular attention to DCDT Fast Facts and the organization’s journal.


Brolin, D. E. (1983). Career education: Where do we go from here? Career Development for Exceptional Individuals, 6(1), 3-14.

Brolin, D. E. (1996). Reflections on the beginning . . . and future directions! Career Development for Exceptional Individuals, 19(2), 93-100.

Flexer, R. W., Luft, P., & Queen, R. M. (2013). Transition assessment. In R. W. Flexer, R. M. Baer, P. Luft, & T. J. Simmons (Eds.), Transition planning for secondary students with disabilities (4th ed., pp. 95-123). Boston, MA: Pearson.

Luft, P. (2013). Career development theories for transition planning. In R. W. Flexer, R. M. Baer, P. Luft., & T. J. Simmons (Eds.). Transition planning for secondary students with disabilities (4th ed.) (pp. 67-91). Boston: Pearson.

Madaus, J. W., Dukes III, L. L., Martin, J. E., & Morningstar, M. (2013). Postsecondary education assessment: Practices to document student progress, preferences, and interests related to postsecondary education and learning. In C. A. Thoma & R. Tamura (Eds.), Demystifying transition assessment (pp. 69-82). Baltimore, MD: Paul Brookes.

Neubert, D. A., & Leconte, P. J. (2013). Age-appropriate transition assessment: The position of the division on career development and transition. Career Development and Transition for Exceptional Individuals, 36(2), 72-83. 

Pulos, J. M., & Martin, J. E. (2019). Transition assessment. In L. L. S. Brusnahan, R. A. Stodden, & S. H. Zucker (Eds.), Transition to adulthood: Work, community, and educational success (pp. 19-34).  Arlington, VA: Council for Exceptional Children.

Szymanski, E. M., & Hershenson, D. B. (2005). An ecological approach to vocational behavior and career development of people with disabilities. In R. M .Parker, E. M. Szymanski, & J. B. Patterson (Eds.). Rehabilitation counseling: Basics and beyond (pp. 225-280). Austin, TX: Pro-Ed.

Sitlington, P. L., Brolin, D. E., Clark, G. M., & Vacanti, J. M. (1985). Career/vocational assessment in the public school setting: The position of the Division on Career Development. Career Development for Exceptional Individuals, 8(1), 3-6.