Engaging Client Assessment Tools That Rock!

By Herky Cutler

Having over 20 year's experience as a career practitioner creating my own business, I have learned that without a solid client assessment, things can go downhill pretty fast. I believe that assessment is the most important part of the career development process because it forms the cornerstone for the case plan. If the case plan is the roadmap to help the client get from point A to point B, then the assessment is the indicator to determine where point A is. Through conversation, the assessment provides the data necessary to determine that starting point.


One of the challenges for practitioners is to decide which assessments to use for which clients. There are many! Practitioners typically look for new assessment tools when they attend conferences or attend online courses. So how should they choose?


I choose assessments based on two things: cost and level of engagement. Some tools cost a lot of money, and the level of engagement with clients is questionable. In this article, I will share three non-traditional assessment tools that are free and have proven to be highly engaging with clients. They are engaging because they allow clients to tell their story in a variety of different forms, and it is through the narrative that much can be learned about clients. Practitioners are welcome to use these tools however they choose.


  1. Photography

Everyone takes pictures! Why not use this readily available tool to assess clients? Here is how to do it:

  • Tell clients to take as many pictures as they would like about meaningful things in their life.
  • Ask clients to bring their twelve most powerful photos to the session. The rule is that they can only bring one picture for each theme. For example, if family is important to them, they can only have one family picture.
  • Review each photo with your clients. Ask them questions about why they chose the photos, such as: What does the photo represent for them? Why is the photo so important? On a scale of 1-10, how important is it for you to have this in your work life?


As they tell their story about each photo, listen and jot down anything that is a value, interest, skill or passion. Make sure to write down their words. After going through all the photos, discuss your notes, and ask clients if it is true for them. I have been amazed at the things I learned about clients from their photographs that I would otherwise never have known.


  1. Music

If I told you that I could find out more about you from the music you listen to than I could from any other assessment I have tried, would you believe me? A young man named Will, who worked for me, demonstrates how powerful this assessment tool can be in the career decision-making process.


I asked Will to bring in a song that SPEAKS to him. That’s the key word. The song has to evoke some kind of strong emotion rather than just being a song that he likes because of the beat or the band. Will brought in “The Needle & The Damage Done” by Neil Young. We watched a video of the song and followed along with the lyrics. Then I asked Will a series of questions about his choice of song including:

  • What does the song mean to you?
  • How do you identify with the song?
  • What do you think the themes are in the song?

While Will was talking, just like with the photography tool, I was noting anything that related to values, interests, skills and passion, using his words.


It is crucial in this exercise not to make any judgments about the song a client brings in or the language in the song. It is also important to realize that it’s what the CLIENT perceives about a song that is relevant, not what YOU, the practitioner, think the song is about.


After the questioning process, I showed Will the list of things I had written and asked him if he felt these things were, in fact, true about him. He acknowledged that they were. Some of the things on the list were: leadership, justice, working outdoors, anti-authority, doing what’s in your heart, having a say, and making a difference.


From this partial list, I was able to get a good indication of Will’s interests, values, skills and passion. I told him I could not recommend an occupation, but I could easily say that he would need to include in his work some of the things on the list to find happiness in his job. After kicking around for a while, then studying environmental science, Will is the proud co-owner of a company that re-generates soil so it can be used for productive farming.


  1. My Dependable Strengths

The My Dependable Strengths assessment tool provides clients with a wonderful visual of their strengths. Start by asking clients to talk about something they accomplished in their life that they are proud of. It does not have to be anything big, just something they are proud of, and it does not matter when the event happened.


Ask questions to get the client to dig as deep as possible into the experience, questions such as:

  •  What kinds of things did you have to overcome to make this event happen?
  •  How do you think this event changed your life?
  •  What can you learn from this event? STAR - Cutler

As the client is talking, note the interests, values, skills, and passion as well as personal qualities surrounding this event by placing them anywhere in or around the “star” diagram . Put the client’s name at the top of the page, and at the end of the session, hand the client the star showing them all the things that have been captured, in their words. Ask the client how they feel about their star, about all the things that they have done to make them proud of their accomplishment. These are things that can never be taken away, and can be transferred to any job or life situation.


Tools that truly engage your clients, like any other tool, must be used at the right time, with the right person. Not every client resonates with every tool. Using photography, music, or the dependable strengths star as assessments is engaging because of the narrative component. Clients tell their stories and we assess their interests, values, skills, and passion from those stories. Practitioners who like using creative assessments will find these tools as fun and engaging as I have over the years.



Cutler, H. (2016). Non-Traditional Assessment Tools That Rock! Retrieved from: https://ceuonestop.com/wp/product/herky-cutler-non-traditional-assessment-tools-that-rock/.



Herky CutlerHerky Cutler is a speaker, consultant, author, facilitator, and entertainer with a Master’s Degree in Human Resources specializing in Organizational Development. He is also a certified Career Development Professional. Herky is author of Get F.I.T. Go Far: 15 Things Leaders Absolutely Must Do To Increase Organizational Performance. He specializes in leadership training, managing multi-generations, team building, career development, and customer service.

 As President/CEO of his own company, Foothills Youth & Family Services since 1992, Herky has had contracts with numerous clients to provide such services as: program management, curriculum development and implementation, leadership training, community development, workplace management, career development training, and team building. Contact Herky at E-Mail: herkycutler@gmail.com; Website: www.herkycutler.com

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Janet Wall   on Wednesday 02/01/2017 at 06:46 PM

Appreciate the mention of the CEUONESTOP.COM webinar. Visit the website to access the recording of the webinar and earn a ceu clock hour.

Mary Rose Tichar   on Thursday 02/02/2017 at 09:34 AM

Thank you for this article. These are great assessments to use for a variety of reasons, especially when working with a visual learner or when a client is stuck and needs a creative way to move forward.

Herky Cutler   on Thursday 02/02/2017 at 09:47 AM

You’re welcome Janet, and thank you for your comments Mary Rose.

Nedra Klee Hartzell   on Thursday 02/02/2017 at 12:03 PM

Thank you, Mr. Cutler, Great ideas and helpful. I heartily endorse the Dependable Strengths method. In a similar vein to your other suggestions, asking clients who like to read about the books or genre of books that resonate for them can also be illuminating. Appreciate your sharing.

Herky Cutler   on Thursday 02/02/2017 at 01:33 PM

You’re welcome Nedra, and I totally agree. One can use books, movies, TV shows, virtually anything like that, in addition to music or photography.

I choose to use music and photography because it’s easier, for example, to sit down with a client and listen to a 4-minute song, than to watch a 90 minute movie.

Sarah Backes-Diaz   on Thursday 02/02/2017 at 04:49 PM

Thank you for this great article and practical, helpful suggestions Herky! I love that these are very accessible, free assessment tools that can be done anywhere anytime and that appeal to clients of all ages and stages. I will definitely try these out with my students here at the community college setting!

Herky Cutler   on Thursday 02/02/2017 at 06:25 PM

You’re very welcome Sarah and I would LOVE to hear how you made out with them and your students.

Kelly Gallant   on Monday 02/06/2017 at 08:59 AM

Hi Herky
Such great ideas for assessment practice! I especially like that they are practical and have such a creative element. Thanks for your insight. Kelly Gallant

Herky Cutler   on Monday 02/06/2017 at 10:05 AM

Thank you Kelly!

Paul Timmins   on Monday 02/06/2017 at 10:27 PM

Thanks for the creative ideas, Herky!

Herky Cutler   on Monday 02/06/2017 at 10:34 PM

My pleasure Paul!

Jim Peacock   on Tuesday 02/07/2017 at 04:54 PM

What I love about each of these tools is that the ownership of the process is really in the hands of the client.

When clients feel like you are listening, they become more engaged in their process.

Thanks for sharing simple tools that engage the client.

Herky Cutler   on Tuesday 02/07/2017 at 05:08 PM

You’re absolutely right Jim. These assessment tools are completely client-centred and rely on their “storytelling” and our ability to ask good questions and probing techniques to draw information out of them. I hope you try them!

Jim Peacock   on Wednesday 02/08/2017 at 09:25 AM

I use a version of the Star Strengths activity but I will try the Star diagram next time.

I could see doing the photography activity, especially with those "visual arts" types. but as you pointed out, 'everyone is a photographer' these days :-)

Yvonne Lefort   on Wednesday 03/08/2017 at 12:59 PM

These type of assessments are also great for using with people from other countries as they are not culture or language based.

Herky Cutler   on Wednesday 03/08/2017 at 05:02 PM

Great point Yvonne!

Mary Johnson   on Saturday 04/15/2017 at 09:15 PM

I loved reading this article and the variety of tools and assessments that we can use to help and assist our clients using our own strengths and abilities. Awesome Article, Thank you

Herky Cutler   on Sunday 04/16/2017 at 10:20 AM

Thank you so much Mary!

Diane Schmidt   on Monday 04/17/2017 at 01:55 PM

Thanks for these great exercises Herky! I will definitely try these with some of my career transition clients! I think they could really help in identifying themes that the clients haven't become aware of yet.

Herky Cutler   on Tuesday 04/18/2017 at 12:44 AM

Thanks Diane...would love to hear how they work with your clients. Good luck!

Marshel Pollock-Lawrence   on Thursday 04/20/2017 at 02:40 PM

The three non traditional assessment tools seem to be very helpful, fun and it gets the client to be more open and allowing the counselor to know them better. I liked the article and will pass it on for others to read or participate in the non-traditional assessment tools discussed.

Herky Cutler   on Thursday 04/20/2017 at 05:23 PM

Thanks for the feedback and paying it forward Marshall!

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in the comments shown above are those of the individual comment authors and do not reflect the views or opinions of this organization.