The Pre-Counseling Assessment

by Martin Elliot Jaffe

Bernie K., 47, was “downsized” after 22 years as an electrical engineer at a power company. “My corporate outplacement guy had me take six hours of tests. He says I’ve got to ‘re-career’ for the millennium. I’m not so sure… Couldn’t there be other engineering jobs for me? I like engineering.”

Enya L., 26, has had four jobs since earning her B.A. in political science four years ago. “No tears shed here — library assistant was not my life path. Still, I’m not sure what to do now. Should I go back to school? Look for a job? I have $3,000 college debt and this counselor my dad knows wants to give me $600 worth of vocational tests.”

Bernie and Enya (not their real names) are at a typical crossroads for many clients just entering career counseling: Should I do a job search or career search? Luckily for these two, they live close to InfoPLACE, a career-planning program in Maple Heights, Ohio, that uses a pre-advising assessment tool to answer that question. InfoPLACE, a public library based adult career planning program with 28 years of experience, provides a unique, neutral tax-supported service where adults can step back and decide if they are leaning toward a radical career transition or an immediate job search based on their current skill set. Counselors at InfoPLACE saw the need for a tool that could indicate the appropriate depth and direction of counseling before sessions began, so they created CACTI (Core Adult Career Transition Inventory). CACTI helps clients step back, take a deep breath and consider whether they want to launch a job search based on their current skill set or to make a radical career change, possibly involving further training and education.

The seven-page self-scored assessment has sections on work values, skills, job search or career exploration and a planning summary. The first section consists of 15 yes/no questions that ask users to define their values regarding salary, work environment, education and training. At the end of the section, a summary score indicates the importance of external (e.g., salary, schedule) vs. internal (e.g., integration of meaning and purpose) factors and the level of satisfaction in a current position. This portion of CACTI can provide significant information for discussion as counselor and client go over the results.

An extensive skill section asks the client to use a Likert scale to self-rank his or her level of competency in a variety of skill areas. A summary code assesses whether skills attested to relate to data, people, things, ideas, while a follow-up section asks the user to rank the four areas by preference. This information can be used by the client in deciding which areas to develop and can be integrated into a retraining or re-careering plan.

The final section of CACTI consists of yes/no questions resulting in a summary code that indicates the appropriate next step:

  1. An immediate job search using current skills and education or
  2. A career exploration and planning for a radical transition.

Clients then meet with InfoPLACE counselors in private appointments or attend career decision/job search workshops. Standard assessments (SDS, MBTI, card sorts, etc.) and interpretation are available in both contexts.

A particularly useful component of CACTI helps clients not only identify skills but how they feel about using them in a work context. For example, an InfoPLACE client scored high on people skills in the assessment, but reported he didn’t like using that skill: “I’m so tired of listening to people’s troubles, solving their problems, being sympathetic, acting like I care — I want to develop skills with things and become a computer programmer.” Sound odd? In counseling sessions, he revealed he had spent 11 years as a bartender.

Our extensive individual use with CACTI among our 3,000 annual adult clients has established its utility as an introductory tool for:

    Recently downsized workers
    Adults in midlife career transition
    Non-traditional aged students contemplating a return to post-secondary education
    Discouraged workers frustrated by job search progress

CACTI has been a valuable tool for our clients in a turbulent era of change. We tell our clients to be like cacti on difficult days — “Keep your head up toward the light, nourish your roots with the advice and counsel of family, friends and professional resources — and you will continue to thrive.”

Martin Elliot Jaffe, CDFI, MCC, is the Manager of InfoPLACE and can be reached at Email: mjaffe@cuyahoga.lib.oh.us
InfoPLACE offers CACTI at no charge to clients in our service area while meeting with InfoPLACE counselors. To defray costs we sell them for $4.02 including sales tax/shipping to users outside of our area. The CACTI assessment can be ordered by contacting: InfoPLACE, 5225 Library Lane, Maple Hts, Ohio 44137-1291.
(216) 475-2225

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