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Monday, July 26, 2021
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Research & Trends

The Self-Directed Search assessment: Can it really help my clients?

Have you ever had a client or student take a questionnaire or assessment, and thought “well, that’s nice, but now what?” There are countless free online assessments available today, but many of them do not provide next steps or link directly to information about occupations. One assessment that does exactly that is the Self-Directed Search, and it is one of the most commonly utilized career assessments worldwide.

What is the Self-Directed Search?

The Self-Directed Search (SDS) emulates what may happen during a typical meeting with a career counsellor. The SDS asks a series of questions about the participant’s occupational daydreams, preferred activities (things they like to do), competencies (things they are good at), occupations (which they prefer) and self-estimates (allows participant to rate their abilities). These sections are totalled together to give the participant a three-letter code, which is based upon the following six Holland personality types. Research also indicates that people tend to work in environments similar to their personality type:

  • Realistic (doers) – people with mechanical and athletic abilities; like working outdoors with tools and objects; prefer dealing with things rather than people
  • Investigative (thinkers) – people with math and science abilities; like working alone and solving complex problems; like dealing with ideas rather than people or things
  • Artistic (creators) – people with artistic ability and imagination; enjoy creating original work; like dealing with ideas rather than things
  • Social (helpers) – people with social skills; interested in social relationships and helping others solve problems; like dealing with people rather than things
  • Enterprising (persuaders) – people with leadership abilities; like to be influential; interested in politics and economics; like dealing with people and ideas rather than things
  • Conventional (organizers) – people with clerical and math ability; prefer working indoors and organizing things; like dealing with words and numbers rather than people or ideas
How to utilize the Self-Directed Search
This post is based on an article published in the Canadian Journal of Career Development, September 2019, vol 18(2): “The Effects of the Online Self-Directed Search on the Career Decision State.”

The Self-Directed Search is much more than a simple career assessment. It is designed to mimic an interaction with a career counsellor, and the questions that would be asked during a comprehensive career counseling intervention. However, the SDS is unique in that it can be entirely self-directed without assistance from a counsellor. Another benefit of the SDS assessment is that it includes activities that research has found to be critical to career planning success. For example, Brown and Krane (2000) identified five critical ingredients for career interventions, which SDS users will also receive:

  • A workbook or written exercises (provided by the SDS Assessment Booklet)
  • Individualized interpretation and feedback (gained from the SDS Client Interpretive Report)
  • Information about the world of work (included in the SDS Interpretive Report, which includes links to O*Net as well next steps)
  • A simulated model of career decision-making (provided by the descriptions of the RIASEC types)
  • Environmental supports (provided through the SDS Interpretive Report with O*Net occupation links)
Who benefits from the Self-Directed Search?

Previous research (Kivlighan & Shapiro, 1987; Fretz & Leong, 1982; Power et al., 1979) suggested that those with lower career readiness may not benefit from interventions such as the Self-Directed Search as much as those with higher career readiness. However, this study found that all career readiness levels (low, medium and high) benefited from the Self-Directed Search (SDS). Individuals across all readiness levels reviewed their SDS report at least once for about 20 minutes, and generally preferred to access both the interactive and full client interpretive report.

Participant attitudes toward completing the SDS were mainly positive, and examples included:

  • 66% strongly agreed or agreed with the statement: “I would recommend the SDS to someone for educational and career planning”
  • 21% strongly agreed or agree with the statement: “The SDS report materials helped confirm occupations I was already considering.”

What an individual remembers from an experience is an important component of the overall career intervention. Most participants found the online SDS experience positive and worthwhile. Additionally, participants seemed to value the experience to either confirm occupations they were already considering or to utilize the experience to help expand options. This research suggests that perhaps there is something unique about the Self-Directed Search and how it can be tailored to help all clients benefit from what it has to offer.

In summary, the Self-Directed Search offers benefits to clients across all readiness levels. Additionally, it offers information about a client’s competencies, occupational areas and the types of environments one might thrive. For example, you may help an individual discover how important their artistic interests are and evaluate whether or not they want to fulfill those interests at work and/or in their leisure time. Additionally, the Self-Directed Search is an assessment that can be completed between sessions, so it does not take up the valuable time that can be spent processing information during sessions. Alternatively, the SDS can be offered to someone who may have high readiness levels and benefit from a more self-directed approach, and can follow-up with a counsellor as needed. These are some of the many benefits the SDS offers as a comprehensive career intervention.


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Dr. Dozier is a Program Director for Instruction, Research, & Evaluation at the Florida State University Career Center and Teaching Faculty in the Educational Psychology and Learning Systems department at Florida State University. Her professional qualifications include being a Licensed Psychologist (State of Florida) and a Nationally Certified Counsellor (NBCC). Her publications include refereed journal articles, book chapters, and national presentations. Dr. Dozier has provided clinical interventions in a variety of settings, with an emphasis on personal and career counseling to assist college students of all ages. Her professional passions are supervision and training, underserved populations, work-life balance, and integrating theory, research and evidence-based practice.
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Dr. Dozier is a Program Director for Instruction, Research, & Evaluation at the Florida State University Career Center and Teaching Faculty in the Educational Psychology and Learning Systems department at Florida State University. Her professional qualifications include being a Licensed Psychologist (State of Florida) and a Nationally Certified Counsellor (NBCC). Her publications include refereed journal articles, book chapters, and national presentations. Dr. Dozier has provided clinical interventions in a variety of settings, with an emphasis on personal and career counseling to assist college students of all ages. Her professional passions are supervision and training, underserved populations, work-life balance, and integrating theory, research and evidence-based practice.
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