This is Lorna Fitzsimons’s career trajectory, if a little reductive. At first glance, her job history charts the tough slog of an academic career – an undergraduate course, a PhD scholarship won on the back of a first-class honours degree and post-doctoral work – all of which led to her current role as a lecturer in DCU.
Just one line tucked at the end of this list, “senior cabin crew with Aer Lingus”, hints at a radical career change in her past.
She got a job with Aer Lingus in 1990 and enjoyed the travel in her early 20s. By 2003, she was considering moving on.
“I was senior crew at that stage but there wasn’t much opportunity for promotion. I thought ‘Am I going to do this for the rest of my life, or shall I just bite the bullet and try something different?’”
She approached a career consultant with a hunch that she might like to work in maths or engineering. It turned out she had a lot of untapped talent.
After she took psychometric tests that measured her personality, interests and aptitudes, the psychologist told her that her maths ability registered in the 99th percentile. Amazingly, her potential had not been picked up in school where she took pass maths at Leaving Cert.
“I had always liked maths in school but it wasn’t taught well so I dropped to pass. I suppose that knocked my confidence.”
After the tests, she went back to study honours Leaving Cert maths, applied to study engineering and spent the next few years working her way up to a job she clearly enjoys that plays to her strengths.
“It gave me a boost. The whole testing process was very interesting and I would definitely say to anyone thinking of changing careers to go and see where their strengths lie.”
Even in an economy where people are grateful for any work at all, finding a satisfying job is still something of a life calling. Steve Jobs’s famous 2005 Stanford graduation speech – in which he said, “You’ve got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle,” – hit home with millions of people precisely because there is so often a gulf between the potential we feel we have, and the lives we get to live in reality.
Thousands of people have latent talent that is not being used in their career.
So should more of us be taking psychometric tests to find out what we are good at?
There are two main categories: cognitive tests that measure psychological skills (such as whether you are a critical or an abstract thinker, or your levels of verbal and numerical reasoning); and personality tests that measure where your strengths lie (what kind of work you are drawn to, whether you tend towards introversion or extraversion, how you cope with pressure and how you relate to others).
Analysis of people’s psychological make-up is on the increase. Some 3.5 million complete the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator personality inventory, probably the world’s best-known psychometric test, every year and 85 per cent of FTSE 100 companies now use them for recruitment.
They are used in sport where psychological strength is being used to predict on-field performance. Footballer Nicklas Bendtner recently stunned Arsenal’s sports psychologists when he recorded the highest self-confidence rating they had seen.
The tests can have a bad reputation as many companies use them to “weed out” unsuitable candidates in recruitment. But used to your own advantage, they can spot strengths that could be an asset in a career change.
According to Irish corporate psychologists Davitt Corporate Partners, the numbers coming to them looking for psychometric testing and coaching to find the right career match has actually increased since the economic slowdown.
Back to square one
Some find their hand forced by redundancy, but many are coming of their own accord to search for more fulfilling work.
“People are coming in off their own bat. Some have an innate interest in finding out what drives them or they may have found themselves in a job where they are not really happy, not thriving, and they just realise ‘I’m in the wrong area, what else could I do?’” says corporate psychologist Amber Hanna.
She adds that knowing your strengths is crucial.
“Knowing what you are good at is probably the most important thing in career success and many people neglect it.”
For some people, the tests simply give them confidence to pursue long-held goals.
David Keane, also a psychologist with Davitt Corporate Partners, remembers a woman who came to him three years ago who had always wanted to be a doctor but did not get enough points in the Leaving Cert for medicine.
“We went through the tests and it turned out she was more than smart enough to be a doctor and had all the requisite skills.
“She got in contact a while later to say she had done the HPat [the medical admissions test] and was going to medical school.
“The results just gave her the boost she needed to pursue it.”
Carol Ryan, Journalist with the Irish Times.
This Article was published in the Health Supplement of the Irish Times on Tuesday 27th August 2013.
Here is a link to the original article.