The Aptitude Advantage
One of the best competitive advantages for workers in today's
dynamic economy is to know your strengths or natural abilities.
Did you know that aptitude measurements are designed to predict
someone's potential to learn or acquire the skills to perform
specific tasks? Do you know why this is important? First,
the information helps identify what types of tasks are most
readily mastered. Second, the information indicates what types
of jobs depend on people who are most "fit" or capable
in these roles. Here are three challenges in discussing natural
The first challenge is accepting that we are not all equally
talented in every task put before us. If anyone has ever
watched a track meet, you can see that a smart coach does
not expect each contestant to compete in every event. The
individual who is good at long distance running is not usually
the best at shot put or even sprinting. The same is true in
organizations. Smart managers know how to capitalize on employees'
strengths, placing them in roles that maximize their ability
to contribute and flourish. For example, the individual who
is focused on accuracy and details and likes to work within
clear guidelines may not be as successful in ambiguous roles
that require them to negotiate and think on their feet. Those
differences are neither good nor bad. In fact, they allow
organizations and teams to achieve their collective goals.
Aptitudes help predict where that natural performance can
best be developed. Understanding your strengths can help you
make informed choices about how to invest in your education
The second challenge is differentiating the ability to
learn from the satisfaction one derives from performing different
tasks. In school, we all need to learn or master knowledge
and skills. It is important that we develop common understandings
and skills to function in an adult world. We need to learn
to reason and see different perspectives. But from our own
experience, we know that learning some skills comes more easily
to some people and others require greater effort and practice.
School is a specific performance environment for students,
just like a job in a work environment. It is structured to
be more dependent on some aptitudes than others. To ensure
that we learn, school often requires that we place extra focus
on the areas where we are less gifted. Moreover, for many
people, the talents we do possess may remain untapped because
they are not part of the curriculum or measured by any test.
Spatial and creativity aptitudes are a good example of this,
and as a result, are often not valued in a traditional school
The third challenge is understanding that in assessing
aptitudes there are no shortcuts. To conduct a reliable
measure, there need to be sufficient items and time to accomplish
the task. The tests are conducted in more controlled settings
and within time constraints. The beauty however, is that once
identified, the resulting information can be used throughout
one's lifetime. By our teens, our talents are more clearly
defined and can be used to develop plans for our future -
plans that can lead both to success and satisfaction.
Too often we look for shortcuts. Interest, personality and
values surveys are great tools. They should be included in
a comprehensive assessment to inform good decision-making.
However, because they are simple to administer and score,
they are relied upon too heavily. Best practice in career
guidance strongly suggests that both aptitude and interest
measures are essential. Unfortunately because aptitude assessments
are more time consuming and complex, they are not often taught
in school guidance counseling programs or used in schools.
The Ball Aptitude
Battery (BAB) is a well-researched series of unique assessments
developed to identify individual talents. For example, the
BAB measures different creativities, reasoning styles, spatial
abilities and attention to detail. Differences in the combination
of these natural abilities could suggest fields such as accountant,
critic, author or engineer. A great example can be seen in
the Dilbert video called "The
Many of today's assessments about our skills or abilities
rely on self-report. That means you answer questions about
how you rate yourself performing in different situations.
While these surveys are easy to complete and offer useful
information and good talking points, they are no substitute
for objective measurements.
Studies comparing self-rating of abilities and actual talents
conducted by the Ball Foundation show that people's self-perceptions
are frequently inaccurate. This is particularly true of students
who base their self-perception on comparing themselves to
their peers and their performance in school. This can be deceiving
for two reasons. If you never or rarely have an opportunity
to use a talent, it is hard to know you have it. Second, it
is important to understand the peer group you are comparing
yourself to. This is particularly true in very large or highly
competitive schools. Again, a parallel example can be seen
in school sports. Many talented athletes do not fully develop
their athletic and teamwork skills because only a few get
a chance to actually play. There are stories of heroic athletes
who started as water boys!
The U.S. Department of Labor has conducted well documented
studies on how different aptitudes contribute to success in
different careers, but this information is underutilized.
However, most important is understanding not only if you can
do the job, but will you enjoy and will you gain satisfaction
doing the types of tasks required by different jobs and fields
Understanding your unique talents and how different strengths
support different work tasks or projects can also help one
appreciate the value of the many unique and different strengths
and talent profiles. It is these differences that contribute
to our collective success. Excellent leaders know how to capitalize
on their strengths and develop the greatest potential in others,
and self-aware individuals make the best choices about their
career management over their lifetime.
© Copyright 2007, Career Vision. Article may be reprinted