How the Assessment Works

Looking for more detail and published research regarding the assessment’s validity and reliability? Go to the Career Key Manual.

Time to Complete

2 minutes


We’ll first discuss basics of the Career Key assessment’s (CK) development and structure. Then, we’ll discuss how to understand its results.


  • Learn what CK is and how we developed it
  • Understand CK’s structure
  • Know why we ask what we do

What It Is

CK is a scientifically valid measure of John Holland’s six personality types: Realistic, Investigative, Artistic, Social, Enterprising and Conventional. Holland’s Theory of Career Choice is one of the most respected and widely-used career theories by professional career counsellors.

CK is a career interest inventory that contains 27 questions and takes about 10 minutes to complete. It is suitable for 12 year olds to adults.

In 1987, Dr. Lawrence K. Jones, NCC first developed and published CK as a paper-pencil version. In 1997, he launched the online version, which we have updated several times to reflect changes in the labor market and education. Published research shows CK is a valid and reliable measure of Holland’s six personality types as well as helpful to discoverers deciding on a career path.

User Experience

Having worked as a counsellor and supervised counsellors in school classrooms and college career services, Dr. Jones designed CK to take a short time to complete. It makes career exploration easier and more rewarding for both discoverers and counsellors. Research shows people are more likely to complete assessments with fewer questions.

Career Key Discovery (CKD), released in 2016, includes updates and improvements to the assessment and user experience while maintaining validity and reliability. The Career Key Manual describes the updates in more detail.

Research Underlying CK’s Construction

Previous research guides CK’s content and form. Research has shown that career guidance instruments, like CK, generally have beneficial effects. (Holland, Magoon, Spokane, 1981) Likely factors include:

“…(a) exposure to occupational information; (b) cognitive rehearsal of vocational aspirations; (c) acquisition of some cognitive structure for organizing information about self, occupations, and their relations…” (p. 285).

Dr. Jones designed CK with all three of these in mind.

Using Holland’s Theory, CK helps discoverers understand the relationship between themselves and occupations and education programs.  This emphasis begins with the more general idea that choosing a career or education program is a matching process, finding one that best fits the discoverer.

Hundreds of studies have investigated Holland’s Theory (Ruff, Reardon, Bertoch, 2008), and support many of its key concepts. One of these, “congruence” — the extent of the match between personality type and a career/education choice — is positively correlated with career and educational success and satisfaction.

So, for discoverers to get the benefits of a close match, they need an accurate (valid) Holland assessment like CK.

Assessment Structure

In taking CK, discoverers assess their resemblance to the six Holland personality types by combined results to two types of questions.

First, discoverers rate how well statements about each of the six personality types describe themselves. The statements are drawn from John L. Holland’s theory (1985a, 1997) in which he describes each type according to four characteristics:

  • Preferred activities,
  • Competencies,
  • Self-perceptions, and
  • Values.

Second, discoverers indicate which jobs appeal from a carefully selected list that represents the six Holland personality types. (Holland, 1985a; 1997. Holland’s original measure, the Vocational Preference Inventory, used this approach exclusively.)

Then, for each occupation selected, discoverers confirm their level of interest. This exercise identifies a person’s level of interest in occupations and does not serve as their final list of choices.

At the end of the CK assessment, discoverers see results of all their responses, including the scores for all six personality types. We cover that next in “Understanding Results.”

Next: Understanding Results


About the Assessment > Career Key Manual

Discovery Process Step-by-Step > Assessment