Aptitudes Focus: After 2 Days and 20 Tests, I Knew the Answer

by Anita Cheng

My teaching career

I'm a teacher. It took three student loans, six years of school, countless interviews, and a lot of luck to secure a job. Imagine my dismay upon discovering I didn't like my work. I hated the back stabbing. Someone was always looking over my shoulder. I was miserable.

This realization sent me into panic mode—I'd invested all those years for nothing! How could I have been so idiotic? I felt stuck, afraid to change my job. I would sit at my desk and ask myself, “Now what?” Things looked very bleak.

Then a friend told me about the Johnson O'Connor Research Foundation, an organization that tests aptitudes. Its theory: Everyone possesses innate talents; every career requires certain skills. In an ideal world, you and your job would be the perfect couple—but too often, in real life, you're Charles and Di(e). Johnson O'Connor offers a series of some 20 tests, taken over two days, that reveals your strengths and interests. Based on the results, the company suggests fields that complement those abilities. Think of it as a yenta for careers.

All sorts of people can benefit from testing: college grads deciding on careers, people in mid-life crises, even unhappy souls who hate their jobs. My friend knew another dissatisfied teacher who'd taken the tests—and who'd become an architect. Another friend began as a museum curator and switched to theater. Intrigued, I picked up the phone.

Taking the Tests

As I entered the Johnson O'Connor office, I thought my students would find justice in my nervousness. A minor detail: I have terrible exam anxiety (ironic for a teacher, no?) The problem was that this exam, like a Breathalyzer test, wasn't something you could study for. My apprehension eased after Sandra Larson, then director of the Boston branch, assured me there were no “right” or “wrong” answers. I'd be listening to tapes, writing stories, drawing pictures. The experience would be more like going to Gymboree than having to explain Fermat's Last Theorem.

So we let the games begin. In one test, I looked at a picture of 20 objects. It was then replaced with an altered one; I had to identify the changes. Another test involved imagining a piece of paper that had been folded several times and then punched with a hole puncher; I had to predict where the holes would be after the paper unfolded. A third required listening to rhythms on tape and saying whether they were similar or not.

While we were working, Larson explained that the aptitudes you have are only half the picture; those you don't have are equally important. For example, one test measures the flow of ideas—how much and how fast you can brainstorm. Having a high aptitude in this would be great for someone in teaching or marketing, but a low aptitude is better for someone who needs to focus on a single task—like a surgeon.

Knowing the Score

So what about me? Surprisingly, although I studied music for years, my scores for pitch discrimination and rhythm memory were low to average. I did show high ideaphoria, strong organizational skills, an ability to assess/diagnose, and an affinity for variety on the job. According to Larson, these all pointed to a career in…teaching. Go figure. Was I back to square one? Hardly. The experience helped me focus on what was making me so unhappy. As it turned out, I'd chosen a career that fit my abilities. Unfortunately, my school's demoralized atmosphere, petty politics, and constant scrutiny didn't suit me. You might love driving across country; you just don't want to do it in a rusty Pinto with no muffler.

I've decided to apply for other teaching jobs, looking for a friendlier, more creative atmosphere. Meanwhile, now that I have a plan, Monday mornings aren't so painful. I've made changes that put my aptitudes to better use, like team-teaching and arranging field trips. My students are probably happier, too, since flashbacks to my exam anxiety temper my criticism. Peace of mind, a sense of direction, and insight to boot—what more could you ask from a bunch of puzzles? All tests should be such a snap.

from Mademoiselle